A collaboration between an artist wife and a musician husband grew roots by a stream on a camping trip.
That’s where Darla Slee read Neil Gaiman’s 2017 book, “Norse Mythology,” out loud to Jeremiah Walter. The stories of Odin, Thor, Loki and Freyja long held a fascination for Slee, and her interest inspired Walter. The couple saw a chance at a partnership greater than the one they created on a daily basis.
“There’s something about it (Norse mythology) that seems timeless,” Slee says. “In high school, they kept teaching Greek mythology. It’s important, it influences culture, but I found it to be misogynistic. (Norse mythology) doesn’t feel as misogynist. These old myths and folklore are still dealing with patriarchal societies, but they’re more equal and funny and laid-back.”
Slee’s new exhibit, “Uprooting a Mountain: Norse Mythology Reimagined,” opens Friday at Kreuser Gallery during First Friday Downtown. A free opening reception is from 5 to 9 p.m., and also will feature Walter playing songs from “Eighteen Magic Spells,” his companion album to the visual art. Copies of what Walter calls a “psychedelic folk album” also will be for sale.
Two other exhibits will be featured in the gallery: “Motherhood is Forever” by Lupita Carrasco and “Alvarez Squared” by Chris Alvarez.
“The songs are based on the myths,” Walter says. “This is where Darla and I differed a little. I tried to remain authentic to the earliest versions of the myth I could find. She has a new take on what these stories are — maybe changing the setting or gender of a character.”
While Greek mythology does seem more prominent in our culture as a whole, Norse mythology has made its own contributions, such as inspiring the days of the week: Thor’s day is what we know as Thursday. So why are Norse myths not as well-known? Slee has a theory, which was also an impetus to do the show.
“Right-wing groups latched onto Norse mythology, and this goes back before the Nazis in Germany,” she says. “I don’t know if that maybe gave it a bad flavor. I really wanted to combat that. It’s a fun mythology and for everyone and it’s influenced lots of people — J.R.R. Tolkien was influenced by Norse mythology.”
Digging into myths and all their different iterations was at first a hardship for Walter, a multi-instrumentalist who’s played in bands The Rogue Spirits, Intake, Buster’s Tangent and Groove Medicine. But he soon realized Norse mythology could be compared to folk songs, which can often have dozens of versions after being passed down through generations.
“It freed me up,” he says. “I didn’t have to pick which one I think is most legit. I can pick one that makes the best song.”
In one way, the pandemic was a boon to his album. It allowed him extra time, energy and money to collect instruments from around the world to incorporate into the music: a phin from Thailand, valiha from Madagascar, cümbüs saz from Turkey, balalaika from Russia, krar from Ethiopia and a taishogoto from Japan.
“It gives it a diversity I really enjoy,” Walter says. “A lot of music around Norse mythology is traditional, maybe folk, or a lot of metal bands do Viking metal. It was freeing to make each song, depending on what instrument I wanted to use, its own thing and free from traditional genres or folk forms.”