Over the last few years I have seen a good many dolls displayed on various re-seller sites on the internet or in books on dolls for those interested in collecting. The dolls are often not displayed to their best advantage. Of course the book Rønnaug Petterssen – The Artist And Her Dolls has a section about how to take care of the dolls and with the over 300 photographs there should be ample suggestions on how the individual dolls can be posed to show well. The best is of course if one has some knowledge of anatomy, but not everyone has that advantage. However, let me say that poses should be according to the human body’s ability to stand balanced and also bend naturally, at the waist, elbows, wrists or knees, whether one poses the small dolls or the larger ones. All to often, even in books, the dolls are posed stiffly, looking like inanimate objects instead of little people. Try instead to give the head a slight bend as if the doll is listening to what is being said and don’t let the whole arm on the small souvenir dolls bend like a large hook. Instead find the natural elbow and the natural wrist and let them bend there. If you are unsure of what to do on your own, buy the book. It is available at Amazon worldwide
Donna Kaonis of the Antique Doll Collector Magazine has written a thoughtful review of my book for the magazine’s September online version of the September page. The review will appear in the magazine’s print copy in October. I am of course tickled pink with this thorough review. There are slated to be two more editorial reviews later this fall and I will of course, as always, keep you posted.
Last week I also received permission to share with you the Hardanger Bridal Couple given to Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum in 1975. As it turns out they own a few more dolls. I am looking forward to seeing photos of them.
Within the next couple of weeks copies of the book will have arrived at three museums, two in Norway and one in the US, destined for their libraries. The enthusiastic response to my offer of sending copies was warming. Norsk Folkemuseum (the Norwegian Folk Museum) In Oslo, Norway and the Migration Museum/Emigrant Museum in Ottestad, Norway have their collection of Rønnaug Petterssen’s dolls still on display. Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, while they don’t own a collection of dolls, nevertheless have a beautiful bridal couple from Hardanger. These two dolls were a gift from the Norwegian Folk Museum in 1975 on the occasion of a visit from King Olav V who was in the United States to mark 150 years of Norwegian emigration. Already in the works at the time was the purchase of a collection of dolls by Norsk Utenriksdepartement (the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) also in the connection with the 150 year celebration. This collection, designed as a travelling exhibit, consisted of 26 dolls and opened in New York. After the opening it traveled on to various locations through out the US to promote Norway, Norwegian Culture and travel to Norway. The collection is now permanently housed at the Emigrant Museum. To read more about it you will need to get the book.
It is exciting to know that the book will be a permanent part of the reference libraries at these three wonderful institutions.
Once home after my trip (2011) what remained was to pull the manuscript together and also continue the search for a publisher. The latter proved to be perhaps the most frustrating part of the project. As happens with any creative project one tries to “birth” into the public arena, one has to expect rejections. I knew this from my work as an exhibiting visual artist and was prepared for it, I thought. My initial forays into the world of publishing proved unsuccessful both in Norway and in the US. I then armed myself with other books in the field of doll making/collecting and took a hard look at what made them look appealing and desirable to own, interesting to read and easy to use as reference guides and went on to format my own manuscript to fit within those parameters. Along the way there were further rejections. I was told the book was too much a niche book, that the current economy would not support the investment of funds that such a book would demand. The clock kept ticking.
There were times of great frustration, I knew I had a good manuscript, good photos; a book that people wanted. That much had become clear from the response to the website and from website stats I had created and later a Facebook page and the number of people both in the US, UK and in Norway who asked to be placed on the mailing list and with other interested people world wide. But it was not enough to sway the publishing industry. It became clear that self publishing was likely the answer. Friends gave me advise and I did research, but with many self publishing companies the cost of just the printing of each copy was prohibitive and with the cost of distribution and shipping on top of it would make the book too expensive to sell. It was all quite depressing.
