Saturday, August 6, 2011

Swedish Bric-a-Brac

My family is primarily of English descent, and I have always loved to learn about my family's history.  We have certain traditions, usually around the holidays, that stem from our heritage.  And yes, I love Shepherd's Pie (like my grandmother made), roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, shortbread cookies, cheddar cheese, Worcestershire sauce, fish and chips, "After Eight" mints, and of course a nice cup of hot tea.  But, I don't like Blood Pudding, fruit cake, pork pie, head cheese, or boiled dinner.  Yes, we all have traditions that we have "inherited" from our families....some we keep, some we alter, and some we let go....bye, bye head cheese!  Because a part of my husband's family was originally from Sweden, we have enjoyed learning about Swedish traditions and have incorporated some of his family's Swedish traditions in our lives.   My mother-in-law especially appreciated Swedish arts and crafts and always had many Swedish items around her home.  As I have learned more about Sweden, I have found that I really love Swedish "art," history, holiday traditions, fabrics, and foods.  My husband especially loves Swedish desserts such as anything with almond paste or almond flavorings, coffee cakes, pancakes, Pepparkake, breads such as Swedish rye, Lingonberry jams, and almost any cookie!  "Smorgasbord" was originated in Sweden, and who doesn't love a wonderful Smorgasbord?  Yummmm

Today, I would like to share a few of our "Swedish" treasures.  The"Dala" horse is prevalent in many Swedish items.  "Per and the Dala Horse" is a delightful story about a little boy and his magical Dala Horse. The illustrations are amazing! 

As you can see, I have a Dala Horse serving tray, which is perfect for serving Swedish cookies, a plush Dala Horse, a Dala Horse oven mitt, and even a Dala Horse cookie cutter.  (Now that I have learned a new cookie decorating technique, I can't wait to make some Dala Horse sugar cookies!)

My son brought this little Swedish wooden boy back from his trip to Stockholm.  It is very tiny, about an inch tall!  With the colors of the Swedish flag, I just love it!

This is a serving tray that I originally bought to serve Swedish Almond Bread which is baked in a long, scalloped tube pan.  The water color painting on the tray is "The Kitchen" painted by the artist, Carl Larsson.  Carl Larsson happens to be one of my favorite artists.  "Larsson was born on May 28, 1853,  in the old town in Stockholm.  His parents were extremely poor, and his childhood was not happy. Carl's strong artistic talent had emerged early in his life. When he was 13 years old, his teacher at the school for the poor had persuaded him to apply for enrollment at Principskolan, the preparatory department of the Royal Art Academy.
Renate Puvogel, in her book Larsson, gives detailed information about his Carl's life: "His mother was thrown out of the house, together with Carl and his brother Johan; after enduring a series of temporary dwellings, the family moved into Grev Magnigränd No.7 (later No.5) in what was then Ladugårdsplan, present-day Östermalm". As a rule, each room was home to three families; "penury, filth and vice thrived there, leisurely seethed and smouldered, eaten-away and rotten bodies and souls. Such an environment is the natural breeding ground for cholera," he wrote in his autobiographical novel Me (Jag, Stockholm, 1931, p. 21).
Carl's father worked as a casual laborer, sailed as a stoker on a ship headed for Scandinavia, and lost the lease to a nearby mill, only to end up there later as a mere grain carrier. Larsson portrays him as a loveless man lacking self-control; he drank, ranted and raved, and incurred lifelong anger of his son through his outburst, "I curse the day you were born." In contrast, Carl's endlessly working mother provided for their everyday needs through her job as a laundress.  Carl's artistic talent was probably inherited from his grandfather on his mother's side, who was a painter by trade. 
However, at the age of thirteen, his teacher Jacobsen, at the school for poor children urged him to apply to the "principskola" of the Royal Swedish Academy of the Arts, and he was admitted. During his first years there, Larsson felt socially inferior, confused, and shy.  In 1869, at the age of sixteen, he was promoted to the "antique school" of the same academy. There Larsson gained confidence, and even became a central figure in student life. Carl earned his first medal in nude drawing. In the meantime, Larsson worked as a caricaturist for the humorous paper Kasper and as graphic artist for the newspaper Ny Illustrerad Tidning. His annual wages were sufficient to allow him to help his parents out financially.
After several years working as an illustrator of books, magazines, and newspapers, Larsson moved to Paris in 1877, where he spent several frustrating years as a hardworking artist without any success. Larsson was not eager to establish contact with the French progressive impressionists; instead, along with other Swedish artists, he cut himself off from the radical movement of change.
After spending two summers in Barbizon,  he settled down with his Swedish painter colleagues in 1882 at a Scandinavia artists' colony outside Paris. It was there that he met the artist Karin Bergöö, who soon became his wife. This was to be a turning point in Larsson's life. In Grez, the artist's colony, Larsson painted some of his most important works, now in watercolor, and very different from the oil painting technique he had previously employed.
Carl and Karin Larsson had eight children and his family became Larsson's
In 1888 the young family was given a small house, named Little Hyttnäs, in Sundborn, by Karin's father Adolf Bergöö. Carl and Karin decorated and furnished this house according to their particular artistic taste and also for the needs of the growing family.
Through Larsson's paintings and books this house has become one of the most famous artist's homes in the world, transmitting the artistic taste of its creators and making it a major line in Swedish interior design. The descendants of Carl and Karin Larsson now own this house and keep it open for tourists each summer from May until October.
Larsson's popularity increased considerably with the development of colour reproduction technology in the 1890s, when the Swedish publisher Bonnier published books written and illustrated by Larsson and containing full colour reproductions of his watercolours, e.g. A Home. However, the print runs of these rather expensive albums did not come close to that produced in 1909 by the German publisher Karl Robert Langewiesche (1874–1931): His choice of watercolours, drawings and text by Carl Larsson, titled Ads Haus in der Sonne (The House in the Sun), immediately became one of the German publishing industry's best-sellers of the year — 40,000 copies sold in three months, and more than 40 print runs have been produced up to 2001. Carl and Karin Larsson declared themselves overwhelmed by such success.
Carl Larsson considered his monumental works, such as his frescos in schools, museums and other public buildings, to be his most important works. His last monumental work,  Midventorblot (Midwinter Sacrifice), a 6-by-14-metre (20 × 46 ft) oil painting completed in 1915, had been commissioned for a wall in the National Museum in Stockholm (which already had several of his frescos adorning its walls). However, upon completion, it was rejected by the board of the museum. The fresco depicts the "blot" (pagan sacrifice) of King Domalde at the Temple of Uppsala. Decades later, the painting was purchased and placed in the National Museum.

