A traditional Dala horse, or Dalecarlian horse, or Dalahäst in Swedish, is the most traditional home décor from Sweden one can find. It is a typical carved wooden statue of a horse and painted red.
It all started in Dalarna, Sweden. First written traces describing the Swedish Dala Horse founded in a sermon around the year 1624. In the 1700s the forest workers around Mora carve horses in the evenings. The horses were used as toys for the children and they quickly became popular. The original Dala horse is from Mora (Nusnäs) but there are several different horses around the region today.
The forest workers carved mostly the figurines of horses because this animal was very important at the time when it was used for farm work, as a pack and saddle animal.
In 1922 Grannas Anders Olsson turned to produce the traditional Dala horses and in the same year, the company was established. Besides the wooden horses even tools for weaving, curtain rails etc, were manufactured. The selling was carried out by a travelling agent, Anders Henriksson from Nusnäs, who has related that already in 1926, he went around and sold Dala horses from Grannas Anders production. Both of the younger brothers Nils and Jannes Olsson helped their big brother to make the horses after school and eventually started another small factory and took up the old crafts of mankind seriously.
The worldwide popularity Dala horse got from the world exhibition in New York in 1939. Grannas Olson wanted to bring a traditional Dala horse with him. He made a massive 2,80 meters long painted figure that was placed outside the entrance of the Swedish pavilion at the exhibition, as well as small painted horses at the exhibition, were on sale. It was a huge success. The next year nearly 20,000 figurines of horses were manufactured and sent to New York.
After the exhibition in 1939, the Dala horse quickly became a symbol for Sweden. To this day, the traditional Dala horse is a popular souvenir to buy while visiting Sweden. The original one is painted red but today, blue and white ones are also quite popular.
Children and grandchildren of Nils and Jannes Olsson today continue the traditional cultural heritage.
The timber of the Dala horses comes from the slow-growing pine forests around Siljan. It is a perfect climate to get the best pine, which becomes dense and ideal to carve the horses off.
At the local mill, pine timber is selected to be processed into Dala horses. The smallest horses are used for alder wood that the company buys as timber and saws themselves.
The selected pieces are planed and a template stamped on. Then the shape of the horses is cut out, first roughly and then free hand in the bandsaw. Then the district’s most skilled numerator takes on, who in their homes gives the Dala horse its final.
The carved horse is dipped in two layers of colour. To find any imperfections, it is seen and putty and sanded. Then it’s time for the final dip before the horse is ready for goose painting.
The traditional pattern found on the Dala horses is called goose painting and is closely related to Kurbits. The horses are painted freehand by skilled decorators. The final step is to paint the neighbouring horses. Then it’s time for them to leave Nusnäs and wander out into the world. They do this not only as a symbol for Dalarna but for the whole of Sweden.
Both manufacturers, Grannas A. Olsson Hemslöjd AB and Nils Olsson Dalahästar AB still exist and produce Dala horses, around 100,000 of them each year. You can purchase these beautiful pieces of Swedish history in their online shops in 15 different sizes (from 1,5cm to 50cm) and be shipped to your location around the world.
Photo credits: Nils Olsson Dalahäster AB, Grannar A. Olsson Hemslöjd AB.