Eventually I looked more closely at Createspace. My initial issue with self publishing was that most of the companies could not provide coated paper which does show photographs to a better advantage. With Createspace the trim size options were also limited. But it became clear that it was either jumping in or permanently shelve the project. There were however little silver linings in all the waiting. I knew my mother had made certain types of dolls I really wanted to include photos of in the book but I knew no one who owned such dolls. I asked collectors I had come to know over the course of the project if they knew people who might have them and eventually a few collectors surfaced in Norway and the US who were willing to photograph their dolls under my guidance. In the middle of all this I was introduced to Alberto Ucles and Tom Knoll whose publishing company, Green Kids Press, eventually became my publishers. They understood the world of publishing quite well and after an afternoon of talking I too came to understand why it had all been so hard. I had a project on a topic that was no longer well recognized and I came with no large built in fan base, just a limited (in publishing terms) number of very dedicated people, many who were collectors. I knew there were many, many more behind them and more behind those again who didn’t yet know they wanted to own such a book. I knew from stats that they were located world wide.
In early 2014 I finally uploaded a small trial copy of the book on Createspace to see how it would look with their trim format and paper type. When I received the trial copy back I realized I could live with it. Createspace proved to be extraordinarily helpful and were always available, 24/7, to answer questions or help solve problems. The project now took on urgency. More hours than can be counted were spent battling the software programs I was using. I had mocked up the front and back cover and found a graphic artist who could pull it all together in the format Createspace required. While it all took time, it was eventually ready for uploading. By the end of July 2014 even the proofing process of the finished book was done and the book went to press. A project that had occupied my time, one way or another for 8 years was finished.
I hope you enjoy it.
This is what Rønnaug Petterssen’s grand daughter Karen Green creates at her and her husband, Gordon Green’s studio, Greens Weathervanes in Herefordshire, UK, not far from Hay-on-Wye She is the the third generation artist in our family.
Just to remind to the readers that these little background stories of how the book came to be written are not a rehash of the book about Rønnaug Petterssen and the dolls she created. If you want to read the whole background story the first entry started back on July 29, 2014.
The main reason for my traveling to Sortland was as told to participate in the Herring Festival which is held on the fishing dock in Sildpollen usually in the latter part of May each years. Each Festival has a topic or focus if you will and the one in 2011 was on emigration from Norway. Since I for all intents and purposes I had emigrated it was certainly appropriate. Still in past times of immigration from Norway to the US (between 1825 and 1925) large numbers of Norwegians left Norway, many from the area around Eidsfjorden, to seek better economic opportunities in America. This was also the case with our family. Of my maternal grandmother’s brothers and sisters, 5 out of 9 (one died in infancy) emigrated first to Minnesota then on to Seattle, Washington. There are now hundreds of descendants of the original 5 living in the US. They were the true emigrants. I merely left because I married an American.
My talk at the Festival went off without a hitch, I met so many interesting people and it was fun to experience how many came specifically to hear the story about my mother and the dolls. Exhibits of art by local artists are always part of the Festival, but this years Adrian Korsmo had also arranged to borrow dolls from the Norwegian Emigrant Museum in Ottestad in southern Norway. The Museum graciously lent a nice collection of large dolls and among them a Kautokeino boy with proper leather britches, a doll that Petterssen made only 3 or 4 of during the whole of her production. Some dolls at the exhibit had also been lent by two ladies who have doll museums, one in Lofoten, the other in Vesterålen .
Dagmar Gylset’s family owns a wonderful Rorbu by, fisherman’s village, in Reine, Lofoten Here she also operates a Doll Museum, and owns many wonderful Rønnaug Petterssen dolls. They also recently opened a restaurant. I can still taste sauteed Sei that we had for lunch in a dockside restaurant in Gjestehuset, Nyksund.
It was caught that morning, sprell levende (meaning it still practically flaps its tail) (there is nothing in the world as delicious in my mind). I had been to Reine some 40 years earlier, before the whole idea of Fishing village vacations had really taken hold. In 1972 my little family and I were spending some time in Svolvær with my mother in her Rorbu, located on Svinøya, Svolvær in Lofoten and the focus of this particular daylong excursion to Reine was to visit a wonderful master blacksmith who made the most enchanting small sculptures out of forged iron especially the northern loon. Another woman who lent dolls to the exhibit and who also came to my talk was Svanhild Reinholdtsen. She lives in Myre just north of Sortland. Svanhild owns and operates a very special doll museum, Dukkehuset i Myre south of Nyksund and she as well has a significant collection of my mother’s dolls. Both of these attractions are well worth the visit if you travel to Lofoten and Vesterålen, which you should.