I found this wonderful boat, made in Sweden, at an antique shop.  I think it is a simplified version of the Viking longship.

"Viking Longships:
The Vikings were truly the lords of the sea. They traveled all over the world, fearlessly daring the seas and oceans. One of their greatest feats of sailing would have to be that they were the first Europeans to reach America. Leif Eriksson landed on the American coast around the year 1000, long before Columbus. Their Dragonships were not only extremely seaworthy, but they were also great for raiding. They were very fast and allowed a quick attack and fast escape. And a shallow daft made them independent of harbors allowing them to go ashore on any beach. Dragonships can be recognized by their square sail and the dragon head on the bow. The Vikings had a dragon head on the bow of the ship to protect against the evil spirits of the sea. "

I have a small collection of Dala Horses, that I have acquired over the years.  The smallest two were brought back from Sweden by my son.  A little history of the Dala Horse:  "The original Dala Horse (Dalahäst) has been around for many centuries, and probably was created by Swedish woodcutters in the province of Dalarna near Mora. During the long winters, these lonely men would spend their evenings away from their families, and passed their time by carving little toys for their children. While these carved wooden toys, made from the scraps of the men's occupation, were mostly horses, some were also roosters or pigs. However, the most enduring of these little creatures remains the Dala Horse.

The bright, happy little animal as we now know the Dala Horse probably originated in the 1700's. The carving of the stocky little tailless horses had become a well-established tradition, but up until this time they had been unpainted and had just the natural grain of the wood for ornamentation.

In the winter of 1716, while King Charles XII of Sweden waged war throughout most of Europe, many soldiers were quartered in private homes in the Mora area of Sweden. Because of the severe winter and the war, all suffered from lack of food and warmth. Tradition has it that one such soldier, in his spare time, carved a Dala Horse from some scrap wood in the home where he was staying. Before presenting it to the child of the home as a gift, he painted it a bright red. This was a readily available color in this area, being produced from the copper mine at the nearby community of Falun.

He decorated the horse with kurbit painting for the harness and saddle. The use of kurbits as decorative motifs on the horse came from the soldier's deep religious background. It is the kurbit, or gourd, plant which grew up around Jonah as he sat outside the city of Ninevah, and protected him from the sun's devastating rays.

