Joan Brailsford – Country – Literature

Runes and Thor

The history of Norwegian literature starts with the pagan Eddaic and skaldic verse of the 9th and 10th centuries. Most poets were attached to the courts of kings and the subject matter of these extended poems was sometimes mythical or described the deeds of their patrons.  Poetry played an important role in the social and religious world of the Vikings. One early poem is about a shield, and in which the god Odin appears, as does the hammer swinging Thor, who goes to war with a sea-snake. In pagan times the runic alphabet was the only one used in Norway. The preserved inscriptions from that time are mostly short memorial dedications or magical formulas. The arrival of Christianity around the year 1000 brought Norway into contact with European medieval learning which merged with native oral tradition and Icelandic influence, to give an active period of literature production, and the move away from runic script. The symbol of Thor’s hammer persists today in romantic views of Norse mythology.

I chose to depict the ancient Norwegian literature rather than more contemporary works (which I find rather dark and hard reading!). I wanted to show the old runic writing and how it was later replaced by the latin script we know, so I hand-stitched rows of runic letters and used machine-quilting to divide the lines. I made silk-paper and printed it with ‘writing’ then overlaid this onto the backgroundto depict old worn book pages which followed on from the runes. I used felt with a hand-stitched design to create Thor’s hammer that I applied to the design.  I hope that this represents the way that the old poems were passed down into different incarnations and how the basis of the legend remains throughout.

Detail views:



  1. Wow a terrific interpretation, love your choice of fabric and techniques. bravo

  2. Fascinating and exhaustive presentation for your literature choice. Excellent design and composition. Bravo.

  3. A great choice beautifully executed, I love the mix of text and the detail on Thor’s hammer. I agree about modern Norse literature! Lovely work.

  4. Excelent performance,gives a sense of antique stuff. You managed to convey this and I really appreciate your work ..

  5. I love the techniques you used to represent the runes and the old manuscript. The silk paper with Thor’s hammer on the top is so effective ! Excellent choice !

  6. What a beautiful and interesting piece. I love how you combined the runic writing with the latin script. To print this latin script on silk paper to give the suggestion of book pages is a brilliant idea. The design on Thor’s hammer looks almost 3D. Bravo.

  7. I’m glad you chose ancient rather than modern Norwegian literature. This is a lovely piece and I love the combination of runes and old Latin text.

  8. You really got an ancient look for your piece of literature. Love it!

  9. Your piece has a charming aged look to it, the story behind the images is very interesting.

  10. studiociboulette

    Beautiful piece, I love the colors you chose and your way of making it antique. Beautiful!

  11. Fascinating story! The runic alphabet is so intriguing. Love the combination of the scripts in this work as well as the combination of paper and fabric.

  12. I love the background with the runic script. Printing the Latin writing on paper is a great idea.
    Lovely piece!

  13. Wonderful interpretation, techniques and hand stitching! The combination of the ancient runes which is hard and angular with the more modern Latin script, which is soft and flowy, show case how the old poems have evolved. Well done!

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