Norwegian Ways of Endorsing and Promoting Folk Art – a Conversation with Solvieg Grinder from the Norwegian Folk Art and Craft Association

What is it The Norwegian Folk Art and Craft Association?

Solvieg Grinder: Since its inception, the Norwegian Folk Art and Craft Association has been continuously keeping folk art and crafts vital and alive. As a non-governmental organisation with 23 000 members, we are the main institution in Norway working to promote crafts locally and nationally, and to improve the awareness and the quality of folk art and crafts.
The Norwegian Folk Art and Craft Association (NH) was founded in 1910, in the halcyon days of the husflid-movement in Norway. The foundation of the organisation was the result of the need to be efficient and formalised and to bring the already existing regional craft associations closer together as well as to rise up to the challenge traditional craftsmanship faced in Norway in connection with the advent of industrialised products and methods.
In 2014, NH became the third UNESCO-accredited non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Norway in the field of intangible cultural heritage.

Please describe the mission statement of your association, namely, “We create the future”?

SG: In Norwegian our vision gets a double meaning since the word “to create” means both “to shape something concrete” and “to make/produce”, as one does while working with materials and crafts. “Influence and even increase”. And this is what we aspire to achieve. This is also what we recommend. Moreover, we also aim to form or shape politics and society. To do so, we focus on voluntary work, adult learning, educational policies as well as on sustainability, i.e., long-lasting products of good quality.

What kind of activities are you organising?

SG: Since the beginning the closeness to local activities and local cultural identity has been the organizations greatest strength. Today we have three member groups; local member divisions, our handcraft masters and our traditional folk handicraft stores “Husfliden”. The solid foundation underlying the work of our association is based on the voluntary contributions within the local and regional membership divisions. Each one of our 377 local divisions contribute to the strengthening of social networks, enabling the exchange, maintenance and development of handicraft skills and traditions within a large sector of areas.
Our core and greatest effort are the classes that take place in our 377 local branches, all over Norway. We are Norway’s largest organiser of adult training courses of folk handicraft skills. We offer approx. 2500 courses per year, and about 15 000 people yearly attend our local and regional classes. These classes cover a variety of handicraft traditions within the following main categories: textile, woodcraft, knife making, smithery, colour as well as design. A focal point on the agenda for both local branches and the central administration in the years to follow will be safeguarding the most endangered handcraft techniques and ensure recruitment of instructors. But neither the teachers nor the students of these techniques are of the younger generation, which calls into question the preservation and permanence of folk art and crafts in Norway.
We also work a lot in the field of education, hoping to be able to attract a wider range of audiences and make them interested in traditional design. For instance, last year, as part of the official national celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution (1814-2014), we opened our exhibition “Moteløver og heimføinger” in cooperation with the Museum of Northern Norway. The exhibition shows how the local dresses in North Norway have been influenced by French and European fashion. This cultural exchange was a consequence of the large trade of fish from 17th-century and onwards. In August we held a symposium on folk costumes and related traditional fashion and design. This event will be a yearly event and, as such, it is a result of cooperation between different organisations and the public Norwegian Institute of Folk costumes. We also hold other events and run a diverse range of projects devoted to folk and traditional design as well as to art and crafts. For details, see www.husflid.no.

What are the main roles of your association? What kind of support you provide for affiliated handicraftsmen?

