Finland, Scandinavia, Scotland, Ireland & French Canada
“Peoples of the North” weaves together those populations that live in northern latitudes and share the common challenges of a long, cold winter and a short growing season but also celebrate the summer sun and the bounty of farm and forest. “Peoples of the North,” which will continue through mid-July, looks at the way the peoples of Scandinavia, Scotland, Ireland and French Canada have fed, clothed, amused and sustained themselves in their northern homes — not only in their countries of origin, but also as they have migrated to the Monadnock Region.
Finnish Birch Bark ShoesBarry Heiniluoma of Hubbardston, MA has loaned these birch bark shoes and their holder, also made of birch bark. They are tightly woven and would resist water, as do birch bark canoes.
They come from Finland, a country with abundant forests. The Finns and their Scandinavian neighbors used wood and bark to create beautiful and utilitarian objects for household use.
Swedish Horn and FluteLast week this column showed birch bark shoes from Finland. Another example of the ingenuity of Scandinavian peoples in using wood and bark is a 21” long horn from Sweden, made for calling in the cows from the summer pastures. Birch bark is wrapped tightly around the carved wooden horn. It would be a child’s job at the end of the long summer day to bring the cows home. Agneta Brown of Greenfield has loaned this to Mariposa for “Peoples of the North”. Next to it is a “spillapipa” from Sweden’s Dalarna region, famous for its folk music and dance. This flute, on loan from Elleke Linden of Greenville, has a unique tuning and so a distinctive sound.
Bonhomme-GigueurTherese Lamarre Bourdon, the mother of Françoise Bourdon of Joseph’s Coat, carved and clothed this “bonhomme-gigueur”, which goes by the name of “limberjack” in Appalachia. These jointed dolls tap out dance rhythms at the end of a thin wooden paddle. The musician sits on one end of the paddle and by tapping it creates a vibration, as it if were a miniature diving board. The “bonhomme” is held by a dowel in the middle of its back and the vibrating board sets it in motion, so that it dances like a step dancer from Quebec! Françoise remembers the bonhomme dancing in the kitchen of the family home in Montreal.
Irish ShillelaghBoth the shillelagh, a traditional Irish weapon, and the walking stick are made from the Irish blackthorn. The blackthorn is cut in the frosty midwinter, when the sap is down, so that the fine-grained bark will remain on the stick for its life. The craftsman trims the thorns, which grow up to six inches long. He may bury the stick in a manure pile or smear it with butter and place it in the chimney, where it cures slowly for 2-3 years. When dry, the stick is steamed, straightened, sanded and polished. A fine walking stick is a treasured gift — or a weapon!
According to Anthony Bluett in Things Irish, the true shillelagh is a cane with a knob on one end (the root of the blackthorn or other hardwood, sometimes hollowed out and filled with molten lead, the “loaded stick”). He maintains that the short cudgel seen here was a popular weapon in 19th century London but not in Ireland. It is however sold as a “shillelagh” to tourists!
Kathy Weibel of Jaffrey has loaned these to Mariposa.
Swedish Dalarna HorseDuring long winter nights, parents carved toys for their children. The farmers of central Sweden depended on the horse to pull the plow in summer and loads of wood in the winter, and so they often carved horses. In the 1800s horse-making became a cottage industry in the “horse villages” of the Dalarna region.
Artisans in these villages made pine furniture and clock cases. At first they whittled scraps into unpainted toys. As carved and painted horses grew popular, they were bartered and sold and became a mainstay of the household economy. Each village developed a distinctive style, as did the Russian villages that made nesting dolls or “matryoshki”. Skills passed from one generation to the next, and today nine craftsmen may work together to create one horse. The painting style has evolved over the centuries, with the bright red horse the most common. The Dalarna horse was a hit at New York’s 1939 World Exhibition and has since become an international symbol of Sweden.
These horses are loaned by Agneta Brown, Kristin Frykman and Elleke Linden.
Latvian MittensDuring “Peoples of the North,” Mariposa is displaying stunning weaving and knitting from many northern countries where people wore warm woolens of necessity. Necessity does not account for the intricate and beautiful patterns they created, however — unless it was the necessity to have color, symbolism and the creative impulse at the center of their lives.
Zaiga Upitis of Dublin has loaned us an astounding collection of knit mittens and socks from Latvia. A “mitten wheel” shows twelve different patterns, each associated in color and symbol to a particular month of the year. It is displayed on the wall of our library on the ground floor.
Sealskin BootsAnne Thompson of Peterborough served as a medical missionary along the Labrador Coast in 1948. Fresh out of college, she traveled to a nursing station set up years before by Sir Wilfred Grenfell, who began his medical work in Greenland and Labrador in 1892. The sealskin boots were made for her. The maker first “barked” the sealskin (removed the fur), then chewed it to make it soft.
