NISSWA -- When customers visit Nordic Living in Nisswa, they often have questions for store owner Cathie Mayr and staff about their own family traditions.
Throughout the years, the meanings behind the traditions, which originated in Norway, Sweden or other Scandinavian countries, have become lost.
"They want to understand the stories," Mayr explained. "'Why trolls? Why do we eat pork at Christmas?' They know about these things in their families but they don't know the reasons behind them."
Mayr is hoping that people will find that connection to their ancestral roots not only through her Scandinavian lifestyle retail store, which opened in May, but through its Heritage Arts School, which began offering courses last fall.
About 20 classes are now offered through Nordic Living as a way for people to learn the traditional handcrafts their families may have brought to America, such as weaving, rosemaling, knitting, Hardanger embroidering and woodcarving, as well as Scandinavian cooking classes. Mayr has received numerous requests for Norwegian language courses and she said she is now attempting to find an instructor.
Interior designer Lynda Everson recently was hired to do design consulting for residents who wish to remodel their homes with Nordic styles and colors, or the Scandinavian cottage look. Everson will offer a color and trends design seminar in March.
Classes will be offered each season. The new winter class schedule is now available.
Mayr took up weaving six years ago after she and her husband Mike moved back to Minnesota from London, where she worked for three years as a business and technology consultant in the retail industry and extensively traveled throughout the Scandinavian countries and Germany. She wanted to leave a 30-year corporate life for something different, developing a retail store and arts school where she could pass on the heritage arts. The Mayrs moved permanently to Sylvan Lake in 2002.
Classes through the Heritage Arts School were first offered this fall and filled up quickly. She had to turn away people for two beginning knitting courses because they were full.
In the lower level of the store this week, four area women were enrolled in an all-week course on beginning weaving taught by weaving instructor Lou French of St. Paul. The women had little or no weaving experience but by the end of the week, each had woven multi-colored scarves by hand using four-harness floor looms.
"I really had this creative urge," said Jeni Berg, Baxter, who had never woven before this week. "At first I thought this would be way too complicated, but now that I've almost finished a piece, I know I can do it again."
"I think there is a resurgence in all textile arts," French explained. "That's my impression. As life gets more complicated and stressful, people are looking for peace and tranquility that comes with working with your hands. There's satisfaction with creating something through weaving."
When Judith Olson of Longville retired last year she wanted to learn to weave. A friend gave her a floor loom so she could achieve her goal. The scarf she made this week in French's weaving class was going to be a present for the friend who gave her the loom.
"I like fabric, I like textiles and I think there is a type of satisfaction in seeing the fabric develop," said Olson.
The fiber arts have typically been viewed as "women's work," said French, and is an important part of one's heritage.
"It gives you a healthy respect for people who, a long time ago, figured out how to do this," said Mary Ann Bennett, North Long Lake.
Bunny Hanson traveled from Bemidji each day this week to attend French's weaving class. She remembers as a young girl watching her grandmother weave rag rugs on a floor loom with a neighbor.
Mayr plans to travel this month to gift shows in Oslo, Norway, and Stockholm, Sweden, in order to discover what the latest styles and trends are in northern Europe and bring those back to her Nisswa store.
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