Scandinavia is known for its distinct furnishings, decorative arts, and crafts. What is not well known is the origin of design in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland. This history is the underpinning for what we celebrate as quality design in Nordic countries today. In Sweden, there is a tradition, rooted in the aristocracy, of architecture and design by men such as Nicodemus Tessin the Younger (1654-1728) and Carl Hårleman (1700-1753). They and others transformed Swedish architecture and decorative arts after a fire destroyed the Tre Kronor (Three Crowns) Castle in Stockholm in 1697.
As in other European countries, in Sweden, there is a parallel history of functional design rooted firmly in the countryside. It is hemslöjd, or handicraft, a tradition that was important to Anders and Emma Zorn; Anders Zorn (1860-1920) grew up in the rural hemslöjd tradition and painted and etched a number of Mora handicraft practitioners, while Emma Zorn (1860-1942) helped to found the Mora Hemslöjd in 1905. Today’s designs from Nordic countries find their roots in hemslöjd. As one author wrote, "A feeling for materials seems to be something specially Scandinavian. It was certainly an important aspect of the craft tradition, which was, in turn, fundamental to the development of Scandinavian design." 1
Hemslöjd is anything made for the home. Traditional hemslöjd is defined by Anna-Maja Nylén, author of Swedish Handicraft, as "domestic manufacture for private consumption or for sale," which is "manufactured in the home by the members of the household to supplement their main livelihood, generally farming." The "product is made... as a sideline, uncommissioned, and is sold by the producer directly to the consumer." 2
The history of hemslöjd parallels Sweden’s development as a nation. In order to understand the importance of hemslöjd in Swedish life, it helps to know the three principal phases of Swedish handicraft: its development prior to industrialization; the decline of hemslöjd during industrialization; and the reaction to industrialization, where an effort was made to preserve hemslöjd through governmental and private intervention.
A wide variance of climate, topography, and historical factors within Sweden caused different areas to develop different handicraft traditions. The emphasis here is on Anders Zorn’s province of Dalarna and the market town of Mora, where he was born in 1860. We think of Sweden as a progressive, modern, and innovative society, yet as late as 1870, 70% of the population lived in the country, where conditions were often difficult. It was no accident that nearly 25% of the people in Zorn’s home district emigrated to the United States in the nineteenth century, where they found greater opportunity. It is sometimes stated that the basis for Sweden’s so-called welfare state is rooted in common memory of hardship–that the whole should help the individual as a way to survive the rigors of life.
Travel writer Agnes Rothery wrote of Dalarna in the 1930s, "All countries are dream countries... But [Dalarna] ... is the dear, familiar land of our childhood where the tiny panes in every cottage may be made of sugar, and the overhanging eaves of gingerbread." 3 The world Anders Leonard Zorn was born into shared little of Rothery's fairy-tale vision. His early life exemplifies the reality of rural Sweden and how hemslöjd was an important factor in everyday life and an important component in the struggle to survive.
Iona Plath wrote in Swedish Decorative Arts, "The winters in Sweden are long, dark, and cold; little work can be done out of doors, and rural families have always been obliged to spend the winter months largely within their homes. It was natural that the home and objects for the home should receive much attention and care... During these dark months no member of the Swedish peasant family was allowed to be idle. While the women of the family worked their looms the men whittled and carved useful implements of wood. In the old days everything the family needed was made by some member at home..." 4
Zorn’s grandparents lived in the settlement of Yvraden, part of Mora parish. Many peasants from the area, and Zorn's mother was one of them, often had to walk hundreds of miles to find work in distant towns, and sometimes, to nearby countries–the so-called herrarbete. Zorn’s mother, whom he called "Mona" (mother in Moramål, the local dialect), worked as a bottle washer in the university town of Uppsala, where she became pregnant by a Bavarian brew master, Johann Leonhard Zorn (1831-1872). Mona (1838-1920) returned to her parents' farm, where Anders was born in a cowshed. The baptismal record at Mora Church specifies that Zorn's mother was the maid Grudd Anna Andersdotter, but no father's name is recorded.