Anne traveled to the west coast of Greenland as a tourist in 1975 and bought seal fur boots rimmed with husky fur. These boots have two layers and straw is stuffed between them for extra warmth!
The SamiThe Sami have inhabited Sapmi (also known as Lapland) in the north of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia’s Kola Peninsula for 2,500 years. They are considered the indigenous people of this region. Estimates of Sami population vary from 70,000 to 135,000, as there is no single standard for what it means to be Sami. The core criterion is you must declare that you truly consider yourself a Sámi. Kinship and language are also used in determining Sami identity.
While the Sami have traditionally earned their living fishing, trapping and herding sheep, they are best known as semi-nomadic reindeer herders. In some regions of Lapland or Sapmi, only the Sami are allowed to herd reindeer, much as certain fishing rights are reserved for Native Americans in their ancestral territories.
Sami clothing delights in bright primary colors. Patterns of decoration indicate a person’s place of origin or clan, as does the Scottish tartan. The Four Winds Hat, a traditional man’s hat, is topped by a large, four-cornered star.
Saint LuciaSanta Lucia was a Sicilian Christian sentenced to be burned in 304 AD, but the fire refused to consume her. (She was nevertheless marytred.) St. Lucia is now celebrated on December 13 (the longest night of the year under the Julian calendar) in Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Norway and Finland, as well as in Italy and on the island of St. Lucia.
St. Lucy’s Day is particularly important in Sweden and among the Swedish population of Finland. The girl chosen to portray her wears a white gown with a red sash and a wreath of candles on her head — the candles represent the fire that spared the saint’s life as well as the returning light. In church, school and civic processions, she leads a group of women singing a “Lucia song” to the familiar Neapolitan tune.
At home, the oldest daughter brings coffee and special saffron buns, “Lussekatt”, to her parents in bed. She wears the crown of candles. Younger sisters, also dressed in white, carry candles, and “star boy” brothers wear cone-shaped hats decorated with stars.
SaunaSauna is an integral part of Finnish life. It was usually the first building of a homestead. It is a place to cleanse the body and to celebrate community. The high heat and scrupulous cleaning made it a sterile birthing room, and also a place to go for the sick. The dead were “bathed” in the sauna.
A Finnish saying goes: “Jos ei viina, terva tai sauna auta, tauti on kuolemaksi.” (“If booze, tar or the sauna won’t help, the illness is fatal.”) Martha Silander explains that “tar” refers to tar soap. Martha also tells us that, according to Finnish lore, “the human body is most beautiful thirty minutes after a sauna.”
A century ago there were many saunas attached to Finnish American homes and also community steam baths. Today there are far fewer but sauna still has an almost mystical significance to Finnish Americans. For Native Americans also the ritual of the sweat lodge has not only health benefits but spiritual meaning.
Midsummer DayMidsummer Day is celebrated in northern Europe and Quebec around the time of the summer solstice. The holiday dates back to pagan times and the celebration of Midsummer’s Eve, a powerful and magical time when bonfires were lit to protect against evil spirits believed to be roaming the land. In the Christian era, Midsummer was linked to the birth of John the Baptist on June 24.
People gathered certain plants whose miraculous healing powers peaked on this night. In Sweden, young people picked bouquets of seven or nine different flowers and put them under their pillow in the hope of dreaming about their future spouse. Greenery placed over houses and barns was supposed to bring good fortune and health to people and livestock.
Sweden has a unique way of celebrating the day. Swedes build a huge maypole and cover it with greens and flowers. They raise the midsommarstang and dance around it to traditional music. They enjoy a special meal of new potatoes and pickled herring, and perhaps the first strawberries from the garden.
Scandinavian Yule GoatThe Yule Goat, made of straw and bound with red ribbons, is a popular Christmas ornament in Scandinavia and a beautiful example of a craft common throughout northern Europe. This craft goes back to pagan times when straw figures were made from the last sheaves of grain to provide a winter home for the spirit of the grain. These “corn dollies” were ploughed into the first furrow in spring, releasing the spirit to live once again in the growing grain.
In Finland, the Yule Goat once was an ugly creature that frightened children and demanded gifts at Christmas. In Scandinavia, it was an invisible creature that appeared before Christmas to oversee the Yule preparations. During the 19th century its role shifted towards becoming the giver of Christmas gifts. Later Father Christmas (jultomte) supplanted the Yule Goat in most of the region.
In older Scandinavian society a popular prank was to place a straw or wood Yule Goat in a neighbor’s house without them noticing; the neighbor then had to pass it on in the same way.
