I’m Not an Artist – I’m a Craftsman

M&T: Tell us more about how art connects with the slöjd tradition, and why it’s such a vital part of it.

JS: I would say it’s about form following function. The knowledge of how to make common, functional items was always a big part of everyday life. They knew, for example, how thick to make a table so that it would be strong, how big that sliding dovetail had to be to make a stable joint. That knowledge of proportions – dimensions, thicknesses, and joinery – is part of the tradition, and is very practical. But when they made things that were connected to certain traditions, like the love gift of a spinning wheel, they made it extraordinarily delicate, with patterns and symbols, and painted it and gave it an ornately carved distaff. It had function in two ways – it was both useful and beautiful. It was meant to show their skills, so the woman receiving the gift would say, “You must be really ‘not uncrafty!’” So, there’s a union between form and function that connects to folk art.           

That’s why I tell people I’m not an artist – I’m a craftsman, a slöjder. Slöjd is in my roots and my deepest inspiration. I’ve heard that people want to pay you more if you call yourself an artist, that art is worth more than craft. But slöjd has turned me into who I am – it is folk art and function together, and so I’ll never betray my origin and call myself an artist.

M&T: Do you try to balance innovation with tradition? Can you make something new from within those four walls?

JS: Some people think tradition means, “Do it like this, do it like that,” – and that approach is very limiting. Slöjd tradition is about freedom. Of course, an object had to be well-built, with good material and strong joints, but aside from that the craftsman was completely free – he had to be, because in the process of making something there is always a personal interaction with the material and the task. No one else can judge your choices.

Once the tools, materials, and techniques are learned, the work will come out in an individual way. If my father had said, “This is how a spoon should be, this is how a dough bowl should be,” I would have never gotten into it. But what he said was, “If you make a dough bowl, you need to make it three times thicker at the end grain than at the sides, and the base has to be this wide to make it work.” And anything else goes. As long as I am true to the material, the use of the cutting tools, then the slöjd traditions and folk-art guide me within these four walls. I’m free to do whatever I want. I can express myself.

–Jögge Sundqvist, excerpt from “The Good Life: Discussing Slöjd with Jögge Sundqvist,” in Issue Six


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