Life was difficult on the little farms that dotted the area. Infant mortality was staggering, and famine was not unknown. An illegitimate child was more than likely to suffer from neglect and early death, and those who survived adolescence often became alcoholics. As Zorn candidly stated in his memoirs, “It was of course considered the deepest disgrace in those days to have a child out of wedlock, and one had every reason to fear the worst for such an unfortunate.... I had no father. I was the fruit of an accident and a German brewer living in Finland was to blame for my life’s origin.”
When he was born, his grandparents, whom Zorn described as “God-fearing, fair-minded, and strictly moral people of old peasant stock,” allowed the boy to be raised on their farm while his mother returned to Uppsala to work in the brewery. Zorn would later paint female brewery workers (1890) as a tribute to Mona and the women who worked with her. On the small croft, Anders adapted quickly to life. He wrote in his memoirs, "At a young age, I learned to be useful. I helped the others as much as I could by watching the sheep in the woods. I carried home fir twigs and chopped them up and strewed them on the cowshed floor and I helped my grandfather at the anvil and by sewing and knitting. I tried to lend a hand at just about anything. And then in the evening I would borrow grandfather's knife to carve a two-legged horse in bark... Sometimes, I borrowed his carpenter's pencil to draw horses or figures on the back of a letter from my mother, the only paper we ever had." 5
Zorn related another aspect of hemslöjd to the French art critic Armand Dayot (1851-1934), which consists of selling or bartering a finished product: "I was eight years old... when I sold my first work. It represented an angry cow, a little sculpture in colored wood... This Angry Cow was generously paid for with a sou and a little white roll by a shepherd who was a friend of mine." 6
Anna-Maja Nylén could have meant Dalarna when she wrote, "We know that handicraft for household use and for sale is extremely old. It is also clear that specialized professional artisans existed as early as the Stone and Bronze Ages." She noted that "In some areas of Sweden, existing craft traditions have never been broken, spanning the years of transition from an agrarian society to today’s industrialized state." This is certainly true of Dalarna and the area around Mora.
Nylén wrote, "The province of Dalarna offers the most conspicuous and best-known provincial craft production in Sweden. Its poorly developed agriculture and its archaic inheritance customs have made a developed craft production imperative.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the authorities did not encourage hemslöjd. As early a 1604, King Karl IX (1550-1611), son of Gustav Vasa (1496?-1560), wanted to put an end to rural crafts. The clergy informed the king that there were provinces in Sweden, such as Dalarna, that could not generate enough food to sustain life, and peasants needed alternative means to supplement their existence. As early as the 1630s, Karl IX’s son Gustav II Adolf (1694-1632), the founder of Gothenburg (1621), encouraged the establishment of industry, the most successful being the textile industry that was centered in Borås, in Västergötland, east of Gothenburg. The support of industries placed the authorities in conflict with peasant production of hemslöjd, and Nylén noted, "This conflict was very sharp, especially at times during the eighteenth century. The restrictive measures of the state came to oppose the handicraft production, because the latter was the major competitor for the consumer."
Nylén goes on to state, "The economic literature of the day exhibits a united front against handicraft, which is condemned in no uncertain terms. It is referred to as 'kladdandet och kläpandet' (dabbling & bungling) in the countryside. This displeasure was directed especially against those who carried on a domestic craft production for sale, 'these dabbling and bungling craftsmen, who peddle their makeshift wares illegally to diverse buyers and the common populace, servants and the like.' The bitterness towards the peasants' domestic production and trade was based on contemporary views of the national economy. To make commerce and industry flourish, it was considered advisable to locate what was regarded as urban industries in the towns and prohibit their practice by the peasants." 7
Dalarna, bordering on Norway, remained fairly isolated throughout this period. Iona Plath noted, "The very heart of Swedish peasant culture is to be found in the... provinces... of Värmland, Västmanland and Darlarna. The statement holds especially true of Dalarna. With impassable mountains and uncultivated lands to the west, the most ancient types of Swedish peasant culture were allowed to persist unchanged in Dalarna, flourishing to such an extent that any influence from the east left scarcely a trace." 8
P. G. Svedelin wrote in the Moraposten in 1832, "The [Mora] parishioners' main livelihood comes from farming and the raising of cattle. At the same time, the cultivated farm is... inadequate to support numerous inhabitants, so they are compelled to supplement their meager livelihood with secondary occupations in order to survive. To this end they are employed in the colder season producing a multitude of wall clocks, brass and iron works, weaving reeds, barrels, cabinets, chests, strainers, [and] boxes with more woodwork, which are carried off to other districts and sold, or more often exchanged for grain." 9
What developed around the ancient market town of Mora was unique. Nylén wrote, "A remarkable specialization has given rise to a specific manufacture in each parish, e.g., the casting of small bells and buttons – so-called Gustafs buttons – in Gustafs parish; the making of coopered vessels and splint baskets in Mora and Venjan; the painting of cabinetry and purely decorative painting in Leksand and Rattvik; boat building in Sollerö [an island in Lake Siljan]; iron extraction, smithery, and making of chimney bricks in Älvdalen; the making of grindstones in Orsa; and the tanning of hides and the making of leather in Malung."
