The Farmhouses of Hälsingland

Beautiful wallpapers, patterned textiles, and interiors decorated with murals and stencilled designs – the design culture created by  the decorated farmhouses of Hälsingland.

Historical research – for the future. Photo: Lars Nylander

These farmhouses emerged from a Swedish building tradition from Hälsingland’s old farming communities, and the decorated rooms, which were intended for the major celebrations of life, were ultramodern for their period.

An interdisciplinary research project spent four years delving into the interior design culture that became Sweden’s 15th world heritage site, the decorated farmhouses of Hälsingland.

Anneli Palmsköld, professor in Conservation specialised in Craft Science at the University of Gothenburg and one of the editors of the anthology Hälsinglands inredningskultur [Hälsingland’s culture of interior design], explained:

“This project really does turn the idea of farmers of old as reactionary and old-fashioned on its head.

“The farmhouses of Hälsingland were spectacularly decorated and modern, created using new techniques and materials that were incorporated into the local culture.”

An interdisciplinary group of researchers and experts studied these well-preserved 19th century farmhouses, which were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. The intent was to conduct a comprehensive examination of this culture of interior design, so both aesthetic expressions and choices of materials and manufacturing methods were studied in detail.

The research project’s findings will help in conservation and management of the decorated farmhouses. At the same time, several exciting discoveries were made during the project, including about the Blue Painter, Hälsingland’s best known folk painter.

The Blue Painter’s identity revealed

“The Blue Painter created amazing interiors but the artist’s identity was unknown. Using special techniques from art technological and archival sources, we have determined that the Blue Painter was likely two individuals, a husband and wife, from Bingsjö in Dalarna.”

Thanks to the project, it is now clear which pigments and binders the folk artist Gustaf Reuter used, and that the much loved, blue-grey Forsa cabinets originally had another colour.

Anneli Palmsköld is also passionate about another part of the research: the use of turkey red yarn.

“Cotton was incredibly expensive at this time, and it was important to be able to dye the material in a good way. There was a lot of interest in this new dying technique from Turkey and turkey red yarn quickly became ‘the latest and most modern trend’ since it was a colourful yarn and the red colour did not fade.”

Anneli Palmsköld hopes the book will influence how the farmhouses will be cared for in the future.

“The information is an important starting point for future care for the Hälsingland farmhouses. We also believe that there is still a lot to learn, such as delving into the local communities, the owners and the people who worked to decorate the farmhouses.

“Local interest in this project was unlike anything I have seen before. Hälsingland has many private owners of these farmhouses, textiles and furniture, and the people really keep track of who their relatives are and their history.”

About the decorated farmhouses of Hälsingland

Most of the decorated farmhouses of Hälsingland were built in the mid 19th century, and the rooms were decorated for celebrations like weddings, funerals and baptisms. The farmhouses often have well-preserved interiors with murals and stencilled designs, where exclusive wallpapers were combined with stencilled folk art for a unique form of expression. New materials and techniques were used, and modern elements like carpets on the floors (textiles were very expensive), curtains, and blinds contributed to the fancy impression. Since 2012, seven of the approximately 10,000 Hälsingland farms are included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. (Source: Anneli Palmsköld and Wikipedia)

About the project and the book

The anthology Hälsinglands inredningskultur [Hälsingland’s culture of interior design] presents the findings from the research project Decorated farmhouses in Hälsingland – a holistic study of a world heritage cultural site, which was conducted 2014–2017. The project included researchers and experts from both the natural sciences and the humanities, including chemistry, physics, art history and ethnology. The editors of the anthology are Anneli Palmsköld, professor in Conservation specialised in Craft Science, Ingalill Nyström, associate professor of historic preservation, and Johan Knutsson, professor of furniture culture.

Download the book: Hälsinglands inredningskultur

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