Emily Articulated: Norway

By Emily Erickson
Reader Columnist

Steam ripples off my coffee mug, fogging the glass of the large window in front of me. I use my shirt sleeve to wipe my view clear. A bustling pedestrian crossing in the foreground gives way to a broad plaza and, further still, to an elegantly sloping opera house before a moody, gray waterway. The waterway, or inner Oslofjord, will eventually connect with the outer Oslofjord, before joining with the North Sea. It’s a picture of glass and cement and wood and water, of sloping angles and the confluence of man-made and earth-made beauty — as if everything in front of me is of the landscape, not apart from it.

Emily Erickson.

I arrived in Norway fewer than 24 hours ago; and, although my impressions have been fast, and made in a whirlwind of jet lag and positive expectations, they continue to be affirmed in every new thing I witness. From the Oslo airport’s use of raw materials in its design to the interspersed trees within its parking lots and, now, the city architecture’s undeniable homage to the landscape around it, there’s an undercurrent of thoughtfulness here — of how the things we create can be both useful and beautiful, manmade and natural.

Several years ago, I found myself in tears at the Vancouver Museum of Anthropology while standing in front of a display case of Tlingit-crafted tools and painted vessels. The Tlingit are Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America who share a common cultural heritage, and the exhibit display I read described their perspective on craftsmanship. 

In the Tlingit language, Łingít, there is no direct translation for our Western concept of “art,” as the Tlingit tradition of creating art is intrinsically tied to function, context and many facets of folklife, like history, spirituality and ceremony. To create something artistically was to consider its function and impact both in the present and across generations — a spoon is both a utensil and an homage to ancestry and spirituality. To make something useful was also to make something beautiful, with every act of creation being intertwined with reverence and consideration.

I feel that same reverence and consideration in craftsmanship here in Norway, with the natural world seeming to influence all that’s been built within it. The infrastructure isn’t determined strictly by convenience or economy but, instead, seems to have been designed for its current and future impact and an ability to inspire people across time.

This foresight and consideration has felt striking in juxtaposition with the pace and style of development in Sandpoint — in another swath of trees clear-cut to make way for another lot of storage units — and in the United States in general. Core to our Americanness is the value we place on economy and growth — our ability to create things as cheaply and quickly as possible. We strike at opportunities with ferocity and recklessness, capitalizing on “hot markets” and high profit margins, without consideration for impact, and certainly not for inspiration. We prioritize efficiency, often at the expense of quality.

There are so many instances in which I’m grateful for this American efficiency, which propels us to the forefront of innovation and get things done when they need doing. But, right now, as I sit at a rough-hewn countertop and witness the seamless lines between the water and the building emerging from it, I can’t help but think of what we could create if we slowed down long enough to consider its impact and its potential in tandem with its usefulness. Or, if we understood the act of making something as the act of making something beautiful and timeless.

On the wall behind me, there’s a quote inconspicuously written into the pattern of the wallpaper, as if only to be seen when taking an appropriate pause enough to do so. It reads, “The glimmer of the bay is barely noticeable in the distance. Silence reigns over the lake. A whisper lurks between the trees. My old garden listens mildly entertained to the breath of night.”

I wish you the stillness to witness beauty, and the inspiration to create meaningful, lasting things from all that inspires you. Greetings from Norway!

Emily Erickson is a writer and business owner with an affinity for black coffee and playing in the mountains. Connect with her online at www.bigbluehat.studio.

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