Stockholm, Sweden is known for its beauty and history. The city’s best known site is probably the three golden crowns which sit atop the Stadshuset. Since 1901, the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony is held in the Stadshuset’s main banquet hall amid an 18 million-piece golden mosaic. Yet, there is a highly recognizable Swedish form that attracts many people and sparks the interests of both residents and tourists alike– the hand painted, colorfully decorated Dalarna (or Dala) Horse.
The Dalarna horse has emerge as a form synonymous with the longstanding handicraft tradition in Sweden. Named for its home province of Dalarna located in central Sweden, these popular red/orange horses first derived from the village of Nusnas.
In Sweden, the horse is considered an animal of great spiritual reverence. While wooden rocking horses have been carved throughout Northern Europe over the centuries, Dalarna horses have been associated with the local furniture makers and pigment from the area copper mines in Sweden. Woodsmen are credited for producing the first carved and painted Dalarna horses dating back to the 1800s. Flower patterned saddles or kurbits (also known as a gourd vine) were introduced to recall the Biblical story of Jesus prompting a kurbit to grow around his horse. It further served as a saddle to protect him from the hot desert sun.
At the Paris Exposition in 1887, the Dalarna horse gained international acclaim. It was chosen by the Swedish National Crafts Union to be part of the Expo display. The goal was to highlight the cherished folk art tradition in Sweden and since the late 1800s, the Dalarna horse has enjoyed widespread popular interest.
Making an Heirloom
The process of producing these horses is simple. A carver produces the horse at home or in his home workshop and takes time teaching younger members of his family the craft. Then, upon completion of the carving, the horse form is brought to a skilled artist’s studio to be decorated in the traditional reddish color. Certain towns within central Sweden may decorate their Dalarna horses in different colors such as black, blue, or brown. Yet, Dalarna horses from the village of Nusnas as always painted in a the traditional orange/red color. Today, the Dalarna Horse is the unofficial symbol of Sweden throughout Swedish-America.
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Caption: A traditional red/orange Dalarna horse welcomes visitors to the Stockholm cruise port.