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In Sweden, there is a long tradition of adorning the walls of the home with textile decorations in the form of bonades. Already in the Middle Ages there were painted bonades and bonade painting continued to be a living craft in the southern parts of Sweden into the 19th century.
The last significant masters of southern Swedish folk painting are considered to be Johannes Nilsson (1757-1827) and Anders Pålsson (1781-1849), who were active bonad painters in Halland. Both belonged to the so-called "Gyltig painters", who developed a distinctive style with powerful colour fields in earthy tones, naïve features and decorative details in the form of plant parts and borders. The motifs depict religious narratives, but at the same time give a picture of life in peasant society for everyday life and celebration.
The stylistically related valley painting developed in the later part of the 18th century and continued until the end of the 19th century. It often spread over the furniture of the commoners, but painted bonades and wallpaper also appeared, both of cloth and paper. Here, too, the motifs were religious or local. The florid and swollen fantasy flowers of the Kurbits inspired plant motifs, which were allowed to fill in the space around the figures.
In more modern times, embroidered bonades became popular. They were particularly common in the first half of the 20th century and many of the bonades that survive today are almost centuries old. In both simple cottages and high-rise estates, a lot of time and effort went into creating, stitch by stitch, hand-stitched works of art, which were then hung in places of honour. As a rule, the bonades contain thought-provoking language or express something that was considered particularly important to remember. Our bonades are therefore a cultural reflection in word and image, telling us about the thoughts, values and living conditions of previous generations.
Many of the embroidered bonades depict everyday life in the 20th century. No grandeur is expressed, but often simplicity is celebrated. In many cases, the bonad text instils the importance of doing a good job and encourages contentment. There is also a sense of pride in one's work. Here we find many of the virtues, priorities and driving forces that made it possible to build a secure society with a strong welfare state.
The home occupies a special place in the world of bonfires. "A home, if it's good, is the best lot in life" goes a popular bonad rhyme. "The ornament of home is cleanliness" and "there is no place on earth so dear as you are my home" are also popular lyrics. Images abound of red-painted cottages and the opening lines of the Småland song ("Röd lyser stugan bak hängbjörkens veil. Do you know the home of childhood years?") is often reproduced. The security of the home and the chores performed within its walls are depicted as the very centre of life.
Sugar-sweet and tuneful embroideries also appear. Lines from beloved poems and songs are common, not infrequently illustrated with romantic depictions of nature. Songs by Evert Taube have lent lyrics to many bonad motifs. Children's songs provided inspiration for bonads for the youngest members of the family.
Special bonfires for feasts and celebrations were produced in large quantities. There are countless embroidered bonades with Christmas motifs, and it is perhaps in this context that the bonade has survived mainly in modern times. There are also examples of bonades to decorate the home at Easter and Midsummer.
Today, bonad sewing has lost its former popularity and handmade bonads from the earlier part of the 20th century are sold for small sums at flea markets. Considering how much they have to tell and all the work that goes into thousands of stitches, it's almost incomprehensible. The bonades are part of our cultural heritage that deserves greater attention and appreciation, both for their craftsmanship and for the way they depict our history.
Footnote: For those who want to delve deeper into the history of wall hangings, a visit to the Old Post Office in Stenstorp (Västergötland), which exhibits Gunvor Johdet's collection of wall hangings, is recommended. There are several hundred embroidered bonades of various ages.
Painted bonades can be seen at Halland's cultural history museum and at Unnaryd-Jälluntoftas hembygdsförening in Småland. The local history society also organises courses in bonad painting.
Baehrendtz, Nils Erik; Ohlmarks, Åke (1993), Swedish cultural history, Forum
Norlind, Tobias (1912), The life of the Swedish omnipresent in folklore, folklore and folk poetry, Bohlin and Co
Thaning, Olof (ed. 1982), Sverigeboken, Readers Digest
Information has also been gathered from visits to the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, the Halland Museum of Cultural History in Varberg and Gunvor Johdet's bonad collection in Stenstorp.
First published on Cultural memory.
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