From the heart, made by hand

Treasures from the Women of Sweden exhibit depict conditions in Sweden of the 1930s. 

  • The craft movement united women of all classes—this photo from the exhibition shows a group of women at a flax spinning competition.
  • The exhibition From the heart, made by hand: Treasures from the Women of Sweden opened at American Swedish Historical Museum, Philadelphia, on Sept. 16. The exhibition displays a selection of the 75 handmade textiles and craft items presented as a gift to the museum in 1938.
    The gift coincided with the tercentenary of the New Sweden settlement along Delaware River and included items from every province of mainland Sweden. The world was still in recovery from the Great Depression, and one of the defining laws of the New Deal under FDR, the Fair Labor Standards Act, passed U.S. Congress that year.

  • Curator Trevor Brandt explains the workings of the Loom and stool (vävstol), a 1938 gift from John A. Thulin & Co., Norrköping Sweden.
  • Overall, however, these were unsettling times. Increased aggression from both Germany and Japan lead to the U.S. Naval Act, which would increase the Navy 20 percent. In Europe, German persecution of Jews had begun to escalate and German troops were preparing to invade Austria. The women’s right to vote was still relatively new both in Sweden (1919) and the U.S. (1920), and in Sweden much of the discussion about women’s rights came from elite women often also involved as founders or supporters of the growing national home craft organizations.

  • Curator Trevor Brandt at the American Swedish Historical Museum, Philadelphia.
  • One such woman, Dr. Hanna Rydh would be instrumental in bringing the gifts that now allow us a glimpse of pre-WWII Sweden through examples of crafts, the tools and informative posters with historic facts and trivia. In the words of the exhibition organizers: “The gift speaks of more than Swedish regionalism and craft. In the eyes of the remarkable figure who organized the collection, these handmade gifts also represent female power. Dr. Hanna Rydh was a politician, women’s rights reformer, and Sweden’s first female archaeologist who blended academia and activism within this gift. To Rydh, handicraft—within the traditional women’s sphere—was a symbol of female accomplishment and signified equality with men both in Sweden and America.”

  • The 1938 gift also included dolls in traditional costume, and from the province of Jämtland, a birch bark horn, a cup and a woven basket inspired by Sami culture.
  • The exhibition is a first for the museum’s new curator, who is neither woman nor Swedish nor, according to himself “a crafts person.” Be that as it may, kudos for a job well done to curator Trevor Brandt, who is sure to bring new ideas and energy to the Philadelphia venue, a beacon for Sweden in beautiful surroundings. He found the items for this exhibition during excursions to the museum archives in the basement. We couldn’t think of a better time or location for such an exhibition than right now and at the beautiful FDR Park in Philadelphia. Appropriate in every way. See for yourself and allow time to walk through and digest the accompanying informative posters—it’s well worth it.
    Ulf Barslund Martensson
    For more info, see From the heart, made by hand: Treasures from the Women of Sweden

  • A spinning wheel.