Saint Brigid’s crossSt. Brigid of Kildare (c. 451 Ð 525) is venerated as a patron saint of Ireland and is celebrated on February 1. Her feast day happens to coincide with Imbolc, the feast day of the pagan goddess Brigid, who is associated with fire, healing and sacred springs and wells. Imbolc celebrates the first stirrings of spring.
Brigid’s cross is woven of rushes on February 1. A woven square with four radials tied at the ends, it protects the house from fire and evil and so is often hung in Irish and Irish-American kitchens.
Here is one version of the story of Brigid’s cross, courtesy of Wikipedia:
“A pagan chieftain from the neighbourhood of Kildare was dying. Christians in his household sent for Brigid to talk to him about Christ. When she arrived, the chieftain was raving. As it was impossible to instruct this delirious man, hopes for his conversion seemed doubtful. Brigid sat down at his bedside and began consoling him. As was customary, the dirt floor was strewn with rushes both for warmth and cleanliness. Brigid stooped down and started to weave them into a cross, fastening the points together. The sick man asked what she was doing. She began to explain the cross, and as she talked, his delirium quieted and he questioned her with growing interest. Through her weaving, he converted and was baptized at the point of death. Since then, the cross of rushes has been venerated in Ireland.”
CrystalMany northern countries are known for their fine crystal. Here are some examples of glassware from the library case on Mariposa’s ground floor.
From left to right, they are:
St. Anne in “mercury glass” from Quebec. Mercury glass is actually silvered, with a silver solution sealed between two layers of “free blown” glass.
An iittala “icicle” candlestick from Finland. Founded in 1881, the iittala company made bottles for lamp oil and for chemists, until in the 1920s and 1930s it branched out into more domestic products and artistic glassware.
A Hadeland polar bear from Norway. Hadeland Glassverk was founded in 1762 near Oslo. Like iitala, it at first produced bottles and jars, later diversified into more domestic wares and in the 1920s began developing its own designs. A Waterford bowl from Ireland. Waterford crystal traces its lineage back to 1783. The business closed in 1851 and was reopened by a Czech immigrant in 1947. Its fine designs didn’t save it from another closure in 2009. Waterford Crystal is still made in Germany and the Czech Republic.
Swedish SnuffboxesThese superb snuffboxes from Sweden were lent to us by Agneta Brown of Greenfield. The incised designs in the outer layer of the round box on the right reveal another layer of birch bark below. Designs were also stamped into the outer layer of each box, probably when the bark was wet. The precision and beauty of the work can only have enhanced the enjoyment of the snuff!
You’ll find them in the round-topped case behind our front desk and gift shop. They are worth a closer look! You will see many other examples of the crafts of Finland, Latvia, Scandinavia, Scotland, Ireland and French-speaking Canada at Mariposa until July 25.
Charles Rennie MackintoshMariposa is now displaying examples of the design work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928), a Scottish architect, designer and watercolorist. Mackintosh was a designer in the Arts and Crafts movement. As a designer, he is best known for his furniture. However, he also created beautiful ceramics, jewelry, and wood and metal decorative items like the box shown here.
You will find these in the library case on the ground floor of the Mariposa Museum, with other design items from countries of the north. The table to the right of this case displays a book of his stunning Art Nouveau textile designs.
Swedish Pig Cutting BoardThis charming cutting board in the shape of a pig comes from Sweden. It’s a great example of the humor and skill of a folk artist working in very thin plywood! You’ll find it in the window to the left of our entrance, grouped with many other objects from the hearths and kitchens of northern countries. The hearth supplied heat, light, food and entertainment through the long winter. During the winter it was the place to sew, repair tools, play games and music, tell stories and sing. The hearth warmed the soul as well as the body.
Kokle & KanteleIf you’re walking by Mariposa, look in the window on your right just before you cross Depot Street to Roy’s Market. There you’ll see an ornately carved 13-stringed “kokle” from Latvia and a simple 5-stringed “kantele” from Finland. Both are a version of the zither, closely related to our own Appalachian dulcimer, as all are played resting flat on a lap or table.
According to the Kalevala, the first kantele was made by the hero Vainamoinen. He fashioned it from the jawbone of a giant fish and the long hairs given to him by a young woman, which he twisted into five strings. He made his second kantele from a birch tree. The 5-stringed wooden kantele accompanied the traditional songs and stories of Finland. Over time, the kantele acquired more strings — up to 36! — to play newer types of music.
During a revival of traditional music in Finland in the 1950s, many people took the instrument up. This has happened also in North America. Mariposa will host the Maine Kanteles on Saturday, July 24 — your chance to hear the ringing, bell-like tones of the kantele.
