Nils Olsson - Dala Horse Book End, White
Dala Horse Book End, White
Nils Olsson Hemslöjd
Red-painted wooden horses have become a global symbol of Sweden. But have you ever stopped to wonder why? If you do a Google search for "symbol of Sweden", you'll see a bunch of gold crowns on a blue background, a few flags, maybe some peace signs... and plenty of red wooden horses. The Dala horse (Dalahäst) is undeniably an international symbol for the country – but it hasn't always been that way. “The Dala horse first became famous at the World Fair in New York in 1939,” Lennart Ihren, Head of production at Nils Olsson Hemslöjd told The Local Brands.
The red-painted wooden horses, a traditional toy from the Dalarna region in Sweden, first made its international debut in Paris in 1936, where they received enough attention that the Swedish committee at the fair decided to take them to New York.
“All these small producers in the region got together and created some 15,000 horses and roosters, and a 2.5 metre high horse which stood at the entrance of the fair,” Ihren explained. “It was the highlight of the event and got its picture in papers all around the world.”
Today the legacy of the Dala horse continues – and it's in no small way due to the company Nils Olsson Hemslöjd. The company was started in 1928 by two Swedish brothers, Nils and Jannes Olsson, who were 13 and 15 at the time. The Henry Fords of Dala horse carving, the brothers created a method of speedily hand-producing the traditional carvings.
“They just made production simpler,” Ihren said. “They used a hand-pulled wooden bandsaw. One pulled the saw and the other sawed the horses out. That's how they started more commercial production.” Nearly 90 years later, Hemslöjd still makes the horses the same way. “The saws are electric,” Ihren admitted, “But otherwise it's the same.”
Workers at Hemslöjd select unneeded wood left over from building, drive it through the planer, use a rubber stamp to mark the pattern, and saw the basic shape out by hand – with help from the electric saws of course.