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  • Writer's pictureJuliana Loomer

Folk Art Holds Secret Messages to Those Who Can See.

When I moved to Norway, I immediately got caught up in learning about the folk arts. From Viking times to the 19th century there is a long tradition of adornment of every day items to the decoration of objects of special reverence. 

I first saw it in the national costume or the bunad. On special occasions people pull out their dress or their traditional suit and go to events knowing that what they are wearing is always appropriate. The bunad used to be  representative of the region you came from in color and decoration. Women’s bunads, especially, are adorned with beautiful floral embroidery and adhere to specific colours of the region it is from. When I look at a bunad I don't know where people or their families are from, buy my husband knows very quickly. There are messages in the designs.

Officially, there are over 200 different types of bunads styles in Norway, each with unique designs, colors, and patterns. These variations correspond to different regions, and often even to specific villages or families. It was a whole world of artistic symbolism that had been unlocked for me.

Bunad example from Telemark.

Then I began to discover the decorative arts from old houses and old objects including rosemalt kiste or painted boxes where the bunads probably used to be kept. These boxes often have family history and date of creation painted on the outside or inside of them. I have collected a few of these kiste and they hold a lot of value to me.

Rambergstugo from the Heddal Open Air Museum
Gorgeous example of a rosemalt kiste.

Looking deeper, Scandinavian folk art is intertwined with the region's natural environment, history, and cultural narratives. Each motif and symbol carries layers of meaning, reflecting the values and beliefs of the people who created them. 

Here are some common themes and their interpretations:

Rosemaling: A decorative painting style from Norway, often featuring flowers, scrolls, and geometric shapes. Roses in this context symbolize beauty, love, and life.

Dalarna Horse: In Swedish folk art, the Dalarna (or Dala) horse is often adorned with floral patterns. These flowers signify growth, fertility, and the renewal of nature, and is also associated with good luck.

Dalarna Horse from Swedish tradition.

Birds: Often depicted in folk art from all Scandinavian countries, birds can symbolize freedom, the soul, and the connection between heaven and earth.

Bears: Considered sacred and powerful, bears symbolize strength, courage, and protection. They play a significant role in Finnish mythology and folklore.

Hex Signs and Stars: These are common in Scandinavian textile patterns and can symbolize protection, balance, and harmony.

Trees and Leaves: Trees are powerful symbols of life, growth, and connection to the earth. They often represent family and ancestry.

Tools and Implements: Art often includes depictions of everyday tools, reflecting the agrarian lifestyle and the importance of craftsmanship. These symbols underscore the value placed on hard work and self-sufficiency.

Christmas and Midsummer Decorations: Symbols associated with these festivals, such as stars, candles, and maypoles, highlight the importance of community and tradition. They often carry deeper meanings related to light, hope, and seasonal cycles.

Runes and Symbols: These motifs often include symbols from mythology and folklore. A mythical artifact from the Finish Kalevala, The Sampo an anvil or sometimes a represented as a mill, is a symbol for prosperity and good fortune. It is often depicted in folk art as a source of wealth and abundance. In Norway, Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir, can signify protection and power.

So you see why an artist overly interested in history and symbolism would be in heaven here. I will never run out of inspiration for my work. I will never get tired of seeing examples and interpretations of these folk arts thanks to the Scandinavians unique aesthetic. My work has been to bring it into the modern era and adopt the style to my own history and experience. I am having an absolute blast and know you will find pieces that warm your heart too.

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