Carol Sperling

Beginnings

Carol was born in Mt. Pulaski, Illinois, but grew up in Rochester, Minnesota where she became a Registered Nurse and worked at Mayo Clinic.  She and her husband came north to Eveleth shortly after they were married and have resided on Ely Lake for around 55 years.  Carol was a Registered Nurse for the Virginia Regional Hospital and the East Range Clinic in Virginia.  In addition, she became a Leader of a Girl Scout Troop and was very involved with her three daughters for many years. 

While attending the State Fair in St. Paul, she was fascinated by Minnesota Weavers Guild members who were demonstrating weaving and spinning in “The Women’s Building”.  This was so inspiring to her that she worked with the Girl Scouts to earn Badges in “Fiberart” which eventually lead to the formation of the Range Fiberart Guild. Always being innovative and thrifty, she did some simple weaving with cardboard looms, and later with little wooden frame looms she made for the girl scouts to use. 

While watching the spinning and weaving by the MN Weavers Guild members, which was a well-organized group at that point, Carol wished there was a group like that on the Iron Range.  It was here that she was told to contact Janet Meany who had started a guild in Duluth.

Experiences

Beginning of Range Fiberart Guild

Some of Carol’s work colleagues began to take an interest in what she was doing, so a small group of women started to meet at the Methodist Church in Virginia.  Carol volunteered to be the president for a year, while her colleague Ginny Katowski assisted with miscellaneous tasks, and they began meeting once a month.  This was the beginning of the Range Fiberart Guild. Carol also met with the Junior College in Eveleth and Virginia which eventually became a meeting place where several classes were held.  At Guild meetings members went over what they thought they could offer, and “just kind of dove in and tried it”.  They learned from books and looked for others to teach and demonstrate, particularly people from other Guilds and from the Minnesota Guild.  Carol and other guild members also attended classes and workshops in the Twin Cities or other places so they could bring back new skills to teach in Virginia. 

Detail of Ely Lake rug by Carol Sperling

Detail, "Ely Lake Ice" rug

 

Weaving at Ironworld (Minnesota Discovery Center)

Carol’s friend at the East Range Clinic told her that her mother, Siri Saari, had a loom and was a life-long rug weaver and would like others to keep on using her loom.  Carol worked with Ironworld to accept this donation in 1978 as the very first donated loom.  It had been built around 1944.  The second loom donated was the Aili Luoma Loom which was made in the late 1920’s.

Range Fiberart Guild members did research on various kinds of weaves done in all of the ethnic groups that moved to this area. The Guild members would practice these weaves on their own table looms and then, during the summer, use those patterns on the Ironworld looms. One of the things that bothered the weavers about the looms was: “Everyone thought that they were only for rag rugs!”  Carol and other Guild members were interested in showing that these old looms were not just for weaving rugs, but that they were used for many other things!  They set up the looms for weaving towels, runners, and more, leaving visitors astonished.

Siri Saari loom at Minnesota Discovery Center

Siri Saari Loom

Weaving 'an amazing story'

Carol was asked to contribute to an exhibit at the Minnesota Hibbing Community College titled “Color and Form:  Finnish Style” that was held October to December 2010. For this exhibit, she was inspired by one of the stories from the “Kaleva” (a book of narratives, poems, local wisdom passed on from Finnish speaking peasants and fisherman of modern Finland and Russia) and wove this transparency.  (The rug is seen in an oral-history video on this site.)

Tying it all together

Through the Rag Rug Exhibit as well as demonstrating at Laskianen, Earth Fest, Kaleva Hall events, and others, Carol has shown she is a person who is extremely interested in fiber, fiber creations, the history of fibers, and cultural differences in how fibers were used. Her early desire to be an art teacher comes through in her continued dedication to teaching, and keeping the traditions of weaving, while experimenting with different techniques. She wanted everyone to know and value fabric for what it is now and for how it came to us--that is a living art having continuity from early times when thread was “invented” to make clothing, to when weavers would teach each other different patterns.  Knowledge about weaving is passed along from generation to generation and is important because it is our history as well as our tradition. Carol’s teaching skills keep weaving alive to connect us to that history and knowledge. She continues to inspire through her extensive gallery of weavings that shows how each rag rug has its own story to tell.