Karin Flatøy Svarstad: Focusing on Norwegian wool
Text: Ingrid Opstad | Photo © Karin Flatøy Svarstad
W ool from Norwegian wild sheep used to be thrown away and looked upon as waste. But now this wool has a new lease of life thanks to Karin Flatøy Svarstad, who has worked hard for 40 years to raise awareness about this unique and important resource.
Located in western Norway, with a base in Bergen but frequently travelling around, Karin Flatøy Svarstad’s work focuses on wool from wild sheep and other Norwegian sheep breeds in many different mediums. Known for her elegant woollen bird sculptures, her important work to highlight the use of this historic material began in 1995, when she was one of only a few to make use of it. “The wool from wild sheep has an airy and special quality, and its use goes back to the Viking Era. It is therefore great for yarn, which is how I mostly use it,” Svarstad explains. “Some of the wool is natural-coloured and some I colour by hand, and it results in beautiful knitting and weaving yarn.”
As well as teaching farmers about different uses for this wool, Svarstad also raises awareness on an international scale through her initiative the North Atlantic Native Sheep and Wool Conference. Additionally, she runs Gallery Frøya and her own culture centre in Kalvåg and, if that were not enough, the thrifty and creative artisan is also in charge of Sommerakademiet, an association aimed at creating arts and cultural activities in the western parts of Norway, building networks, and facilitating cooperation and exchanges in arts, culture and crafts. “The academy is open every summer from spring until October, but we arrange trips throughout the year,” says Svarstad. “It takes place in the western parts of Norway, in connection with Shetland, Orkney Islands, Faroe Islands, Iceland and the Hebrides. I wanted to create a meeting place for like-minded people.”
“Wool is a common thread in everything I do, but I also have a close relationship with birds and nature, which are all great sources of inspiration for me,” Svarstad adds. “My next focus will be on seabirds and making people aware of using wool instead of plastic to help protect the environment.” In one recent art project, an art-trail made with different international artists, Svarstad brought wool into nature to create a colourful experience for the public.
Svarstad’s passion for wool has also resulted in a yearly event called Ulluken, a festive week taking place in Hordaland and Rogaland, now in its fifth year. “Visit us in October to experience a great selection of exhibitions, courses and fun activities, all relating to wool and felting,” smiles Svarstad.
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