Berit Engen

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The peacenik in the land of no-goodniks: Noah (from Torah II series) Textile 9 X 6 Inches © Berit Engen
The pillars of salt and shadow: Lot's wife (from Torah II series) Textile 9 X 6 Inches © Berit Engen
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb (from Book of Prophets series) Textile 9 X 5 Inches © Berit Engen
The peacenik in the land of no-goodniks: Noah 9 X 6 Inches
© Courtesy of the artist and the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership
Quick Facts
Olso, Norway
Lives in
Oak Park, Illinois, USA
textile, tapestry, figurative, mixed-media

I was born in Oslo in 1955. I moved to Chicago in 1985 and settled in Oak Park, IL, a year later, where I sometimes sit and weave under a locust tree. In Norway I wove under the vast and open sky, especially liking to sit next to tar-smelling, centuries-old log cabins, or in a lingonberry patch, or on huge, smooth boulders in a place called “The End of the World” where the archipelago disappears in the distance. Or I wove in our small Oslo apartment right next to the endless woods. Sometimes I would sleep in these woods in the snow at night on a reindeer hide under tall fir trees after skiing with friends in moonlight to a small and silent white lake.

In Norway, life was about exploring and enjoying nature. Then it was about experiencing various paths, countries, people, and languages, always bringing a small loom with me. In France, I wove under tall arches and in Greece under a twisted olive tree. I met my husband-to-be in the beautiful Vigeland life-cycle sculpture park in Oslo, and two summers later I landed in Chicago with my green card.

In Oak Park, life became very much about family (husband Steve, and daughters Rivkah, Miriam and Tavi); schools; community – and eventually also about Judaism. As a mother of newborns and toddlers, I completely abandoned fine arts tapestry weaving, as time-consuming and attention-demanding as it is.

After a hiatus of 18 years, I found my way back to my loom and yarn, and started weaving again full time, this time with a different perspective. I call it my Woof ‘n D’rash project. I now combine my love of my Norwegian heritage with my embrace of Judaism. There is this Scandinavian sensibility that I always carry with me: it doesn’t matter where I am, how I change, what I adopt, what I am inspired by: I experience it and reproduce it with a link to my past – which also includes the social democratic form of government that has been part of Norway for decades. It formed my upbringing and contributed to my having a commitment to social justice.

I converted after 18 years of being in love with my husband, after 16 years of marriage, after 11 years of raising children, after experiencing some of life’s ups and downs, after five years of preparing Shabbat and sensing a growing love of Jewish observance and life cycle rituals, after three years of intense study, and after a few minutes in the mikvah. I was not in a rush to find a religion, or even seeking one, but, looking back now, I think I was always moving steadily in that direction. Raising our children as Jews, gave me reasons to study and an opportunity to get to know Jewish living and Jewish perspectives. Celebrating and observing the rituals enabled me to develop a relationship with the tradition and sparked my intellectual curiosity. Asiti v’shamati. I did and I listened. But choosing Judaism was not about choosing a spiritual home; it was coming home to a place I had always longed for.

I now weave under etz chayyim, the Tree of Life . . .


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