It is almost twenty years now when Danish author Peter Høeg published his novel (1992) Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne, in English Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1996 in English). I could not at that time understand all the possible turns and meanings that the novel encompassed but was still very thrilled by the beauty of the snow. In the book, the character Smilla has an extraordinary ability to understand all types of snow, and name them.
What was so thrilling for me was the idea of snow being so central to one’s experiences and consciousness. In Finland (Norway, Sweden, Russia), the indigenous circumpolar Sami People, had hundreds of words for snow in their language defining the qualities of snow. Their traditional way of life included reindeer herding, and nomadic lifestyle was dependent on the snow conditions in pastures especially in winter. People knew how to define the snow.
In the arctic, the sensing of nature is important. I was growing up in a close relation to the nature. The aesthetics of snow come to my sensing of art and design. Shaping snow into ice and experiencing it in the landscape.
Another creative, artist Marc Chagall took inspiration from snow and wintry landscapes. One of his signature paintings is Over Vitebsk. The beauty of the painting is in the flying figure, and in the silent houses below him. Everything seems to be resting in the quiet of snow, yet there is an undercurrent movement. Chagall is having a nostalgic dream and sees his past hometown in a picturesque image full of movement and life.
I saw couple of recent Chagall shows pondering the corpus of his works. How little I knew that he had created so diverse collections in the United States. I went to Philadelphia twice in the summer and saw the exhibition where curators wished to frame Chagall next to his fellow avant-garde Parisians. Again, Chagall’s presence in Philadelphia was surprisingly vivid.