Exploring Swedish Scandinavian Folk Art Traditions and Motifs

History of Swedish Scandinavian Folk Art Traditions and Common Motifs

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Folk art is as old as human civilization. Created by untrained artists for decorative and symbolic purposes, folk art gives an insight into the local culture and traditions of the time. Scandinavia has rich and colorful folk art traditions because the region was somewhat isolated from the rest of Europe until relatively recently. Therefore, its folk art and traditional handicraft evolved largely untouched by mainstream European culture. Rather than becoming a weakness, it has become a strength, which is evident from the influence that Scandinavian folk art has on modern art and design.

What is Scandinavian folk art called?

Scandinavian folk art is often referred to by different names, depending on the specific country or region.

Here are a few terms commonly used for Scandinavian folk art:

  • Rosemaling (Norwegian): Rosemaling is a decorative painting style that originated in Norway. It features intricate floral designs and scrollwork painted in vibrant colors.
  • Dalmålning or Dala painting (Swedish): Dalmalning refers to the traditional decorative painting style from the Dalarna region of Sweden. It is characterized by bright colors, geometric patterns, and motifs like Dala horses.
  • Aleklippa (Swedish): Aleklippa is a Swedish term for the decorative paper cuttings often found in Scandinavian and Swedish folk art. These intricate designs are made by cutting patterns into paper or thin materials.
  • Skrimshander (Danish): Skrimshander refers to the decorative carving of bone or ivory objects. While it is commonly associated with maritime themes, it can also include other motifs found in Scandinavian folk art.
  • Puukko (Finnish): Puukko refers to the traditional Finnish knife, which is often intricately decorated with carved patterns and symbols. The art of carving and embellishing puukko knives is considered part of Finnish folk art.

These are just a few examples, and there are other terms specific to certain regions or crafts within Scandinavian folk art. The names may vary, but the art forms share a common heritage and characteristic style.

Exploring Swedish Scandinavian Folk Art Traditions and Motifs by Nazmiyal Antique Rugs

Exploring Swedish Scandinavian Folk Art Traditions and Motifs

History Of Folk Art From Scandinavia

The history of folk art from Scandinavia can be traced back to the Viking period, when the marauding seafarers did not just terrorize the shores of western and northern Europe, but also created beautiful works of art in their free time. The most prized possession of the Vikings were their ships, which were used for both war and trade. Excavated Viking ships have shown that they were richly decorated with pictures of interwoven animals and mythical beasts.

Vintage Scandinavian Folk Art Rug Depicting the Story of Nils Holgersson by Nazmiyal Rugs

Vintage Scandinavian Folk Art Rug Depicting the Story of Nils Holgersson

Folk art from Scandinavia also draws heavily from fables and allegories. As an example, the vintage carpet above, on the left, shows the story of Nils Holgersson, a folk tale about a badly behaved boy who is cursed by a Tomte, or Swedish elf, and is shrunken to only inches tall.

After climbing on the back of a domestic goose on his family farm, the goose flies away and joins a pack of wild geese, and Nils and the white goose go on a series of adventures.

What are the main forms of traditional Scandinavian folk art?

Traditional Scandinavian folk art encompasses various forms of artistic expression.

Here are some of the main forms commonly found in Scandinavian folk art:

  • Woodcarving: Woodcarving is a prominent craft in Scandinavian folk art. Skilled artisans create intricate carvings on wooden objects such as furniture, utensils, religious items, and architectural elements.
  • Decorative Painting: Decorative painting plays a significant role in Scandinavian folk art. Techniques like rosemaling (Norwegian), dalmålning (Swedish), and kurbits (Swedish) involve painting intricate designs, floral motifs, and geometric patterns on different surfaces such as furniture, woodenware, and household items.
  • Textile Arts: Fiber / textile arts have a long tradition in Scandinavian folk art. Embroidery textiles, weaving, and tapestry work are common techniques used to create intricate designs and patterns on clothing, area rugs, wall hangings and other textiles.
  • Paper Cutting: Paper cutting, known as aleklippa in Swedish, involves intricately cutting patterns and designs into paper or thin materials. These delicate cuttings are often used for decorative purposes, such as window ornaments or framed artwork.
  • Metalwork: Metalwork, including blacksmithing and silversmithing, is another important aspect of Scandinavian folk art. Metal artisans create decorative objects, jewelry, and utensils using techniques such as filigree, repoussé, and engraving.
  • Pottery and Ceramics: Pottery and ceramics are part of Scandinavian folk art as well. Artisans create functional and decorative items like bowls, vases, and tiles, often featuring regional motifs and traditional designs.
  • Folk Costumes: Traditional folk costumes, also known as folkdräkt (Swedish) or bunad (Norwegian), are an integral part of Scandinavian folk art. These costumes, with their distinctive regional styles and intricate embroidery, represent the cultural heritage and identity of different regions.
  • Folk Instruments: Folk instruments like the fiddle (violin), nyckelharpa, and Hardanger fiddle (Hardingfele) have cultural significance and are often adorned with decorative carvings or paintings in Scandinavian folk art.
Painted Antique Scandinavian Folk Art Oval Bowl - Nazmiyal Antique Rugs

Painted Antique Scandinavian Folk Art Oval Bowl

These forms of traditional Scandinavian folk art showcase the creativity, craftsmanship, and cultural expressions of the region’s rich artistic heritage.