In return for this bright toy, the woman of the house gave the soldier a bowl of soup. He made another horse and received another bowl of soup. When word of his success in bartering for food reached the other soldiers, they too began carving and painting horses in exchange for food. Thus the Dala Horse is credited in part with the army's surviving the cruel winter.

This is a wooden platter with "Rosemaling" that belonged to my MIL.

The Swedish nobility (Adeln) were historically a legally and/or socially privileged class in Sweden, part of the so-called fralse (a classification defined by tax exemptions and representation in the assembly that also applied to clergy). Today, the nobility is still very much a part of Swedish society but they do not maintain many of their former privileges. They still do possess some privileges such as the protection by law of their family names, titles and coats of arms. The Swedish nobility consists of both "introduced" (introducerad adel) and "unintroduced" nobility (ointroducerad adel), the latter has not been "introduced" at the House of Nobility (Riddarhuset).
The House of Nobility also has a special tax for all noblemen over the age of 18. Belonging to the nobility in present day Sweden still carries some social privileges, and is of certain social and historical significance.

This figurine depicts the Swedish nobility in Swedish dress with a Dala horse.

These three brooches were all made in Sweden.  The top "flower" is made of sterling silver,  the Mermaid, on the bottom left is made of pewter, and Santa Lucia, on the bottom right, is also made of pewter.

St. Lucia is an Italian saint who has been "adopted" by the Swedes. She gave her dowry to the poor. Her fiancee denounced her for this. She was blinded and burned. The flames didn't touch her so she was stabbed in the heart. The red sash represents the wound. It is said that she appeared during a famine in Sweden in the middle ages carrying food to the farmers across Lake Vännern.
She is associated with the idea of light. In the middle ages, December 13 (St. Lucia Day) fell on the shortest day of the year. (In Sweden, the sun is not up very long in winter. In some places it doesn't come up at all.) This holiday celebrates the fact that the days will now get longer.

I made this Santa Lucia doll, which sits on a stand by our front door during the Christmas holidays.  St. Lucia is carrying St. Lucia buns, a Swedish sweetbread, and wears the "Crown of Light."

My husband is very talented and painted this "charger" in the style of "Rosemaling."  Rosemåling is a style of decorative painting on wood that uses stylized flower ornamentation, scrollwork, lining and geometric elements, often in flowing patterns. Landscape and architectural elements are also common. Many other decorative painting techniques were used such as glazing, spattering, marbelizing, manipulating the paint with the fingers or other objects, etc.
Rosemaling is common in Sweden (swedish: rosmålning) where it is also, incorrectly, called kurbitsmålning or simply kurbits, where kurbits refers to depictions of gourds. As with the Norwegian counterpart it was most popular from the latter half of the 18th century and until the 1860s.

This antique bellows,  with beautiful Rosemaling, belonged to my MIL.

My husband also painted this beautiful Rosemaling wood plaque, which has always been displayed in our home.

I really enjoy and appreciate Scandinavian illustrators.  They inspired me to make this "Swedish Doll " which I constructed by needle felting.  Needle felting is done by pushing and pulling a finely barbed needle in and out of loose wool.  The small barb tangles the fibers and they begin to hold together.  To construct a "doll,"  the wool is pierced thousands of times.  The placement of the needle and wool, sculpt the figure. My "Swedish" doll will always remind me of our family's Swedish heritage.

Now, I think I will go to Ikea, or even better, I will bake a "Morotskaka" for my husband...Swedish Carrot Cake....that should put a smile on his face!!!

Have a great day!!!  Ha det så bra! 


  1. Ha det så bra! I always learn so much when reading your blog entries. Love them!

  2. I'm not familiar with blogs so not sure if this works.
    I'm commenting on the photo of the blue "longship" with the little guys in the black top hats: we had exactly the same one! I notice your "rudder oar" is missing.
    Anyway, I think I recall my parents telling me that this depicted a traditional celebration (Christmas? New Year's?) where the men rowed down the river to a church service, or something similar. I think any similarity to an actual longboat is coincidental. There are so many things I regret not paying more attention to, even physically documenting, from my parents' accounts.
    I will try to follow up with my aunt & cousin in Sweden.

  3. Where did you buy your dala horse oven mitts?

    I used to have the same exact mitts but somehow lost them. I bought them at a souvenir shop in Malmö and am looking for any kind of information on how I could buy another copy. Did you get them online somewhere? Is there a brand name on them? Thanks!

    1. I am sorry, but we can't remember where we got them. It may have been the American Swedish Institute Gift Shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The tag says "Mia L" Design, Sweden.