By John Lauritsen

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — Our state is known for having a strong Scandinavian heritage — and with that comes some rare and beautiful forms of art.

One of the rarest forms of Norwegian art is called “skinnfell,” and it wouldn’t be possible without the help of sheep.

There are 50 head of sheep in Karen Aakre’s pasture. The flock adds to the scenery both on Aakre’s farm and inside her house.

She jokes that her damaged vocal cord allows her to sound more like the sheep that she loves. Meanwhile, the sheep hides that she turns into an ancient form of Norwegian art speak volumes on their own.

“It’s intriguing and immediately when people see it they are attracted to it,” said friend and fellow artist Sharon Marquardt.

It was Aakre’s daughter, Tamara, that got her connected with her Scandinavian and Viking heritage and encouraged her to make skinnfells.
After Tamara passed away unexpectedly, Aakre knew how she’d honor her daughter’s memory.

“After she passed away, it’s like – I got to keep this going for her,” she said. “I got a little carried away. Just a little.”

She went to Norway to learn how to sew and stamp sheep skins.

When you make a skinnfell, every seem is sewn multiple times.

Then stamps are carved out of birch trees and into symbols of family history.

“I start by rolling ink onto these blocks and press them on to the skin,” Aakre said.

She is one of the only skinnfell teachers in the United States.

As an artist, Aakre’s skins are her canvas. For the sake of the tradition, she often imports them from Norway or Sweden.

Nearly every square inch of her home is covered by Scandinavian or Viking art. It’s how she keeps her family history — and her daughter’s memory — close to her heart.

“I think we can learn from our history,” Aakre said.

Shewill be travelling to the Village Arts School in Milan to teach a class on how to make skinnfells.

Some day she and her husband hope to start a bed and breakfast on their farm to teach people about Norwegian culture.


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