Cecilia Blomberg’s tapestries have a way of making you stop and look. And look some more. The visual pleasure at the imagery and composition is only matched by the sheer appreciation of her craftsmanship. Visitors at this year’s Fiber Arts Show at the Longbranch Improvement Club have a rare opportunity to see her work in person; she is this year’s featured artist, on view Saturday, Oct. 5.
Blomberg grew up in Sundsvall in northern Sweden in a household that hummed with art. Her father was an artist, printer and cartographer, specializing in screen printing, and working with a small staff in the family’s living room. He printed mainly maps but also posters and limited editions for artists, and often received payment in artwork. It was lively and often messy, “Our bathtub was always full of color,” Blomberg said. “That’s where my father rinsed the ink off the screens after printing.”
Initially drawn to painting and drawing, by her teens Blomberg had begun considering a career in architecture. “From when I was little, I’d be outside drawing and tracing floor plans in the snow,” she said. Admission to architecture school, however, required having first worked in an architecture office for two years. Blomberg decided that life in an office wasn’t for her.
A class in weaving on small frames got her interested in working with yarns and fabric, and in 1970 she was accepted into the textile department at Konstfack, the National College of Art, Craft and Design in Stockholm. The school follows the principle adopted and elaborated by Bauhaus artists that form follows function; designers are trained both in art and its practical applications. To prepare for the rigorous four-year program she was required to take a loom weaving class and one in industrial weaving. “I’ve never in my life worked so hard,” she said. “It was wonderful. I could have done that 24 hours a day. I had incredible teachers, all fantastic pros and all very open to playing with the medium.”
After receiving her Master of Fine Arts degree in 1976, Blomberg moved to the U.S. where she has lived and worked ever since. Although she primarily works in tapestry she has also worked as a muralist and a graphic illustrator.
Tapestry, like all weaving, is made by passing thread or yarn, known as the weft, horizontally between the threads of the warp, which are fixed vertically on a loom or frame. In traditional weaving the weft threads are passed across the entire width of the warp, creating patterns that are often repeated. In a tapestry, however, the artist can weave any image, building up individual shapes using shorter lengths of weft threads.
Blomberg plans each composition and colors in preparatory drawings. The tapestry is woven from the bottom up; the lower part gets rolled up at the bottom of the loom as she works, so she doesn’t see it as she moves up the image. That creates some intriguing challenges. “If I want to do a reflection of something, I have to work on the reflection before I put in what’s reflected,” she said. “And I won’t see the entire tapestry I’ve been working on for maybe a year until I unroll it.”
The imagery in Blomberg’s work from the 1970s to the early 2000s drew on places and people she was familiar with. A favorite dock on a lake near Stockholm; her grandmother holding her first-born daughter, an image based on a vintage photograph; a friend’s grandfather in dappled sunlight in a Greek village; a smiling cafe owner in Cyprus at a table on a sandy beach under the Mediterranean sky; her husband’s father and friends at Sabbath in Palestine, where they had settled around 1918, shown taking a break from roadbuilding. These are all almost life-size works, and their scale has the effect of inviting the viewer into the image.
From 2005 to 2007 Blomberg was part of an international team of master weavers tasked with recreating the historic medieval Unicorn Tapestries for the palace in Stirling Castle in Scotland. The original tapestries, depicting in exquisite detail the imaginary hunt of a unicorn, were made in Flanders between 1495 and 1505 and are now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters Museum in New York. Working on the project meant she had to understand how early weavers worked and how they solved technical and compositional problems. “You ended up having to think like them,” she said, “which was really interesting.” The project was completed in 2013 and the tapestries now hang at the palace.
Blomberg has received several commissions over the years. The imagery in these large tapestries is rich in references to each area’s culture, industry, history and natural environment; viewers enjoy spotting those references in each tapestry, according to Blomberg. Commissions include the Bonneville Power Administration headquarters in Portland, Oregon (1987); a three-part work for Mary Bridge Children’s Health Center in Tacoma, in collaboration with Margo Macdonald and Mary Lane (2005); and a series of eight images of saints and five altar covers for the Catholic Chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado (2017).
She has also received commissions through the Washington State Arts Commission for tapestries that now hang in the Grays Harbor College library in Aberdeen (2004); Moxee Elementary School in Moxee (2010); McMicken Heights Elementary School in SeaTac (2012); and Sacajawea Elementary School in Richland (2018).
Cecilia Blomberg’s work will be on view at the Fiber Arts Show at the Longbranch Improvement Club Saturday Oct. 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.