community · iceland

pulling through the threads


Work in progress. Exploring identity, community, autobiography and the tensions between repression and possibility.

I am still sorting through so much here in Iceland during my artist residency at Textilsetur. The Knitting Festival in Blonduos has ended. The “Own Your Own Time” knitting circle, organized by fellow artist-in-residence Kerstin Lindstrom, was a success.

Lawyer Lee Ann Maginnis, the Textilsetur Office Manager, is amazingly efficient, no-nonsense, kind and honest. She is among the people I will miss the most when I leave Iceland.


It was moving to see so many women (and men, too), gathering for one purpose. And although I am not a good knitter, I managed a few hooks and pulls before being saved three times, maybe four. All this in the span of an hour.

Textile artist Sarah Chu, Berkeley native, in knitting circle.

An hour. It means so much and so little here at this time of year in Iceland when it is daylight most of the time. And yet, I think, too, of the sunset I saw in my native Miami, FL. It seemed to go down in a just five minutes. A miracle, I thought. How does God make it go from day to night in such a span of time? And now I wander. Literally and figuratively.

This little girl captured my attention the most when I was not trying to knit. She ran and ran around the circle with a smile on her face. She gets that movement brings power. Oh, she cried when her family told her it was time to stop running.

How to make connections? How to think of the way in which, as Lauren Elkins tells us, women go where they are not supposed to go? I am thinking of the flaneuse, the idle wanderer,  the one who moves through space seemingly with no purpose in the manner that I may seem to move to the eyes of some.

Finland artist-scholar Paivi Varrula and me at the knitting festival. I told her that the houndstooth jacket she wears would go over well in Alabama. Roll Tide!

A black American woman in Iceland. It is hard to write those words because they seem to draw attention to me when the goal here is to observe the observing.

The Class of 1967 is in my dorm room. I was born in that year so these women have special meaning for me. I wonder about their lives.

Here and elsewhere, I am observing and observing the observing with my own eyes and wondering how we all figure into this thing called modern life when so many move.


I think now of sea vessels that initially permit people to move through space.  I shall soon address this in my “American Civilization to 1865” class. My brief mention of the Icelandic sagas will take on new meaning after this month in Iceland.

A close up of the larger piece, which invites attention to all kinds of things: resistance, community, identity, diasporic and spatial politics. Deliberately fragile (and not).

I think of the Middle Passage. I think of Harriet Tubman. I think of my mother, grandmother, great grandmother and the women who attended the women’s college that now houses an artist residency.

I think of Halladora Bjarnadottir (1873-1981), an Icelandic educator whose belongings and writings are in the textile museum next door. She was a turn-of-the century trailblazer who pushed the boundaries of teaching by including arts and crafts in education in Norway. It was thought that such things were unnecessary because children could learn them at home. She went on to found women’s groups and even unions.

Halldóra Bjarnadóttir was an Icelandric educator and women’s leader who invited others to find value in women’s work.


In line with what I learned in my Handmade Nation course taught by my colleague Heather Kopelson over the summer interim semester, she demonstrated how the home space was actually a factory. Such work, I learned, became more valuable when men got involved in making it outside the home space. This idea of others determining value in another’s work based on their perceptions of what is good and bad is worth probing. What is being protected when we limit others? There are so many layers to how this works across time that I shall explore in the days, months, and years ahead.


Today, I may go to a tannery. I may go. My husband says they stink. I don’t like strong smells. But the flaneuse in me says the obvious: go. It is also an excuse to get out a bit. Engage my thesis, which is still unclear, but suggests power through movement, but also, staying still. Indeed, Kafka has told us we can sit at a window and watch the world pass by.


One aside, this past weekend also found a group of us from the residency in Skagastrond. This is a fishing village about 20 miles away from Blonduos. There were games and a nice feast to celebrate fishermen, something to which I can relate as I grew up fishing with my grandparents on Lake Okeechobee although sometimes we fished in the Atlantic, too. But we were mostly fresh water people. My grandmother fished for sport. Sometimes she threw the fish back in. Memories like this come quickly. And not.

Korin Hedberg, Swedish weaver, led a workshop at the festival on weaving stones. Beautiful!


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