Nordic Needle is a business in Fargo, North Dakota that sells Hardanger embroidery and other types of needlework. Last summer, it invited interested customers to host a nisse named Nikolina for a short visit to their home. Nikolina’s hosts were asked to take photographs of Nikolina, not only with their needlework projects, but also at some of their favorite local landmarks.
A nisse is a mythical creature from Scandinavian folklore. In Norway and Denmark, nisse protect a family and their home from harm, particularly at night when they are asleep. Usually nisse wear red wool and a cap. They also bring Christmas presents. In fact, Scandinavian children leave out a bowl of porridge for them on Christmas Eve. Nikolina is traveling with a spoon and a bowl because it is important to feed nisse to keep them happy.
Last summer, the five-and-a-half-inch-tall Nikolina began her travels across the country. She started keeping a blog, but now she’s traveling with a journal in which hosts write about what Nikolina did while visiting them. So far, she’s visited Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Wyoming and Washington. For the past couple of weeks, she’s been visiting me.
She stopped by the Bank of Ohio, filled out an application for a loan, and took it to the window, but the teller was away. She peeked in the American House Hotel, Town Hall, Schoolhouse, Furniture Maker, Freight Office and Female Seminary. At the Dress Makers and Millinery Shop, she watched a lady try on a reproduction 19th century dress.
She looked in amazement inside the Village Church. She met a 19th century Irish immigrant who told interesting stories at the Farm House. She looked through “Village Quest at the Ohio History Center,” a booklet of clues to guide a scavenger hunt through Ohio Village, and “Passport to Your Ohio History,” a guide to each Ohio Historical Society site where you collect stickers representing each site and answer trivia questions about them.
When Nikolina got home, she was curious to see what the Ohio Historical Society might have in its collection that was related to Scandinavia. She searched the online catalog, found two interesting objects, and made an appointment to see them.
The first thing Nikolina saw was a violin made by Ezekiel Walker between 1870 and 1877. Mr. Walker was born in 1802 and worked in Cincinnati as an attorney, artist, musician and violin maker. He was also the brother of Samuel Swan Walker, a painter of miniature portraits who lived in Hamilton, Ohio. He died in 1883 and is buried in Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetery.
For the top of the violin, Mr. Walker used Norway pine from an old chest that had been brought to Cincinnati by some emigrants from Norway. He gave this violin as a gift to his older brother, Caleb. Nikolina spotted a small “E.W.” carved on the back of the violin, which was made of maple. She also admired the violin’s bow and case, which Mr. Walker also made.
Then, Nikolina looked at a blown-glass whimsey in the shape of a hat. This was made at the Erickson Glass Works in Bremen, Ohio and dates from 1943 to 1961. Carl Erickson, an immigrant from Reijmre, Sweden, ran the Erickson Glass Works with his brother, Stephen. Mr. Erickson learned his trade at Pairpoint Manufacturing Company in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he worked for 20 years. From 1932 to 1936, he worked at Libbey Glass in Toledo, Ohio. Nikolina posed with the whimsy in a special white tent with lights that is used for photographing objects.
When Nikolina learned that my mother gives tours of the Ohio Governor’s Residence, she asked to tag along. Since 1955, ten Ohio governors and their families have lived at the elegant home at 358 North Parkview Avenue in Bexley that was built between 1923 and 1925.
Nikolina spotted a photo of John Glenn that was taken with politician George McGovern and former Ohio Governor John Gilligan in the 1970s.
She also admired the needlepoint chairs and cushions that former First Lady Hope Taft and her friends made for the residence. The chairs feature symbols of Ohio and architectural details from the residence.
Nikolina was excited to learn that her visit to Columbus coincided with a lecture that art historian Ann Dumas was giving on Edgar Degas at the Columbus Museum of Art. She jumped in my bag and joined me and my friend Barbara to hear about how Degas depicted dancers’ movements in his ballet scenes.
Ms. Dumas was a co-curator of “Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement,” a 2011 Royal Academy of Arts exhibition, so she shared many interesting facts about Degas’ fascination with movement by examining some of the pictures and sculptures Degas created during his career.
Nikolina learned that the many hours that Degas spent at the Louvre studying Greek sculptures led him to develop an appreciation for how the refined movements of ballet dancers were similar to Classical poses. She listened carefully as Ms. Dumas talked about how Degas was inspired by the new mediums of photography and film, and how early films by the Lumiere brothers and Eadweard Muybridge’s rapid-exposure stop-action photography paralleled what Degas was doing in capturing dancers’ movements. She learned new terms like “photosculpture,” “chronophotograph,” and “Zoöpraxiscope.” She discovered that Degas developed new techniques for working with pastels. She paid close attention when Ms. Dumas talked about The Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, a sculpture that Degas originally modeled in wax, to which he added a wig of real hair tied with a ribbon, a linen bodice, a muslin tutu, and satin shoes, and how Degas sketched several studies for the sculpture.
