Olga Larsen. photo, c 1945
Olga Marie Alvilda Larsen was born 1 February 1897 and died 26 October 1972, 75 years old. An advance age, considering her destiny.
Her hometown was Copenhagen, which she never left at all. Her parents had a son, William Larsen, two years after her birth. Her father died when the children were one and three years old.
Alone with two toddlers the mother’s social network was two unmarried sisters-in-law and their friends at a Free Church on Nørrebro. She earned her living as a seamstress for different tailors who had employed her husband.
As a young girl Olga was captivated by the Free Church environment and for a number of years joined the Salvation Army, visiting pubs and bars to save lost souls.
On one of these trips she was knocked over by a horse, that trod on her left hand. The thumb was damaged and remained a withered twig for the rest of her life.
This incident changed her life. The lively and open girl became withdrawn and a little odd. She always hid her thumb and no longer enjoyed the company of others. She liked to sit in a trance-like position and fantasize.
Her younger brother William dissociated himself from Olga, whom he believed to be possessed by an evil spirit. Later when he had children he tried to limit their knowledge of her to avoid bad influences.
Olga worked as a cook untill she was almost 60 years old. After long working days she sat in her small room, working zealously on her tapestries which now constituted her whole life. In them she tried to realize her dreams which in time developped into a religion or mythology.
Olga’s fantasy universe was centered on a small farm where she in peace could surround herself with horses, sheep, goats, cats, dogs and a vegetable garden.
An expression of her longing to live in the country with animals and a garden. The closest she ever got to the dream was the wild cats in the city.
In her later years Olga had her own little apartment, first on Nørrebro and later on Vesterbro.
The neighbours knes her as the cat lady because she fed the wild cats. Her apartment reeked of cat piss and the neighbours frowned upon her because of the cats and because of her strange clothes which in winter were supplemented with old newspapers around the legs for the warmth.
Under such conditions Olga Larsen’s tapestries were produced.
Made with leftover yarn which carefully and without other pattern
than her fantasy was sewn on canvas.
Yes, she was mentally disturbed. But a raving lunatic? No. She could hold a normal conversation, inquire about family members and answer questions about herself. But she always returned to what mattered to her: the fantasy world she tried to depict in her tapestries.
When she died her brother wanted to destroy the tapestries. They were saved by her nephew.
Olga Larsen created 14 tapestries and several embroidered table cloths. The handmade tapestries were created from about 1935 to 1965. The order is not known, but the looser ones, where the text is harder to read, are among the last. This is due to increasing arthritis and decreasing vision.
As a genre the compositions can be said to be minimalistic as both colours and materials are limited to what was at hand. However, Olga Larsen did not know this idea.
William, the mother Emma og Olga Larsen, c 1910
William, the mother Emma and Olga Larsen, c 1925
Photo: Hauerslev Fælledvej 9, København,