Common elements of Scandinavian / Swedish folk art

Scandinavian folk art is known for its distinctive and rich visual style.

While there are variations across different regions and time periods, here are some common elements found in Scandinavian folk art:

  • Floral and Plant Motifs: Flowers, leaves, and vines are frequently depicted in Scandinavian folk art. These motifs often feature stylized and symmetrical designs, with an emphasis on natural forms.
  • Geometric Patterns: Geometric shapes, such as triangles, diamonds, and swirls, are commonly used in Scandinavian folk art. These patterns are often intricately woven together to create visually appealing and balanced compositions.
  • Roosters and Birds: Roosters and other birds are popular motifs in Scandinavian folk art. These symbols are associated with good luck, fertility, and protection in Nordic traditions.
  • Dala Horses: The Dala horse is a traditional wooden toy originating from Sweden. It has become an iconic symbol of Scandinavian folk art. These horses are typically painted in bright colors with intricate designs.
  • Trolls and Mythical Creatures: Scandinavian folklore is filled with mythical creatures like trolls, gnomes, and elves. These fantastical beings often make appearances in folk art, adding a touch of whimsy and storytelling.
  • Folk Costumes and Traditional Clothing: Traditional clothing styles, including regional folk costumes, are often depicted in Scandinavian folk art. These costumes showcase the cultural heritage and historical attire of the region.
  • Nordic Symbols: Certain symbols, such as the Viking ship, runes, and ancient Norse symbols, may be incorporated into Scandinavian folk art, reflecting the region’s Viking heritage and mythology.
  • Rosemaling: Rosemaling is a decorative painting style commonly associated with Norway. It features vibrant colors, intricate floral designs, and scrollwork. Rosemaling can be found on various objects like wooden furniture, utensils, and even buildings.
  • Woodcarvings: Woodcarving is a prevalent craft in Scandinavian folk art. Intricate woodcarvings are used to decorate furniture, utensils, religious objects, and architectural elements. They often feature intricate patterns and motifs.
  • Bold Colors: Scandinavian folk art is characterized by the use of bold and vibrant colors. Reds, blues, yellows, and greens are commonly seen, adding liveliness and visual impact to the artwork.
Early 19th Century Sough Swedish Folk Art Painting - Nazmiyal Antique Rugs

Early 19th Century Sough Swedish Folk Art Painting

We should just mention that these are general elements, and the specific motifs and styles may vary across different regions within Scandinavia and within different historical periods.

Christianity Makes Its Way To Scandinavia

Even after the people in Scandinavia converted to Christianity, they continued to use tightly rendered depictions of animals and mythical beasts enmeshed in thick vine work as their main motifs. A fine example of this is the decoration carved on the wooden doors of the Stave Church in Urnes, Norway.

 Nazmiyal Stave Church, c. 1132, Norway

Stave Church, c. 1132, Norway

In the following centuries, when Christian missionaries were aggressively promoting Christian motifs, the Scandinavian people held on to their indigenous art form.

Scandinavian Folk Art Style by Nazmiyal

Scandinavia Folk Art Style

Peaceful Depictions Of Scandinavian Folk Art in The Post Viking Era

During the Middle Age, the warring days of the Vikings came to an end. As the culture of Scandinavia transitioned to focus more on agriculture and industry than conquering, folk art began to reflect more peaceful symbols, such as flowers, birds and human figures.

These motifs were deeply tied to legends, stories, and fables in Scandinavian culture. Because of its unique combination of beauty and simplicity, this style continues to be popular today.

Folk art’s purpose is to reflect culture and beliefs, but also to decorate the mundanities of life, and to bring pleasure to everyday tasks. For this reason, these motifs are commonly found on everyday household items, such as doors and windows, traditional water jars and buckets, board games, weather-vanes, clocks and textiles.

1837 Norway Trunk Made by Vorm Mjaavatn, Painted by Ivar or Kjetil Urdal - Nazmiyal Rugs

1837 Norway Trunk Made by Vorm Mjaavatn, Painted by Ivar or Kjetil Urdal

They are instantly recognizable as folk art because of the simplistic design and recognizable forms. Folk art and motifs are a common feature of carpets and rugs from Scandinavia. The motifs that are commonly used on rugs are geometric shapes, which are repeated over and over; but flowers and animals are also used sometimes. Minimalist, beautiful and elegant, these rugs and carpets are a class apart.

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The above information about Swedish Scandinavian folk art traditions and motifs was published by Nazmiyal Antique Rugs.

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