Exactly one year ago – almost to the day – I was standing, shivering in temperatures of minus 2C but wholly distracted by the incredible views, on the outside deck of a ferry speeding away from snowy Trondheim towards Ørlandet, a windswept peninsula in the Trondheim Fjord, mid-Norway.

I was there to meet museum and private collectors, see artworks and plan for our winter 2017 exhibition of tapestries by Swedish-Norwegian artist Hannah Ryggen (1894–1970), which is opening tomorrow evening at Modern Art Oxford.

Ryggen spent almost all of her working life on Ørlandet working on her family farm and making tapestries on a homemade loom. It is where the National Museum of Decorative Arts and Design now run the centre in her name. The trip was exhilarating, not least because it allowed me to see in person many of the tapestries that in 12 months’ time we would be transporting to Oxford.

I was also given the opportunity to view one of Ryggen’s final looms, which her husband Hans built to her exact specifications. Ryggen controlled the whole process from spinning and dyeing local wool to weaving with it on her loom.

Meeting Ryggen scholars and other key contacts in Norway, allowed us to secure works for the exhibition, develop curatorial research for the exhibition, and discussing the practical aspects of transporting, installing and protecting the work.

While Ryggen is now one of Scandinavia’s most well-known and significant artistic figures of the 20th century, this exhibition at MAO will be the first solo presentation of her work in the UK. The works on show range across Ryggen’s entire career, from an early self-portrait of 1914, painted when she was just 20, to her late tapestries of the 1950s and 1960s.

Born in 1894, Malmö, Sweden, Ryggen first trained as a schoolteacher. On a study visit to Dresden in 1922, she met her husband, the Norwegian painter Hans Ryggen. The married couple soon moved to Ørlandet, and made a living by subsistence farming. Over the next 10 years, Hannah taught herself the processes of treating and dyeing wool, spinning and weaving.

Hannah described herself as “a painter, not a weaver; a painter whose tool is not the brush, but the loom.” The artist never worked with preparatory sketches, preferring to weave her compositions directly from her imagination. Her innovative use of natural dyes is clear to see in the rich colours of her tapestries, ranging from deep blues to warm reds and oranges.

Ryggen’s intensely personal and political relationship with the current events of her time is at the heart of our exhibition, which includes a series of dramatic works from the 1930 and 1940s representing the horror and violence of fascism.