A Northern Landscape

Tankard in Norsk Folkemuseum Collection

Editor’s note: Master cooper, Marshall Scheetz sent this brief reflection from his research trip to Norway.

During my two-week research trip to Norway, I got to visit deep fjords, mountains ground flat by glaciers, medieval stave churches, and vast museum collections of aging dairy buckets and beer tankards. Just because I have seen these things doesn’t necessarily mean they can be easily explained. I’m still processing this northern landscape and the objects I encountered. To be honest, it was culturally and historically overwhelming – each evening I had to walk the neighborhoods in order to sort my thoughts.

Tankards and Cans at De Heibergske Samlinger collection, Sogn Folkemuseum

Working with museum staff curators, restoration conservators, archivists, and librarians is part of the joy I get from historical research.  I depend heavily on their expertise and mastery of the museum resources. No personal research or online database can replace the credibility of in-person interactions and conversations with museum staff about their collections. And these collections were vast.   

Dairy tubs at Stigum Magasin Collection, Norsk Folkemuseum

ølstaup Sogn Folkemuseum Collection

Flask, Nordfjord Folkemuseum

I made many observations of the craftsmanship. I think I was most astonished by the scope of the graffiti on the wooden vessels. Much of the meaning of these marks is still up for debate. Something rarely seen on most surviving American coopered vessels are dates. There were so many dates on these tankards, flasks, staups, and buckets. For a historian, a specific year draws to mind the many events, grand and minor.

Dairy Canteen, Nordfjord Folkemuseum

Driving the roads from one fjord to another, one couldn’t help but think of the seasonal journeys made by generations of farmers driving their livestock from valleys to verdant mountain pastures.  They made their living at the water’s edge of the fjord and the high mountain meadows where pasturage was rich in the summer months.  

Seterreisen. Adolph Tidemand, 1854. Nasjonalmuseet

“No matter how hard I try, I cannot describe how glorious the life on the mountain farm was. The best and most beautiful belong to the riches we hardly have words for. He who has experienced all the ups and downs of living on the mountain farm can live off of that for a long time. The farm itself was left, and there they would reap food and feed for the coming winter while the animals would enjoy the bounty of the mountain and its plethora of vitamins and minerals. They conquered the art of transforming the mountain's green pastures into butter and cheese of many kinds. The products from there were gold to the farmer, who harvested the abundances of nature.” - Anders Ohnstad

Tankard, Norsk Folkemuseum

-Marshall Scheetz, cooper


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