Wooden Craftsmanship and Nature in Sweden Lakeland

The celadon birch leaves are shaking in the cosy Breeze as I climb a slight slope on the path lined with ferns. The humid and fragrant forests are dotted with sunshine and I hear the lapping of a nearby stream. As I scan the green grove, I see in front of me a delicate amethyst lily with black-spotted leaves in the middle of the path, illuminated by a solitary ray of sunlight, and I bend down to examine it.

I tilt my head and realize that there is no electricity. My senses have been deceived: it is the trees that sigh in the wind. The trail leads to a picnic table on top of a hill in a mowed hay meadow overlooking the winding slopes of the fields and woods of central Sweden. My nose is tickled by the dry, musty grass scent released by the heat of the day, and I tilt my face towards the sun, letting its radiance cosy my skin.

I am not hiking; I am waiting for a noon merchant to open his store so that I can browse his goods. And his shop is not in a city, but in the artist’s house, a wooden house lined with rose gardens on a slope, in front of Belgian horses grazing in spring pastures and tidy red wooden houses with white lace curtains on the windows.

At the tourist office in the nearby seaside village of Rättvik, I had found a flyer for Bosse’s Träslöjd — a wooden craft store where the owner Bosse makes his own versions of the famous Dalahäst (wooden horse) from Sweden.

Map by my side, I had ventured into the hilly countryside with my leafy green rental Volvo, following the well-marked road signs to North Lindberg, a small hamlet with no more than a dozen farms. Boss welcomed me and suggested that I enjoy a walk while he and his wife had lunch.

“Välkommen tillbaka! (Welcome back),” Bosse says with a cosy smile as he comes out of the woods. “What do you think about Semester Väg (holiday path)?”I enthusiastically share my discovery of lilies with him and he explains that it is common in this field.

I am boss uphill to a rustic wooden studio, and he unlocks the door and leads me into the shaded room filled with shelves of Dalahäster in mainly pastel colors. The region where Boss lives, Leksand, is known for its colorful and shiny red and yellow horses. Still, these horses are creamy pastel confections. An Azure horse with a golden mane and a small necklace of shells attracts my attention.

“It reminds me of the sea near my childhood, south of Gothenburg,” says Bosse.

A lyrically beautiful white mare with golden colored swirls and a bell tied around her neck is the perfect gift for my 11-year-old horse-loving daughter Kirsten.

“This is modeled after my Shetland pony Blända; she is currently grazing in the forest.”

We discuss our love for horses, and Bosse tells me about a herd of horses nearby who come every year from all over Dalarna for a “summer vacation” to learn to get along with other horses. When I thank him for my shopping, he invites me to accompany him the next day for a walk in the forest and a picnic at the fäbod (Sommerhof) where the horses are kept. I promise I’ll be back, with sweet local strawberries.

As I walk down to Rättvik, with my Radio echoing with Swedish pop music and the intoxicating smell of wildflowers in the hedges floating through the open window, I think about how this kind of experience is only possible away from the hustle and bustle of the city, where an artist working alone in his Studio all day

I am on a week-long pilgrimage to Sweden, the homeland of my ancestors, to see old friends, dance to old soulful violin melodies in country houses and discover the wonders of the flora and fauna of the popular Swedish province. Just as I search by the sea for stones surrounded by a white ring — “lucky stones”, as my grandmother called them-I am here to find treasures in unexpected places.

I have circled the artisan mansions on my map and I plan to explore the Hillbilly Studios and lakeside holiday homes in search of handcrafted works of art that evoke the scents of summer in Sweden every time I look at them or touch them.

I don’t know which is better… to know exactly who created the work of art that adorns my house or The experience of discovery by traveling through one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever known.

And I’m in the right place: Sweden may be known as the land of the midnight sun and tall blond people with an egalitarian bent, but for connoisseurs, it’s also a place where centuries-old folk traditions are perpetuated in handcrafted ceramic bowls, glass vases, silver pendants, table runners

And one of the best places to find a wide range of these crafts is in Dalarna, the popular lake-dotted province of Sweden, three hours northwest of Stockholm.

The morning heat promises adventure as I drive through the forests north of Rättvik. The fireweed blazes purple, pink and white on the roadside pastures, each of which seems to contain at least three horses, sometimes a whole herd. I am looking for a gift for my husband Eric, who loves thick, pretty and well-made ceramics. In Restaurants and shops, I saw the cosy brown plates and vases from Nittsjö Keramik, a well-known pottery factory, nearby, and I think this is exactly what you need.

I stop at a two-story brick building at the top of a clearing. It doesn’t look very auspicious, but when I enter, I am surprised at the size of the store and the extensive collection. A few customers wander among shelves of ceramic figurines, such as bright red dwarf-like folk figurines, known for their tender Services to animals – and whimsical bird-shaped ocarinas.

Other shelves are loaded with deep sapphire and earthy brown serving dishes, all carefully hand-painted with floral and leaf motifs. I choose a cobalt sapphire bowl for Eric with a Daisy pattern on the edge. At home, this becomes our favorite bowl to serve homemade applesauce, which somehow brings me back to both Sweden and my grandmother’s cinnamon-scented kitchen.

