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.