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Making a Scene: 'Woven Welcome' metaphor for infrastructure of community, artist and Moorhead native says

“Woven Welcome” is a community project that aims to create a group rug. The finished work will be rolled out, or rather, unfurled, like a tapestry, Thursday night at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Simonson 1 / 2
“The intention of this project is to use the rug, which has a strong tradition in the F-M area with Scandinavian rug weaving, something very traditional, and put a new perspective to it,” artist Jill Odegaard says. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Simonson2 / 2

FARGO – Jill Odegaard doesn’t mind if you walk all over one of her art pieces. That was the idea.

The Moorhead native returns this week to help put the finishing touches on “Woven Welcome,” a community project that aims to create a group rug. The finished work will be rolled out, or rather, unfurled, like a tapestry, Thursday night at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo.

“The intention of this project is to use the rug, which has a strong tradition in the F-M area with Scandinavian rug weaving, something very traditional, and put a new perspective to it,” the artist says, explaining that the rug is a metaphor for the infrastructure of the community.

“As people are weaving, they’re interacting with the community,” Odegaard says. “It allows them to reflect on what they bring to the community.”

Kris Bergquist, director of education at the Plains, says the area is embracing the project, which started earlier this summer as part of the “Living as Form” show on socially engaged art.

“The feedback we’re getting from the community, they’re so excited to be part of a work of art,” Bergquist says.

After the Plains asked the public for spare fabric for the project, the museum received about 10 lawn bags of material.

While one loom is located at the Plains, museum intern Sydney Jacobson is taking another one on “field trips” around town, looking for participants to try their hand at weaving fabric.

The Plains staff will hold a weaving party today and invites the public to work on the project through Thursday.

Odegaard, who earned her MFA from Minnesota State University Moorhead in 1991 and taught in the art department there from ’96 to ’99, will go out with the loom next week, hoping to get enough fabric woven for a number of rugs to unfurl.

The project actually started in the Portland (Ore.) International Airport in 2011. Odegaard was attending a conference on socially engaged art and collaborated with college friend Anne Greenwood and artist Sandy Sampson. Sampson was in charge of the welcoming committee, and the three conceived the idea of a welcoming mat for other visitors. They sat at a security gate and started weaving strips of fabric.

“What evolved, and we weren’t anticipating this, is people waiting for their families started asking us questions. It became this place for dialogue, which typically doesn’t happen in an airport,” Odegaard says.

Nor do spontaneous works of art happen in most airports, though Portland may be a little different. Odegaard said it took two hours before a security official asked them what they were doing. His only warning was to keep the production to a small area.

“I don’t think that project could’ve happened at the Allentown (Penn.) airport,” she says of her current home, where she’s been teaching at Cedar Crest College since 2000. “I think since it was the Portland airport, everyone was a little more willing.”

Word got out about the project, and her friend, artist Aaron Spangler, who sits on the board at the Nemeth Art Center in Park Rapids, Minn., asked her to do a bigger rug for the governor’s fishing opener in 2013.

She arrived in February, set up a makeshift loom and discussed the project with residents. When she came back three months later for the opener, the community had woven 1,200 square-feet of rugs in 32-inch-wide and 40-inch-long sections.

“I left and it was in the hands of the community,” she says, adding that her college friend, artist Barry Simonson, and Nemeth’s director, Meredith Lynn, now the interim director at the Rourke Art Museum, worked as project ambassadors.

After the opener, the rugs were laid at the base of trees outside the Nemeth, the old courthouse, symbolizing the roots to the community.

When Odegaard returned to Park Rapids last summer, she heard people still talking about the project, taking pride in what they made.

“Each little thing everyone does in their day is linking to the community, and if people can be more intentional about that, I think we end up with stronger, more collaborative communities,” she says.

IF YOU GO WHAT: Jill Odegaard rolls out “Woven Welcome”

WHEN: 6 p.m. Thursday

where: Plains Art Museum, 704 1st Ave. N., Fargo

INFO: www.plainsart.org

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