But of course many other people came as well to hear about my mother. Many already knew about my uncle Sverre Petterssen, brother of Rønnaug Petterssen. He was the world renowned meteorologist and had been a significant contributor to the weather forecasting for the Allied Forces helping predict the most advantageous day to invade Normandy, a day when the weather would pose the least threat and would give them the greatest possibility of surprise and success. He had published a book in the early 1979 – Med Stiv Kuling fra Nord which was later translated in the US as, Weathering the Storm.
It was with great sadness I had to return home, from an area of the world I consider my true home, but not before promising to write an article for the Sortland Historic Society. This I eventually did and it was published in the spring of 2014.
Just to remind to the readers that these little background stories are not a rehash of the book, but rather a story about how I came to write the story about my mother Rønnaug Petterssen and the dolls she created.
I set off for Norway in May 2011 and arrived to light rain at Framnes, Narvik’s airport, but by the time the bus pulled into the Blue City as Sortland is also called, it had pretty much cleared up. I had barely registered at the hotel when Adrian Skogmo, the organizer of the Herring Festival came and took me away for an interview with the localpaper – SortlandsAvisa. The following day, there came a call for me at the hotel and a voice explained: “I am a cousin of yours. I have three other cousins right here with me and we are very eager to meet you”. I had some faint idea I had cousins up north, but no specific knowledge of who they might be or if they were still there. Four people showed up shortly and I knew immediately this was family. Three of them were third cousins; two brothers and a sister descendants of one of my maternal grandmother’s sisters. The fourth a fifth cousin of a slightly more distant fore-mother was married to the sister. Later I was to meet several more third cousins, all descendants from my great-grandfather’s second marriage. Without much ado I was moved to a cousin’s home where I stayed for the rest of my time in Sortland and what a time it was. Here were people who had the same sense of humor and ability to observe. We told story after story and laughed a great deal. An uncle of mine had put together a family genealogy, which included a map with locations where the various members of the past generations had lived up here, all within a few miles of each other. I was taken to see many of these places and got a good sense of who my ancestors had been; the hardships of their lives as fisherman/farmers (see definition on Johan Borgos website) in a beautiful part of the world, but one that was rough on those who made their living off the ocean, fishing for cod in the dead of winter. Our great grandfather had been a well-known captain in that area about whom many daring stories were told and it was quite amazing when his name came up, strangers would invariably answer “Oh, him. Yes I know about Petter Hansa, I have heard many stories about him”. He has been dead for over a hundred years.
I was taken to see the house my maternal grandfather came to from Gildeskaal south of Bodø, when he was seven, after losing first his father, then his uncle in storms on the ocean. This house would have been impossible to locate, had it not been for the extensive work of historian Johan Borgos. My grandfather had arrived in 1877 to live with a cousin in a small well-kept house in the innermost part of Eidsfjorden, the part called Bjørndalen. Even today there is the same kind of boat tied up at the beach below the house, that would have been there back then. One of my cousins who is very outgoing knocked on the door and we were welcomed in to see the interior of this small house, the rooms laid out exactly as they had been back then. We drove on to see the field where my grandparents first home had stood. The hole, still there in the ground, the foundation stones scattered around, even after a hundred years. We went on to see where they then moved, across the fjord by Sildpollen. The house was gone and it was hard to determine exactly where it might have stood, but then a man came walking by and by miracle he knew exactly where it had been. We drove on to see where the family had moved next, in 1906,further down the coast. Our spirited cousin again knocked on the door and we were let in, this time by a young family who looked amazed at meeting people who knew the people who had lived there so long ago. Their young, 9 year old daughter remarked it was like reading a history book.
On we drove up the eastern side of Eidsfjorden, when I suddenly remembered the story of how my grandmother had single-handedly sailed a northland’s boat with her family, livestock and belongings on board, several miles on their way to their new house we had just visited. My grandfather had been away. My mother would have been five years old. We stopped near a church and tried to figure out where Petronelle would have sought shelter when it brewed to a storm the first night. Out of the parish house came a man who inquired what we were looking for and when he heard, he said “Oh, I have heard that story many times” and proceeded to point to a particular place across the fjord telling us that was where my grandmother had anchored up, to bide the weather. It was heartwarming to realize that my family’s footprint still lingered here. They were not truly forgotten.
