Inspired by Nature:
The Faroese breaking away from tradition to create new visions of their craft
Wedged between Iceland and the northern Scottish Isles, the Faroe Islands have been overshadowed by its more famous neighbors in the past. Few outside Denmark, under whose external sovereignty the archipelago lies, know of the treasures that can be found here, especially the creative souls of the Faroe Islands, the Faroese, who have been drawing inspiration from the saturated colors and severe outlines of its wild landscape, the unforgiving force of its climate and the isolated traditions and lifestyle of its remotes lands.
The creative souls of the Faroe Islands have been drawing inspiration from its wild landscape, climate, and the isolated traditions and lifestyle of its remote lands
Outnumbering humans by roughly 70,000 to 50,000, sheep are intricately linked to the traditions and culture of the Faroe Islands. The archipelago’s name in Faroese is Føroyar, derived from an old Norse word for sheep (fær) and island (oyar). The land value on the islands is traditionally based on how many sheep can graze in a given space, and the wool is so valuable that it is considered Faroese gold.
It is no wonder knitting could be seen as a national sport, and an annual Knitting Festival, celebrating all things wooly and wonderful, is hosted here. Each family is said to have their own knitwear patterns, historically used to identify which seamen belonged to which house as they returned from sea. Communities also use knitting to enhance their surroundings. One of the biggest attractions is a rock covered in a wooly blanket knitted by a local community on the island of Sandoy, the “Yarn-Bombed Rock,” inspired by a local folklore tale of a troll woman who lived in a nearby cave.
The knitter with a passion for style fusion
In the capital city of Tórshavn, modern Faroese knitters are experimenting with alternative styles outside tradition. Brands such as Guðrun & Guðrun, whose story and knitwear designs have already been making it big on the international fashion stage, and others in the Faroe Islands, believe there are many creative ways of knitting with traditional Faroese wool.
Sissal Kristiansen is part of one of the many new generations of Faroese knitters creating knitwear for modern and contemporary tastes while maintaining traditional values.
“I have worked with many different types of wool, and I keep coming back to Faroese wool,” says Sissal, who has a boutique store in Tórshavn selling knitwear under her label, Shisa, as well as other independent brands.
Sissal admits that while she is not a designer—she comes from a business and public relations background—she has always been great at knitting and entered the industry with the encouragement of others who have seen her work. “I came from a very creative family, all weavers and knitters. And although we never owned sheep, we are very familiar with our wool,” she says.
And most importantly, being Faroese through and through, she is very proud of the island’s wool. “All these shades are the sheep’s natural colors. If you see these other jumpers in red and blue, those are not Faroese wool,” Sissal says, pointing at the far end of the wall, where she stocks knitwear from other brands.
“We are quite lucky. Our native sheep have many colors, so we don’t need to dye the wool,” she explains, lifting one of her most popular sellers from the selection. It is a light brown jumper with a wide bodice and sleeves, with the traditional patterns knitted in darker brown wool across the chest. In her collection, many of her designs have been influenced by her love of Japanese culture, perfectly fused with border patterns across the body, traditionally called seamen’s patterns. Sissal stands as a proud representative of this wave of knitters, infusing modern and contemporary tastes into traditional knitwear designs while still using the island’s natural-colored wool and showcasing the creative potential of Faroese knitting.
Brand: Shisa Brand
Designer: Sissal Kristiansen
Location: Ullvøruhúsið, Niels Finsensgøta 27, Tórshavn
shisabrand.com & ullvoruhusid.com
The visual artist who breaks with conventional art
While most artistic talents have been working on knitting, visual arts such as drawing and painting have also been part of the Faroese heritage.
In Tórshavn, the National Art Gallery and other galleries in smaller villages exhibit the works of local artists who have used the emotions erupting from their environment in their paintings and sculptures, filled with melancholy stillness. This style romanticized the idea of Faroese art, which is almost monogamously represented by paintings depicting the dramatic Faroese mountains, sea, and fishing villages of moody weather and weary residents.
However, Hansina Iversen didn’t want to follow this narrative. “I wanted to break out of that. I didn’t want to be tied down by this way of thinking. A Faroese artist can paint more than just landscape.” Hansina’s works stand out in splashes of bold shapes, patterns, and colors that don’t conform to the image of the Faroese artist as viewed by foreigner standards, specifically to the Danish patrons whose ideal Faroese art is limited to the romantic idea that has formed through generations of landscape painters.
It took a while for her to find her style. Although she came from an artistic family, Hasina originally wanted to be an actress. “That was before I found out I preferred working on painting stage sets, to acting, while I worked at some amateur theaters in town,” Hansina smiles as she recollects how it all started for her. “I just found the colors and the forms in the drawing and painting process interested me a lot more, so I decided to go to Iceland, where I met an Icelandic theater director and told her I’d like to work as a professional artist in theater.”
After a year of working as an apprentice in theater production, Hansina began her visual arts education, first in Iceland, then in Finland, and eventually found her style after a school trip to New York. “It was an eye-opener,” she said, “that was the first time in my life I’d seen the huge scale of abstract expressive paintings by Agnes Martin, Ralph Cohen, Barnett Newman, you know, all these people. It was a revelation.” Now, one of her works, Speaking in Tongues, has been unveiled as part of the permanent collection at the National Gallery in Tórshavn.
Visual Artist: Hansina Iversen
The ceramic artist who brings the feeling of nature into her work
Guðrið Poulsen always knew she wanted to work in the creative space. After attending art school in Finland, where she experienced art of different forms, she worked with a silversmith for some time before deciding to focus on clay. “Because I was an apprentice to a silversmith, I thought I would become one. But then I realized, if I work with silver, it’ll always be something small, and I wanted to do big things.” Guðrið’s commercial work in tableware is used and celebrated across restaurants and cafes on the Faroe Islands, such as the Fiskastykkið fish restaurant.
“Clay is a fantastic and flexible material to work with. It comes with a lot of possibilities. I had this vision I would develop with the clay, grow with it,” Guðrið explains as she reaches for the work in progress on her workbench and smooths out a part of the clay with her fingers. It’s a small sculpture of a climbing cube, a prototype of a larger piece that the city has commissioned for a playground. As if tendering to a small child and still keeping her eyes on the prototype, she continues, “Now I am 62, I’ve had forty years of working with clay, and I would never have imagined it would lead me to pieces as big as street sculptures and works commissioned as functional public art.”
Like others, Guðrið has a profound connection to the Faroese landscape and nature. She admits her creative process is deeply internal, and she often takes her mugs and bowls on her routine walks to enjoy a cup of tea out in the open air. “It’s not like I take a picture and use it as a sample,” Guðrið says, holding up one of her cups as an example. It is an olive green piece dripped with glaze in hues of blue, almost like how the islands would look on a foggy day. “On my walks, I absorb nature, I feel it, and when I return to my workshop, I try to put this feeling into my work.”
Those who have held a piece of her tableware will notice the form and colors are very much those encountered in nature, whether it be the mustard yellow of the tree moss or the azure blue of the sea.
Ceramicist: Guðrið Poulsen
Location: Sjúrðagøta 16, Tórshavn
A version of this article appears in print, in Issue 2 of Álula Magazine, with the headline: “Inspired by Nature: The Faroese breaking away from tradition to create new visions of their craft .”