Oatmeal CupThis colorful cup and saucer, depicting an exotic bird amid colorful flowers, came to Theresa Murdough’s family in Quebec in — an oatmeal box! Theresa, now of Keene, tells us that it was common in her childhood to find such gifts in large boxes of oatmeal, just as children found small treats in a box of Cracker Jack. A visitor has since told us that similar gifts came in bags of flour during his New England childhood. This cup and saucer are displayed in Mariposa’s library case, along with many other items of crystal, ceramic, wood and metal from northern countries.
SpoonsA carved wooden spoon is useful and also a thing of beauty. The smaller Russian spoon has the name “Mary” burned into the handle. The larger Swedish soup spoon, carved from a tight grained hardwood like birch, features a flower in raised relief on its handle. The back forms a large hook, so this spoon could be hung in the kitchen. I once met a Norwegian who had carved a beautiful birch spoon which he wore around his neck on a leather thong, both an ornament and also ready for service at any moment!
Celtic Torque RingCeltic peoples twisted gold, bronze and silver into collars, bracelets and arm rings, and the Romans bestowed the name that we use (torqueo means “to twist”). The gods and goddesses of Celtic mythology are often shown wearing torques. People of high birth wore them, as did warriors who earned them for bravery in battle.
Kathy Weibel of Jaffrey lent us this piece. She points out that the torque was sometimes all that a warrior wore: the famous Roman statue The Dying Gaul (a copy of an older Greek work) shows a dying Celt, naked except for the torque around his neck, with his shield and sword beside him.
Maple SugaringTheresa Murdough of Keene lent us a maple syrup pitcher from Quebec and two wooden spoons used to eat “sugar on snow”. Therese has also lent us paintings of rural life in Quebec by Therese Sauvaugeau, including one of maple sugaring. These are on display in our upstairs gallery.
Ryijy RugsRyijy rugs are knotted tapestry rugs from Finland. They date back to the ninth century, when they were woven as coverlets in natural wool, and later died with vegetable dyes. Over time, different regions developed distinctive designs and colors. A family might commission a special ryijy from an itinerant weaver for an occasion such as a wedding. The ryijy was used as a prayer rug during the ceremony and later hung in the new couple’s home.
Mariposa is displaying three modern ryijys upstairs. Two are abstracts designed by modern textile artists. This one, loaned by Sulo Aijala, shows a landscape with birch trees and the summer house by the water so beloved of Finns — not unlike our summer “camps”, though it’s the Finnish flag that is flying!
Celtic jewelryKathy Weibel of Jaffrey has lent us some beautiful Celtic jewelry. The two brooches, one ceramic and one metal, and the silver “quaich” show the intertwining motifs so characteristic of Celtic design. Two clans celebrating a bond each drank from the quaich (“cup” in Gaelic). In the 17th century a host offered a quaich full of brandy or whisky to a visitor as greeting or farewell.
Celtic BeadsTwo strings of beads from Finland hang in our Community Case. The shorter string is made up of round wooden beads. On close examination, the “beads” on the longer string turn out to be tiny folded boxes of birch bark: birch bark origami!
Claddagh RingThe design of the claddagh, two hands clasping a heart surmounted by a crown, came from the fishing village of Claddagh near Galway, Ireland. It symbolizes love, friendship and loyalty. Couples exchanged a claddagh ring at weddings beginning in the 17th century: “With this crown, I give my loyalty. With these hands, I offer my service. With this heart, I give you mine”.
Wikipedia tells us that a person wearing the ring on the right hand with the heart facing outward is not romantically linked but is looking for love. If the ring is turned inwards, the wearer is in a relationship, or their heart has been “captured”: the heart points down the hand and into the veins which lead to the wearer’s heart. The ring worn on the left hand with the heart facing outward shows the wearer is engaged; turned inward indicates the wearer is married.
Many cultures have ways of announcing marital status (or lack thereof). A triangular design in Zulu beadwork points down to indicate an unmarried boy and up for an unmarried girl. Unmarried Ukrainian woman may wear a crown of flowers while a married woman dons a scarf.
Carved HornsWillard Richardson was born and grew up in Eastview in Harrisville. He was a Yankee farmer skilled in working wood and metal. He fashioned beautiful tool handles using his shaving horse and draw shaves, polishing them with a piece of broken glass. Willard extended these skills into the world of folk art as a carver, painter and jeweler.
Willard’s art developed after retiring from dairy farming in the 1960s. It is whimsical and humorous, like the man himself. He took joy in his work so it became play. The horn below shows a fox singing to the full moon. The other horn, with a design of a man scything grass, holds water and the sharpening stone used to whet the scythe. A belt hook attaches it to the worker’s belt.
You can see more of Willard’s work, including jewelry with his signature design — pairs of animals, often dancing on their hind legs — in the back hall of Mariposa’s ground floor.