Dala Horse - Souvenirs from Sweden
Among Sweden’s loveliest symbols, the Dalecarlian horse (or Dala horse) may be the nation’s favorite. Created in the Dalarna province, the little wooden statue was carved and painted in a traditional fashion and offered to children as a gift but nowadays it is Sweden’s undisputable symbol. Commonly red painted with delicate details of a white, green, blue and yellow harness, the Dala horse illustrates old wooden carving mastery and Sweden’s rich rural heritage. The horse was probably first sculpted during a cold winter night as a children toy: in Sweden’s snowy landscape, horses were used to carry timber for winter or around the farm during summers. Nowadays visitors to Sweden view the delicate wooden horses as reminders of the country’s traditions and crafts. A resin fridge magnet souvenir depicts this lovely symbol and is available now online.
The Dala Horse, a Delicate Tradition of Carving
According to tradition, the making of the Dala horses started in the village of Bergkarlås and soon spread across the region. Often the little horses were carved from the leftover material used for furniture or clocks. Initially the statues were unpainted but gradually the fashion of furniture painting and decorating was used in the horse carvings as well. A legend claims that a kurbit painter was commissioned to decorate one of the Swedish farms; a child convinced him to paint the family’s Dala horse in the same manner and so a new tradition was established. At the beginning of the 19th century, carvers started to paint their horses in red or white which made them easier to sell and horse carving developed due to an economic recession which made the Dala horse a valuable trade item. Often the delicate wooden carvings were exchanged for basic goods allowing families to earn a living.
Wood, Toys and Horses
The oldest record of selling a wooden horse dates from 1623 with decoration techniques evolving constantly; in the 19th century, Swedish carver Stikå-Erik Hansson from Risa initiated a personal style of painting with two colors spread on a single brush and his innovation is still used today. At the beginning, there were more horse carvers than painters and it was harder to differentiate between different whittlers but easier to identify the painters using their own unique patterns. The current style of the Dala horse dates back to the 19th century and it was made famous in 1937 when a 10-feet tall Dala horse was successfully displayed as a Swedish national symbols at the World Expo in Paris. Since then, a large-scale Dala horse production boomed and made it a popular souvenir; nine different people are involved in a single horse carving and the flat-plane technique makes every item unique.
Legends of the Dala Horse
There are many theories and legends around the symbolism of the Dala horses: some believe they resemble the God Odin’s mythical horse Sleipnir; other claim the Dala horse became a national symbol in 1716, when King Charles XII’s soldiers had to stop in the Dalarna region and offered carved toys to their hosts. The oldest company to manufacture them is the 1922 Grannas Olsson located in the centre of Dala horse industry, Nusnäs, home to the vintage style Dala horses of limited editions. An annual exhibition displays the works of forty artists in Klockargården and horses of different style and sizes represent the backgrounds of different districts. The Dala horses are only made from the best pine forests around Lake Siljan and the manual stages performed make each carving unique. The old Dala horses are now preciously collected worldwide or passed on from generation to generation.