Nylén noted, "Since prehistoric times, lake and bog ore supplies have been extracted, particularly in Dalarna and Småland. Smelting and further processing of the ore was carried out in small furnaces as a peasant industry." 10 Jan Af Buren wrote in Hemslöjden i Mora, "The forging art [in Mora] was universally prevalent. For example, the entire village of Selja was occupied with forging ploughs. An extensive knife and ax production occurred throughout the Mora area, the precursors of the Mora knife. Brass works were located in Östor and Öna, where all brass objects were cast. Brass chambers produced brass sheets from Skultune in Selja and Långet, also, to a lesser extent, in Östnor, Kråkberg and Bonäs. In the last three villages, they produced Mora clocks, especially in Östnor." Buren added, "The most original and best known products from Mora were Mora clocks." 11 These clocks are somewhat smaller than a grandfather’s clock and housed in a curved wooden cabinet that is painted in traditional designs.
To this day, the Mora Church (Mora kyrkan) dominates the skyline of the northern Lake Siljan region. Mora has long been the principle market town of the area. The marknad (or country market) aspect of selling handicraft was outlined by Nylén, who wrote, "Trade has been regulated from the beginning of recorded time by the coming together of buyers and sellers from separate locations... A relic of the custom to buy and sell whenever a sizable crowd assembled was the Sunday commerce on the church green. In spite of resistance from the clergy and the authorities, this practice continued to flourish as late as the nineteenth century, and, in exceptional cases, even later... Some of these rural markets and fairs have been of great importance since at least the Middle Ages, attracting buyers and sellers from afar. Some such annual fairs still exist in various parts of the country and attract a large attendance." Zorn painted a series of paintings titled Mora Marknad (Mora Market, 1890) and mentioned the annual fall market in his memoirs. 12 Buren wrote about another feature of traditional hemslöjd: "The handicraft producers distributed... directly to the consumers, but also to a very large extent, through house to house peddling. In Mora, it was the people of Gopshus and Oxberg [just north of Mora] who devoted themselves to this trade. The most important market areas were Bergslagen and the [Lake] Mälare area [to the south], but they often went as far south as southern Småland and north Blekinge." Nylén added, "However, as late as the 1920s and 30s. The peddlers continued their trade, their sacks now filled, not with handicraft, but with factory products." 13
Industrialization arrived in Sweden relatively late when compared to Great Britain and certain other European countries. Anna-Maja Nylén wrote, "In the late 1800s, industrial production [in Sweden] became so extensive that home craft production progressively lost its dominant position." 14 Iona Plath elaborated on the consequences of industrialization: "...When industry forced out the need of hand-made articles, the rural population was obliged to move to factory areas, and instead of being self-sufficient producers they became factory workers. The homes in the factory areas were small. There was no room for looms, and the women of the family could no longer carry on their traditional occupation. Consequently these peasants became the largest consumer class for the ready-made factory goods." 15
Jan Af Burén addressed industrialization in Dalarna: "Around 1850 a large change occurred in the social conditions in northern Sweden. With the advent of the sawmill industry, a large part of the manpower in the area that could not find employment on the farms went to work in the industry, and as a result money started to circulate because of large lumber sales." This would change the traditional way of life around Mora. Burén wrote, "During the second half of the 1800s, home weaving of textiles began to be replaced by cheap store bought cloth, and the use of the district’s traditional costumes [dräkt] diminished. Much of textile handicraft now imitated store bought clothe’s patterns and the local patterns went out of use. The old vegetable dyes were replaced with aniline dye colors. It was easier to go to the shop than to go out and collect vegetables, and, besides, the anilin colors were brighter. In this fashion, one entirely forgot the art of coloring with vegetable dyes."