After the lecture, Nikolina looked at Christine LeRolle Embroidering, a circa-1895 oil painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir in the museum’s collection. She also spotted an image of a photograph that Degas took of Christine and Yvonne LeRolle, circa 1895-1896, an item that the Columbus Museum of Art recently added to its collection. She stopped in another gallery to see a Roman mosaic tile floor dating from about AD 300 that was uncovered in Lod, Israel in 1996. The mosaic depicts a menagerie of animals and a marine scene of fish and Roman merchant ships. It is on view at the museum until January 13, 2013.
When Nikolina got home, she watched a video from The Telegraph about the Degas exhibition and Ms. Dumas’s introduction to the exhibition. She also read the most interesting article that Ms. Dumas wrote about “Degas and the Ballet” for the Autumn 2011 issue of RA Magazine.
A couple of days later, Nikolina hopped in the car and visited Schnormeier Gardens south of Gambier, Ohio. Each year, Ted and Ann Schnormeier open their private gardens to the public during the first weekend of June.
Travels to Asia during the 1990s established the Schnormeiers’ admiration of Chinese and Japanese gardens. Today, the garden not only provides an aesthetic natural preserve, but also offers a haven of peace, harmony and serenity. The May 2008 issue of Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel magazine rated Schnormeier Gardens as one of the top 10 garden destinations in the world.
At the Chinese Pavilion, Nikolina admired the moon gates, Chinese Chippendale mahogany latticework and small dragon gargoyles on the pagoda roof that ward off evil spirits. She learned about rain-chain downspouts at the Japanese Garden House in the Serenity Garden, which not only tie down each of the building’s four corners, but also channel rain through bell-shaped links. She walked around the veranda deck of the Japanese teahouse and took a Chinese arched bridge to Swan Island.
Nikolina stayed well out of sight during her walk through the Woodland Garden, where steel sculptures of silhouettes reflect animal species of the region, such as a pack of running wolves, a wild turkey, white-tailed deer, an American black bear, and an eastern cougar. She posed for a picture in the Hosta Garden, featuring 100 varieties of hostas that total nearly 2500 plants.
Nikolina remembered that Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg had married his wife, Nina, on June 11, 1867, so she was very interested to hear about my August 1993 visit to Troldhaugen, the Griegs’ villa in Bergen, Norway. She admired the stained glass window that Edvard gave to Nina on their 25th wedding anniversary, above the balcony of the veranda. Nikolina saw that the window’s red rose design was also incorporated into the border of my Dale of Norway “Nina Grieg” sweater. The sweater’s buttons are modeled after Nina Grieg’s favorite brooch, while the pointed details on the sleeves and back are taken from a dress Nina wore on her 80th birthday.
One day Nikolina visited me at work to see the Betsy Shed sampler I made after visiting the DAR Museum in Washington, DC in November 2010. Elizabeth (Betsy) Shed was born to Asa and Elizabeth Cummings Shed in Ashby, Massachusetts in 1779 and married Josiah Kidder in 1808. When Betsy was 13, in 1793, she worked a sampler that features the following verse:
“Young misses often mark their names with care
Which shows their industry and art
Let virtue join to grace the blooming fair
And thus display the beauties of the heart.”
Betsy’s sampler is now in the collection of the DAR Museum. The Porcupine Collection made a graph of the sampler.
Nikolina also helped me get started on a new cross stitch project that I bought from Nordic Needle. “Til Karin – 4 Elements” is inspired by “The Four Elements,” a tapestry that Karin Larsson, the wife of Swedish artist Carl Larsson, wove and hung in the dining room of their home in Sundborn, Sweden.
She also visited the Ohio Ladies’ Gallery, a room in the Statehouse that pays tribute to the first six female Ohio legislators who paved the way for women in government and honors all women who have served in the Ohio General Assembly. The room contains historic artifacts and photos pertaining to those ladies and the history of the suffrage movement in Ohio. Nikolina wanted to have her picture taken with a costume that was reproduced from the October 1923 issue of Elite Styles Magazine by Jean L. Druesedow, director of the Kent State University Museum, who just happened to correspond with me the day before about my article I’m writing for PieceWork on embellishments on First Lady Ida McKinley’s dresses.
Needing a rest after a generous dip of Toft’s “Red Velvet Cake” ice cream before the drive back to Columbus, Nikolina found that a bench-shaped bird feeder was the perfect perch to admire “Small Change,” the Lakeside home that’s just her size.