The Vilgas

According to a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, the Vilgas, a guild of Lapp painters, through their great closeness to the icy world of the polar surface, developed an extremely sensitive notion of white colours. Their golden age coin- cides with the birth of Protestantism in Northern Europe when the churches ba- nished from their walls any kind of image, which were considered to be a source of lies. The ministers would regularly call them in to paint the church interiors in a white so intense that it gave the faithful the impression of entering a place of absolute truth.

With the secularization of Scandinavian society, interest in the Vilgas waned.
In the 1960s, they were back in the limelight when Pontus Hultén invited them to come and paint in a cold white the walls of the contemporary art museum that he ran in Stockholm. Following in his wake, many museums around the world hired them for exhibitions of works belonging to Minimalism and Conceptual Art (the austerity of their colours being perfectly suited to the state of mind gene- rated by those movements).
During the 1980s, as contemporary art exhibitions became increasingly specta- cular, the gallery walls were painted in bright, sometimes even garish colours. Once more, the Vilgas were consigned to oblivion.

In former times, the first practical exercise required of a young Vilgas apprentice was to make his own brush out of seal hairs. The brushes had an exact number of hairs that the novice had to name, each one individually, using the surname of one of his ancestors. During his training, the master could at any time point to a hair on a pupil’s brush and ask him its name. If the apprentice made a mistake, the memory of the dead relative was dishonoured, and one day or another, the wrongly named hair would drop off the paintbrush to appear like a reproach on a newly painted wall.

The Vilgas made a point of making sure that any coat of paint that they applied on a wall would never crack, even after many years. If ever any cracks did appear, the only way to accept their existence was to find exactly the same cracks on the polar icecap.

In the last few years, with global warming and the melting of the polar icecaps, the Vilgas have been in great demand among scientists to preserve the memory (in the form of painted panels) of the huge diversity of cold whites currently threatened with extinction.