The consequences of the new developments were far reaching. A report by the Kopparberg's provincial agricultural society from 1899-1900 stated, "Through the many work opportunities and large wages, men as well as women gradually abandoned traditional handicrafts. As a result, all sorts of small mass produced wares were offered at enticing prices, which more and more forced out home made articles. One can well understand that this previously very important type of industry has little by little come to lack its former importance."
Cheap imported goods affected Mora's most famous product, the Mora clock. Burén wrote, "Handiwork products were replaced by cheap industrial products. So, for example, the Mora clock competed during the 1860s with American clocks or German cuckoo clocks and many of the clock makers took employment in the sewing machine works in Östnor, ...which so gradually fell victim to competition from the American Singer machine." Burén wrote that most of the handicraft tradition was greatly diminished by industrialization and only wooden woven baskets (korg) and the Dala horse (Dala häst) survived to any great extent. 16
The dramatic transformation in Sweden prompted Jan Af Burén to bluntly state in Hemslöjden i Mora, "One knew that society underwent a thorough change, where man no longer stood at the center." One reaction to industrialization was the Hemslöjd Movement, which grew out of the Arts and Crafts Movement. It was also influenced by the national romantic movements sweeping through Europe in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The Swedish Romantic Movement was reflected in painting, music, and literature, and was a time when urban intellectuals and talented members of the arts community embraced Swedish folk life. Artur Hazelius (1833-1901), the founder of Stockholm’s Nordic Museum (Nordiska Museet) and Skansen, the world’s first open-air museum, laid the foundation for the rival of traditional Swedish culture by systematically preserving remnants of Sweden's past.
Peasants continued to struggle with societal change, but a framework was created early on by provincial governments that would help to preserve hemslöjd. Burén noted, "During the 1800s agricultural societies were created in each province – the first in Götlanska, which received its charter in 1800, and the last in 1851 in the province of Kronoberg. These associations had as their mission the promotion of agronomy and its subsidiary industries, among them handicrafts.Through the agricultural associations the state distributed support for handicrafts." 17
Nylén went into greater detail: "...Agricultural societies had worked for the improvement and encouragement of handicraft – especially the cultivation and spinning of flax. In the 1840s, several agricultural societies employed instructors in weaving as well as straw plaiting and basket weaving. In the 1870s, straw-plaiting instruction was offered in seventeen counties, basket weaving in twelve... Handicraft exhibitions were arranged at which rewards were given; retail centers were also set up to facilitate distribution..." 18 Burén noted, "Johan Wallander wrote in his records from the handicraft section of the Stockholm Exhibition of 1897 that the Swedish Parliament in 1873 granted an annual amount of 7,500 SEK for the ‘encouragement of handicrafts among people.’ These monies were principally for the teaching of handicraft." 19
From the provincial agricultural societies, the movement expanded to the national level. Nylén wrote, "The Handicraft Movement, that is, activity carried on by societies and private individuals in order to further the production and distribution of handcraft items, developed rapidly towards the end of the nineteenth century. Föreningen för Svensk Hemslöjd (The Society for Swedish Handicraft) was founded in 1899 [in Stockholm by Lilli Zickerman (1858-1949)], soon followed by the majority of the 56 now active societies. The background to this lively organizational activity was primarily the difficulties of handicraft in holding its own against the greater volume and more efficient distribution of industrial production." 20
Burén wrote of local developments in Dalarna: "In Mora, handicrafts were in decline at the turn of the century. As a result, the agricultural society in Falun sent handicraft teacher Maria Arosenuis to Mora in 1904 to inventory the area’s handicrafts and to encourage traditional crafts so that they might survive. In her lectures held in the villages of Mora she stressed the major principles of what was to become the hemslöjd movement..." Burén noted one of the most interesting facets of unfolding events: “The movement did not arise spontaneously by handicraft producers themselves, but through the influence of members from the cultured classes. This is clear in Mora's case, where the beginnings of Friends of Mora Hemslöjd (Morahemslöjdens Vänner) were three people, who all came from outside of Mora – handicraft teachers Maria Arosenius (1872-1965) and Beda Larsson (1865-1913), and Emma Zorn, who was from an upper middle-class Stockholm family."
