Saturday, 9 April 2011

Peasant Arts Museum - the European influence

The Peasant Arts Museum was opened in 1910 at No.1 The Pavement in Haslemere High Street, with the first visitor being recorded as Gerald Davies, who opened the museum.  In his speech Davies called upon the audience to “revolt against this dreary life, so highly machined that all the vitality went out of it” (‘The Revival of Handicraft’, Haslemere and Hindhead Herald, 30 April 1910).
Spinning Wheels plate from Guide to the Collections of Peasant Arts,
Haslemere Educational Museum 
 Describing the Museum’s aims, The Peasant Arts Museum at Haslemere (1911) “acknowledged that other centres held far more literature and knowledge on the subject than it ever would but felt that with their emphasis on everyday life, it could encourage emulation of some of the traditions upheld in the work of ‘pride and pleasure’.  The Museum was to provide an example of a perfect existence, in harmony with nature, that all right thinking people should aspire to (Crowley, David and Taylor, Lou, The Lost Arts of Europe: The Haslemere Museum collection of European Peasant Art, Haslemere Educational Museum, 2000).  Greville MacDonald called the Museum of Peasant Arts “a collection quite unique in this country for beauty and significance, though not to be compared with the vast Folk Museums of Stockholm and Christiania.” (Reminiscences of a Specialist, London, George Allen and Unwin, 1932). 
Folk Dress Exhibit photograph, Norsk Folkemuseum

It is clear that what is now called the Skansen Museum, Stockholm and the Norsk Folkemuseum, Oslo had a keen influence upon Haslemere’s Peasant Arts Museum.  Joseph King traveled around Europe visiting numerous folk museums, as evidenced in the postcard published in Establishing Dress History (Taylor, Lou, Manchester University Press, 2004)  that King sent in around 1925 to the Haslemere Educational Museum of Hazelius’ Lapp sledge scene at the Nordiska Museet, Stockholm (Skansen).  
Lapp sledge scene postcard, Nordiska Museet, Stockholm c.1925
sent by Joseph King to Haslemere Educational Museum, 

from Establishing Dress History (Taylor, LouManchester University Press, 2004)  
At Skansen, founded in 1891 as the world’s first open-air museum by Artur Hazelius, the “romantic ideas and the patriotic spirit of the latter part the nineteenth century, …strongly influenced Hazelius”.  The Skansen museum describe Hazelius’ creation of the museum as a reaction against the urbanization of Sweden “(he) undertook long journeys in the Swedish countryside on foot and saw with his own eyes the radical changes that the traditional farming society was undergoing.

 At the beginning of the 1870s, three million of Sweden’s population of just over four million people still lived in the countryside.  But country life had changed.  The number of independent farmers had declined and the ranks of the landless had grown. The increase in population created a growing body of tenant cottagers, servants to the gentry and indentured labourers.   Land reforms that destroyed villages and re-allocated the fields transformed the way of life in the countryside as well as its buildings.  Agriculture became mechanized, industrial products did away with crafts and new means of communication opened up more efficient ways of distributing goods.

Skansen Museum

The landless classes left their homes to seek work on the railways, in the shipyards and the factories and in the sawmills of northern Sweden. Sweden developed into an urban society.  Crop failures at the end of the 1860s caused more than 100 000 Swedes to emigrate to America.  This wave of emigration reached a peak in the 1880s when 325 000 Swedes left for America and a further 52 000 emigrated to other countries.
Hazelius realized that Swedish society was changing. During a visit to the province of Dalarna in the summer of 1872 he noted how rapidly the transformation was taking place. He started to collect clothing, household utensils, furniture and hand-tools from the old farming culture: everything that needed to be preserved for posterity.

In 1873 Hazelius opened his first museum, the Scandinavian Ethnographic Collection, in Stockholm.  His museum showed cottage interiors decorated with authentic objects as well as fullsized dolls dressed in folk costume.  Painted panoramas provided the backdrops. …
Traditional exhibitions and museum interiors were not sufficient to fulfil Hazelius’s educational aims. He wanted to emphasize the sense of history by showing complete environments, that is, fully furnished houses occupied by people wearing period costume surrounded by their domestic animals in a natural landscape.

… During the expansive 1890s Skansen’s activities were organized in accordance with aims that Hazelius was later to enumerate: “But the Skansen open-air museum has much greater diversity and still greater tasks... It seeks more to be a living museum, a museum that does not merely exhibit buildings and furnishings, tools of very varying sorts, memorials... Along side all of that it seeks to do much more: to present folk life in living brushstrokes.”

…The basic programme of events, which remains the backbone of Skansen’s popular entertainment, was thus laid down during the 1890s: the celebration of feasts throughout the year and in people’s lives, traditional country dances and folk music, living crafts and household
activities in cottages and farms.”
Cover detail of Guide to the Collections of Peasant Arts,
Haslemere Educational Museum 

In 1912 the Peasant Arts Museum moved from Haslemere High Street to Foundry Meadow, now 38-40 Kings Road (the Weaving House).  “The display space was thoroughly inadequate and the problem only grew as more items were added to the collection.  In such cramped conditions it could not be the ‘fountain of inspiration’ that was intended (Crowley, David and Taylor, Lou, The Lost Arts of Europe: The Haslemere Museum collection of European Peasant Art, Haslemere Educational Museum, 2000).  


  1. How I identify with this - trying to keep crafts, folk lore and "the old ways" alive. Even in this day and age.

    Keep up the good work - this is a fascinating site.

  2. Thanks for your comments Bovey Belle!

    I'm hoping to get some insider info from some locals to shed some more light on the subject. I've got some great new bits including things on toys and dyeing (different subjects!) that I need to compile.


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