My book, Rønnaug Petterssen, the artist and her dolls is now available through Amazon.worldwide Up, up and away. Wonderful things are happening. We will be adding a map to track where the book has found a home.
Great news to share with you. The first reviews are coming in.
The story continues. Just to remind to the readers that these little background stories are not a rehash of the book, but rather about how the book came to be. Over the next year I continued writing and editing the manuscript over and over again. Along with this came the sorting of the photographs my father had taken before WWII and a few photographs my mother had gotten taken by one of the best known photographers in Oslo, as well a few snapshots I had. These photographs had to be scanned, properly edited and cropped. There was also undressing dolls to verify construction from what I remembered and also assessing when they were made. The came setting up to photograph the dolls I had, as well as I could borrow. This was no small task. I wanted the quality and feel of the photographs to be similar to the ones my mother and father had worked on, to reflect how they wanted these dolls to be presented. I needed appropriate lighting and proper background paper or cloth. I was able to borrow on extended load professional lighting equipment from a photographer friend. There were interminable trips to the fabric stores to find cloth of appropriate color, shade and texture. I had given up on paper, since it became too expensive for my use since I needed more than one color. The cost per roll was prohibitive. Then came photographing, re-photographing and sometimes re-photographing more times than I care to remember. Long evenings; one after the other. I learned a lot more than I will ever need to know again. By the time I was done with the first round and had placed photographs within the text and had a copy printed out, I realized the photographs were too dark and needed to be redone. Long evenings stretched interminably into weeks. By then my photo lighting equipment became unavailable and I decided to buy my own. These came with daylight, energy saving bulbs, which gave wholly different lighting and I had to learn anew how to use the set up. In the end though they proved to give better lit photographs. In early 2009 an email came from Adrian Skogmo in Sortland, Vesterålen, a hop skip and a jump from where my mother was born. Each year they had a Herring Festival in Sildpollen across Eidfjorden from Selnes where she was born and he was the organizer for the event. Would I consider come to speak about my mother at the festival. It sounded intriguing, but funds were not available for such a trip at that time and my back was getting worse. Such was the situation for most of 2009 and well into 2010. By summer 2010 my back had worsened so significantly that in early fall surgery was scheduled. It went off without any problems and I was recovering when the second invitation to come to Vesterålen was issued and I made the decision to go to Norway the following summer. This I decided was to be my consolation, my carrot to make the most of my recovery, a reward for being a such a good sport. The arrangement to go was made and in early 2011 I bought the tickets. I was very excited to visit my mother’s birth place. What an exciting trip it proved to be, but that is for the next installment.
The story continues. Just to remind to the readers that these little background stories are not a rehash of the book, but rather about how the book came to be.
The summer of 2006 in Norway was beautiful, with warm days and long summer evenings. One evening I had dinner with a cousin I hadn’t seen for years. He had recently turned 94. We had been invited to another cousins who had an apartment around the corner from where I grew up and it was wonderful to catch up after all that time. I had long wanted to pick his brain about our family’s history and now I had to make the most of it. Because of failing eyesight he could no longer write, email or …, What a treasure it was to sit there with him and watch him remember as he told me about my parents from the years before the war; the first years of getting the new business going. He could even tell me how many people they already had working for them. A treasure trove of information on the whole family history way back to his uncles and aunts growing up in the north. I remember feeling so very lucky. He also had many amusing stories to tell from my father’s learning to speak Norwegian, something my father mastered extremely well in a relatively short period of time. When we left I had to chuckle as I worked to keep up with him. My cousin skipped down the stairs from the fourth floor and lightly danced up the street on the way to the tram with me trailing behind.
With the changes in the streets scape in my old neighborhood, I also went to Oslo’s City Museum and the staff were helpful in digging up old photos of the buildings on our block and information on the history of the street. Along with the development of the neighborhood had also been the tearing down of the old Rosenborg Movie theater, which had had two long murals depicting our street with some houses dating back to the mid 1700. What a pity it was to have such a bit of history lost.
Once home, I had a great deal of information to add and now the real work began to write it all down in a coherent story. Having never written anything like this before, I enlisted the help of my daughter, Karen Green, who was a wonderful writer as well as sculptor. For a while we worked together and I was so grateful for her insights and critiques, myself being far to close to the subject to be able to have enough perspective. Eventually, the demands of her own work of building her and her husband’s business as weathervane makers had to take precedence, but I was enough on the way to be able to see the story as a story with more objectivity.