Burén further wrote, "This is not a unique case. Gustaf Ankarcrona [1869-1933], who founded Leksand's Hemslöjd [Sweden’s first Hemslöjd], was an artist and descended from a family with property in Skane, Ottilia Adelborg [1855-1936], who saved lace making in Gagnef [located south of Leksand], was an artist and a descendent from Karlskrona, where her father was a marine officer.... These people were inspired by the handicraft that existed as cultural heritage..." 21
Anders and Emma Zorn are often credited with starting the Mora Hemslöjd, which is not quite accurate, but Emma was part of the planning from the beginning, and together with Arosenius and Larsson, saw that the organization was successful. She and Anders Zorn supported the effort in every way they could. No one knew better than Anders Zorn what could be lost if there was not a concerted effort to preserve traditional crafts. He held the older men of the Mora area who still preserved craft skills–such as the clock makers and blacksmiths whom he painted–in very high esteem, and he dearly loved and promoted the use of traditional peasant costumes of the region. Stig Björklund wrote, "Few before [Zorn] had done so much to arouse interest in and preserve the ancient heritage of this area: its buildings, clothing, language, music and customs." 22
Birgitta Sandström, former director of the Zorn Museum, wrote of Zorn’s promotion of the traditional costume in Mora Dräktbok (Book of Traditional Mora Costumes): "Anders Zorn played a unique part in revitalizing Mora folk costume and in inspiring its renaissance in the early 1900s. After studying components of Mora folk costume from different periods and the existing historical records, he arrived at a version of Mora folk costume as he believed it should be. He was assisted by a knowledgeable group of fellow researchers, composed mostly of women but a number of men were also involved. Zorn worked hard to preserve other forms of folk culture including music, games and songs. He had a cabin decorated according to local Mora customs and used it as a gathering place where people could meet, (folk costume was obligatory) play music, sing and participate in other traditional cultural activities." 23
Emma was a cultured Stockholmer who embraced her adopted home in Dalarna. The year she was married, 1885, she wrote to her sister (née Anna Fredrica Lamm) and her husband, the publisher Hugo Geber (1853-1914) on July 23 from Mora: "I like my new relatives very much, particularly Zorn's mother. You can just imagine how many presents I received today. Among other things, I got an awfully nice Dalarna purse [Mora kalvskinnsväska] from my mother-in-law, and a fine apron [grovrynkad kjol] from Aunt Margit." 24 Emma Zorn had received the first pieces of a complete Mora dräkt (traditional Mora costume). She quickly became a firm supporter of the traditionally female textile arts of the area.
On their honeymoon in 1885, the Zorns traveled from Sweden, to Germany. They explored Vienna, Prague, and Budapest before finally ending up in Constantinople. Zorn painted gypsies and other colorful characters in remote villages along the way, and he and Emma were particularly interested in observing traditional peasant costumes. The urbane Emma, however, found some of the conditions during her travels difficult and wrote to her mother, "Civilization is a good thing, so we must not complain when we see it levels off the characteristic differences between people." 25
Stockholm had more in common with London, Paris, and New York than it had with rural Mora, yet Emma threw herself into understanding and appreciating her husband’s roots. This became especially important for Emma when she and her husband left Paris in 1896, after living there for ten years, to resettle in Mora.
Interestingly, Emma's cousin, Carl Robert Lamm (1856-1938), was part of the national organization spearheaded by Lilli Zickerman (and chaired by Prince Eugen [1865-1947]) that founded the Swedish Association of Handicraft in 1899. Emma's efforts for the hemslöjd movement were centered in Mora. As a founding member of the Friends of Mora Hemslöjd, and a driving force behind its activities over the years, her deeds for local culture paralleled those of her husband's. In 1911, Emma Zorn was presented with the highest award conferred upon a Swedish citizen, the Illis Quorum Meruere Labores medal ("For Those Whose Labors Have Deserved It"), for her work in preserving hemslöjd.