It’s a sweltering day again as I drive a winding road a few kilometers southeast of Rättvik towards the community of Tällberg-known for its craft shops housed in tiny wooden buildings on top of a grass courtyard. After a bend, I come across a sign indicating Siljansleden, a popular hiking/biking trail that goes around the 25-mile (40 km) Siljan Lake, the third largest lake in Sweden.

I turn into a side street and park the car next to a field. Wild roses, hyacinths, daisies, buttercups and wild strawberries grow on the edge of the field. I am walking along a narrow road by the lake, shaded by a canopy of birches. Small rocky walkways lead away from the shore to form small pocket beaches where upside-down wooden rowing boats rest. A pier carries a delicate white gazebo. Nearby, a family is lounging on a narrow bridge.

Across the street, where my car is parked, shiny white letters on a rust-colored wooden building explain that this is the workshop of a basketmaker: Korgmakeri. I enter Knäppasken Korgmakeri and find a quiet man with glasses, Björn Majors, peeling inch-long strips from a wispy birch leaf. Sharp curls of wood chips stack high between piles of braided baskets.

As he works with wood and deftly lifts his hands from the tools, Björn tells me how he retired from postal work in the city to resume his dream job, woodworking in a relaxed rural setting. The wrinkles in the corner of his eyes speak as loudly as his words when he says that he has found the perfect niche for himself.

I leave Björn to take care of the other customers who enter the store and I take an oval wicker ashtray, the sides of which are made of a single strip of wicker, bent and fixed with tiny pins and, unlikely, wood fiber stitches. It’s fresh and smooth like a child’s cheek, and I keep coming back to stroke it.

I decide that it will be perfect for serving sandwiches, and I can imagine pretty Cupcakes placed on top of it on a linen cloth; I hold the tray against my chest and thank Björn for making such an elegant work of art while I make my purchase.

In Tällberg, I rummage in and out of craft shops, fingers on linen dresses and woven tablecloths, look at locally made ceramics and jewelry. But the prices are high. A tray similar to the one I just bought costs a third more.

Before returning to the car, I climb a wooden stairmatter on the Siljansgårdens Kaffestuga bridge over the lake, where I enjoy the heart-shaped wet vaffler med hjortronsyllt och kräme (waffles topped with golden cloudberry jam and whipped cream).

Further south, I cross a high bridge over the Dalälven river, where it flows from Lake Siljan, and I drive into the old part of Leksand, a parish of 15,400 inhabitants and a beautiful thirteenth-century church. Like the approximately 100 other villages in the region, Leksand is a place of living traditions. The inhabitants always row to the church in a long boat adorned with birch branches for special occasions, always dance around the Maypole that stands in the center of the village every St. John’s Eve and always wear colorful national costumes for the celebrations.

Embroidered tendrils on poppy red vests and carefully sewn golden tendrils on the shoulders of dark sapphire woolen vests speak of the rich textile heritage of the region in a niche of Leksands Hemslöjd (Craft store).

The Hemslöjds, which can be found in the cities of Sweden, are an outlet for local artists to exhibit their products. For visitors who don’t have time to wander around the countryside, Hemslöjds is the best thing to do with an incredible selection of crafts. Although the prices can be high, the prices on hemslöjds are often lower than at commercial and tourist craft markets – and the artists who sell on a Hemslöjd receive their fair share of the profits.

Hemslöjd from Leksand is the best I’ve seen so far, its shelves are lined with traditional crafts and modern interpretations: a modernist metal candle holder is shaped like a horse in the pasture and can accommodate four candles on its back. Upstairs, in an area full of handmade wooden furniture and household items, I come across plump round bowls petition to be held.

Inside, they are the pure white of birch; their exteriors are painted in bright sky sapphire. When I put one upside down, I’m afraid to see my own name – Forsberg. Granted, I’m not related, but it gives me Pause while I wonder if a nearby artist shares my family’s lineage.

I squint as I walk out the door into the glow of the sun. Undulating clouds, pregnant with rain, drift lazily on the horizon. It’s sweltering and I’m ready for a dip in the lake. The hemslöjd employee told me how to get to her favorite beach. I park the car in an extendable place in the woods above the lake and I go down a steep path to a beautiful coastal promenade lined with tiny winding beaches separated by small rocky walkways.

I settle on a beach of copper sand dotted with shiny granite chips, pink-orange and gray-white. A trio of young blond boys walk along the shore along the nearest beach, shoveling and bucket in hand while their mom sunbathes, book in hand.

I wade through the white water until I’m up to my waist, then swim to the rounded rocks nearby. Sitting on one, I see the low slopes covered with pines and firs interspersed with piles of rusty houses, listening to the joyful cries of the boys splashing in the water. Nature and man seem to coexist so peacefully here.

A current of fresh air springs up and ruffs the surface of the water, and the sun sparkles from it like molten silver, like quartz spots in granite rocks. A mercurial memory that will stay with me to come back whenever my gaze is caught by the flash of my silver heart pendant, the twinkle of the bell on Kirsten’s Dalahast or the aerial presence of other talismans in the middle of the trees and lakes of central Sweden.

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