In the fall of 2008 the economic crisis hit and it became necessary to focus on my work as a practitioner of Chinese Medicine. While the book project was never shelved, it got less focus. Also an old back injury resurfaced with vengeance and over the next two-three years this is where most of my energy went. However I worked on the book whenever I had time. I had become increasingly interested in my mother’s family’s background. I fortunately had quite a bit of genealogical information from an uncle, Anslem. One Sunday I was idly searching the internet and came across a website of a historian in the Vesterålen area. I emailed him, not sure if the website was still active, but three hours later on a beautiful sunny summer Sunday I got a reply from Johan Borgos which read; “I know who you are, you are the daughter of Rønnaug”. He knew my whole family and some hours later sent me my grandmother’s genealogy back to the 1600s. Wow, I was completely blown away. An idle question begetting so much information. So now some of my focus began centering on tracing my family, I wanted to know who they were, where they lived, what they did, what kind of lives they lived, what kind of people they were. I set my findings up on Ancestry.com and eventually also traced my grandfather’s family as far as I could and that of my own father as well. I felt it was important to know as much as I could about our background, to create a perspective on who we were, what kind of stock we came from.
This is the second installment of How The Book Came To Be, started on July 29, 2014. Please note that there are no excepts from the book itself.
During the summer of 2005 a collector found me on the internet and contacted me. She informed me that a 45cm doll in a Heddal, East Telemark costume, a doll with glass eyes, was being offered on eBay. The bidding was going through the roof, she said, could I take a look, and what did I think of it? Suffice it to say I was astounded. Later that summer another call came from a different collector, this time in Norway, who wanted extensive and detailed information about my mother’s life and career. I realized there was a real interest in my mother’s life and work and I knew the time had come for me to tackle a book or someone else would beat me to it. My mother had been a very private person, never talking much about herself or her life. She was sparing with information in interviews, sometime driving interviewers to distraction by retaining veto rights to view and strike information in the articles they wrote as a condition for publishing an interview. “You can trust nothing” was her view. As a result information would sometimes be assumed and written to fill in the gaps in various threads of stories that were written. When my mother read these, partially accurate writings, she would often roll her eyes and shake her head, perhaps even huff a little.
So the task of sorting the content of the boxes; letters, articles photos, etc. began. Everything had been stuffed into boxes as they were found some in the Atelier store rooms on the top floor of the worker apartments in the back of Professor Dahl’s gate 22. These apartments had long been abandoned as unlivable, but were still useful for storage. I had helped clean out these rooms in 1975 when the Atelier was closed, and had taken with me to the States all doll related materials. Some of boxes came from the Atelier itself others had been brought from the old apartment in Professor Dahl’s gate 18, some decades earlier. One of the amazing things I found were 22 original drawings of costume pieces that had been used as a base for the doll costumes. The task of sorting was enormous, taking hours, even weeks, but in the end they came into order and created a timeline and focus, which together with what I remembered myself became a great place to start. It was a way to come to know my mother and also myself.
During the summer of 2006, I finally made a visit to Norway again after 18 years. My wonderful aunt Gyda, my mother’s older sister died in 1987, the last of that generation, at 94. In 1989 I found myself separated with an impending divorce from my American husband and travel became financially difficult. It was therefore extraordinary for me to return to visit my birth city, old haunts, smell the smells and see family and friends. Of course some of the old landmarks were gone. I especially I missed Professor Dahl’s gate 22 which had succumbed to development. I am very lucky that my birth family on my mother’s and my father’s sides have all been blessed with extraordinarily good memory way into the deep senior years and this now became a real blessing as I tried to confirm and bridge bits and pieces of my mother’s story. The older generation was gone, but I had cousins. Also younger friends of my mother still lived to shed light on my mother as a private person during the years after I left in 1965. I had made an appointment to talk to the Head Curator of Textiles at the Norwegian Folk Museum, because I wanted to talk about possible support for the project and also wanted to confirm what the Museum still had of what my mother had given them to store in 1975. The curator was extraordinarily accommodating. I had lunch with Aagot Noss, former Head Curator at the Museum as well. She had been instrumental in gaining my mother international recognition during the 1970 and later agreed to write the foreword to the book.