Promoting Natural & Cultural History
The artist and folklore researcher Nils Månsson Mandelgren (1813-99) made four journeys during the 1860s and 1870s to the most southerly province Skåne in Sweden. This essay will focus on one single village, Everlöv, visited during his repeated yearly travels together with a short introduction to his life and cooperation with early museums. Skilled female weavers in tapestry techniques, active over several generations, had put this particular village on the map long before his visit in the summer of 1873. However, observations from such a small geographical area became an important part of his wide-stretching notes and drawings from journeys over several decades.
His parents died early, so the young boy had to live with various relatives in the northeastern part of Skåne province. Drawing and painting were his interests, and already when being 8 to 10 years old, he started to work with decorations of greeting cards, furniture and household utensils for the farmers’ needs in the local area. By chance Mandelgren as a 17 year old met the count Jacob Gustav de la Gardie (1768-1842), who understood the young farmer boy’s aptitude for art. He assisted the young man financially to receive a suitable art education, including several years of studies in both Stockholm and København (Copenhagen). After the completion of these studies, he was full of ideas: a stay abroad 1842-43, building and planning proposals in Stockholm, the founding of a Sunday art school, documentation of mural church paintings, an atlas of Sweden’s history of farming and his main mission in life as a travelling ethnographic researcher. His documentation work was introduced during the 1840s, but it was foremost between the years 1862-91 as he made one systematical long journey every year in Sweden. The geographical area of his research stretched across the whole country, from Lapland in the north to Skåne in the south. During the winter months in Stockholm he made fair copies of his fieldwork, drew conclusions and planned the next year’s journey.
When he visited Everlöv village and its inn during the summer of 1873, he met the innkeepers Lars Persson (1819-99) and Margaretha Persdotter (1818-96) who informed him about their family’s rich textile traditions. Furthermore, in the traces of Mandelgren’s documentation, the later established local Handicraft Organisation gave detailed accounts of “The weaving daughters of Everlöv” during the 1910s-20s and via the late textile historian Gertrud Ingers (1904-91) and her book published in 1975. Whereof six dovetailed tapestry woven bedcovers, produced in the late 18th century are the most complex and exquisite preserved textiles from this area. These bedcovers were made for the six daughters of Bolla Andersdotter (1734-91) and Pehr Olsson (1732-88), an endeavour probably organised by the mother, but woven by the daughters themselves for their respective dowries – all made between 1772 and 1782, at a time when the girls were about 16 to 17 years old. According to a later estimation, it must have taken at least 1085 hours to weave one such bedcover. See a detail from one of these very fine tapestries below.
Additionally, this vertical loom used for weaving dovetail tapestries caught his interest from several perspectives. Firstly, the illustration above is one of two very similar watercolours (no. 1052 and 1091), noticeable is also the stand to the right of the loom, where the weaver in an effective way as possible could keep her various weft colours on spools at a handy distance. This watercolour is dated to the year after his visit in the village – 1874 – which does not imply that he visited Everlöv a second time. Instead, he had purchased the loom itself with an ongoing tapestry work on the behalf of the Nordic Museum in Stockholm and it was, thereafter, probably to be exhibited as a demonstration of this textile art form. The museum had been founded just two years previously by Artur Hazelius (1833-1901), who at this time was particularly eager to collect traditional craft from Skåne and other Swedish provinces. Judging by the very fine details in this watercolour, one may also conclude that it was depicted by Mandelgren in Stockholm after the purchase of the loom – in contrast to the illustrated tapestry cushion further above, which due to its coarser style seems to have been sketched and painted during the fieldwork in Everlöv.
He made several observations of embroideries too, one of these was a woollen “tvistsöm” embroidery marked ‘1855 E P D stitched on canvas’ (no. 1635). Another travel cushion of the same embroidery technique (no. 1090a) was mentioned to have a red knot-style design on a green ground with the marking ‘ANO 1803 D 8 A GTI HID EKD IHS’, whilst the back was lined with a fabric of weft patterned tabby type opphämta. The extensive marking, most probably indicates that this particular embroidery was part of the young woman’s dowry and when used the very first time, in the form of a wedding travel cushion towards the church on 8th August 1803. This embroidery as well as two bedcovers woven in the opphämta technique (no. 1090b), both was carefully depicted and coloured by Mandelgren. It seems like these intricately woven star-designed opphämta bedcovers in particular caught his interest, as he made one further such sketch and noted: ‘Star bedcover seen in Efverlöf village in Skåne 1873’. Other illustrations made from Everlöv included:
A few other primary sources – in the form of his notes and correspondence – reveal some further details of textiles in this village. For instance, he described how the long-lasting handicraft traditions had become unfashionable at the time of his visit in 1873:
Additionally, Mandelgren had contact with the same Berta Olsdotter via a woman named Eva Paulsson in correspondence, dated 9th June and 11th July in 1874. His wish was to order some sort of art woven tapestry, probably in the dovetail technique due to the cost and substantial time it was estimated to take to produce. Among other matters Paulsson mentioned in her letter:
With other words, the traditional knowledge of dovetail tapestry weaving was still in 1873 something as some elderly women mastered in this village in southernmost Sweden. From the 1870s and during the coming 50 years Mandelgren, other enthusiasts for traditional craft, early museums, handicraft organisations and others managed to give this multitude of textile knowledge “new life”. First and foremost via in-depth documentations, exhibitions, publications, weaving schools and preservations of a wide array of these domestic interior furnishing objects. It is worth noticing that, Everlöv had been one of hundreds of village communities in Skåne province – where such decorative weaving and embroidery traditions had been learned from mother to daughter over the generations during at least 150 years.
Quotes from N.M. Mandelgren’s images, notes and correspondence have been translated from Swedish into English by the author of this essay.