Before Anders Zorn's death in 1920, he and Emma arranged to leave their entire estate, which included buildings, Zorn's works in their possession, a considerable amount of money generated mainly from portrait painting, and a myriad of collections, to the people of Sweden. While Emma was still living, the the Zorn Museum opened in Mora in 1939. In the 1990s the museum was expanded and a new textile museum (Zorns Textilkammare) was added by the end of the decade. Mora Hemslöjd and the Zorn Museum have combined forces to put on a number of textile exhibitions that reflect Mora's rich heritage in the field and the Zorns' promotion of local culture.
“Swedish handicraft is traditional; yet it is not bound by old patterns or forms. On the contrary, it is continually open to new impulses. With regard to quality of material and craftsmanship, however, the National Association (of Swedish Handicraft) seeks to uncompromisingly protect established traditions and standards. Only in this way can handicraft continue to exist as a viable and contemporary element in today's society." 26 It was in that spirit that the Mora Hemslöjd celebrated its one-hundredth jubilee in 2005 by creating an exhibition, Mora Hemslöjd in i Framtiden 1905-2005 (Into the Future), which wove together traditional crafts with contemporary interpretations.
Today, thanks to pioneers such as Emma Zorn, Beda Larsson, and Maria Arosenius, hemslöjd is alive and well in Mora and throughout Sweden. Ancient kraft skills are preserved, while new applications for these skills are developed by contemporary artisans. A window on contemporary hemslöjd can be found in its magazine, Hemslöjden, and through its website.
1. Scandinavian Modern Design:1880-1980, David Revere McFadden, general editor, Abrams, New York, 1982, p. 38. The book serves as a catalogue of an exhibition of design at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design, New York City.
2. Swedish Handicraft, Anna-Maja Nylén, translation by Anne-Charlotte Harvey (New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1977), p. 10.
3. Agnes Rothery, Sweden: The Land and the People (New York: Viking, 1934), p. 54.
4. Iona Plath, The Decorative Arts of Sweden (New York: Dover Publications, 1966), p.1.
5. Anders Zorn: Självbiografiska Anteckningar, quotes from p. 9, p. 8, and p. 10. Zorn’s father was exiled to a brewery in Helsinki after his indiscretion with Zorn’s mother.
6. Armand Dayot, The Brilliant Etchings of Anders Zorn, International Studio, vol. 93 (July 1929), p. 32.
7. Nylén, quotes from p. 10, p. 9, p. 22, p. 10, and p. 22.
8. Plath, p. 2.
9. Jan Af Burén, Hemslöjden i Mora (Mora: Zornmuseet, 1975), p. 5.
10. Nylén, p. 22 and p. 17.
11. Burén, p.5 and p. 6.
12. Nylén, p. 14.
13. Burén, p. 4 and Nylén, p. 23.
14. Nylén, p. 9.
15. Plath, p.3.
16. Burén, p.5 and p. 6. The quote is from the Kopparbergs Läns Hushållningssällskaps Handlingar 1899-1900, p. 91.
17. Ibid., p. 3 and p. 7.
18. Nylén, p. 24.
19. Burén, p. 7.
20. Nylén, p.24. Zickerman was inspired by folkloric exhibitions at the Stockholm Exhibition of 1897.
21. Burén, p.3 and p. 4.
22. Stig Björklund, Anders Zorn Hembygdsvården, p. 17.
23. Gunilla Frost and Kristina Karlsson, Mora Dräktbok: Moradräkten vid olika högtider, Mora Hemslöjdens Vänner, 1994, p.57. Gunilla Frost and Kristina Karlsson have operated the Mora Hemslöjd since the early 1990s. Through their knowledge and appreciation of local crafts, they have reinvigorated the spirit of the Hemslöjd Movement in Mora.
24. Gerda Boëthius, Zorn: Tecknaren, Målaren, Etsaren, Skulptören (Stockholm: Nordisk Rotogravyr, 1949), p. 174
25. Gerda Boëthius, Svensk och Världsvandare (Stockholm: Rabén & Sjögren, 1959), p. 64.
26. Traditional Handicraft from Sweden, 1979, frontispiece, editor, Gunnar Dahlström, translated by Anne-Charlotte Harvey. Exhibition at the Union Carbide Exhibition Hall, New York City, Oct. 12-Nov. 5, 1976. The booklet was published by the National Swedish Handicraft Societies.