SG: Among our members are 130 professional handicraftsmen, who fully or partially make a living out of handicrafts. These include bunad manufacturers, silver smiths, weavers, wood carvers and more. These handicraftsmen make sure we have a vital and continually developing field of handicrafts and folk art. For the sake of our professional craftspeople we organise fairs, workshop, competitions and help them with marketing via our homepage. We also promote them through our craft shops “Husfliden”. Husflid is associated with quality and tradition: in the 35 Husfliden-stores around the country only quality craft products are sold. The stores are specially known as providers of bunads, national folk costumes. About half of the Norwegian population owns a bunad, which are worn at formal occasions, and the manufacturing and selling of these costumes is an important part of keeping cultural heritage alive; it is also an important part of peoples’ lives.
For the tradition to remain relevant and alive, its practitioners should be provided with the possibility to make a living out of craft products and skills. For that reason, we seek to stimulate and generate the best possible conditions for our folk handicraft stores and professional craftsmen. Included in this work are workshops, enhancement of handicraft skills, handicraft markets and scholarship awards.
In the future, we believe that handcraft will be vested with bigger importance than ever, because the products both are made to last and are made of natural (organic) materials. Among the tasks of the central administration is the management of the organisation, lobbying and political counselling, educational activities, publishing the Norsk Husflid magazine, national and regional projects, children’s craft courses and more. This is done by the central office in Oslo and by the Body of Consultants.
The organisation is regionally represented through the Body of Consultants, comprised of 19 skilled professional folk art and craft practitioners. In addition to being a link between their respective county and the central administration in Oslo, our consultants work with local schools, museums, local administration and, of course, local members living in every region of the country.
Our organisation also publishes Norsk Husflid (Norwegian Folk Art and Craft), a specialist magazine with circulation of approx. 27.000 copies; there are five issues per year.

Your association is a member of the European Folk Art and Craft Federation (EFACF)? What exactly is EFACF?

SG: As an organisation, EFACF was founded in Switzerland in 1972. It is a small association built on democratic principles. As such, it is open to any non-profit/non-commercial organisation or institute working in the field of traditional craft expressions.
Today, the Federation is a network consisting of 11 European organisations in eleven different countries. Every year there is a members’ meeting in one of the member countries, and every third year the general assembly is organised. The network aims to strengthen contact between craftspeople and organisers of craft activity in European countries in the context of exchanging skills and knowledge about traditional crafts.
For more information on EFACF, see: www.folkartandcraft.net.

In your opinion what is the role and condition of the design based on tradition of Norwegian folk art?

SG: This is really a huge question; but very briefly I can say that it varies a lot. But, in general, there are too many who are too traditional in their approach to patterns and products. Personally, I miss creativity, but – of course – there are some very good exceptions!

How is the condition of traditional crafts and folk cultures in Norway? How do they develop in Norway? Do they exist on their own or do they benefit from a special support system?

SG: My experience is limited to crafts inspired by folk arts and culture. Unfortunately, there is a weak and almost non-existing support system for folk art in Norway. There are only 7 national grants and they cover craft, song, instrumental music and dance. There are also a few regional scholarship programmes. Not unlike the Norwegian folk culture, the traditional crafts develop pretty much on their own or thanks to the concerted efforts and activities of NGOs specialising in the field.
By having a clearly defined outlook on the importance of politics in terms of education, craft production, taxation, cultural heritage challenges and more, we aim to influence the Norwegian authorities in this regard. Our political goals are to strengthen the existing living craft traditions in Norway in a cultural, social and economic way.

Are you aware that in some countries folk art copyright is violated and the traditional hand-made wares are copied and not protected? How does it work in Norway?

SG: The common heritage of folk arts is not protected in Norway, while new designs are copyrighted by the designers (creators) and thus protected by the law. The fact that our folk dresses are copied and produced, e.g., in China, poses a serious threat. Our aim is to protect these commodities as best as we can and raise the consciousness of consumers with regard to the connection of the particular goods and their authorship.

How do modern design, authentic folk art and culture function in Norway? Do they constitute separate worlds or maybe do they exist as elements of the “ethno design” trend?

SG: I would say a bit of both. It differs again where you are in the country – in the country or in urban areas – and which age group you take into consideration. Overall, I think that design is more mixed and diverse in urban areas.

How often do traditional crafts and decorations constitute sources of inspiration for modern Norwegian designers?

SG: Lately more and more frequently than before. Good craft skills have become more valued and, in consequence, they have given rise to the revitalisation of Norwegian traditions and traditional means of their expression. As far as furniture making, jewellery making and fashion are concerned, they are many examples of new products visibly inspired by folk art.

Translated by Karolina Majkowska