Traditional Handicraft from Mora, Sweden
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.

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