Few symbols of Sweden are more famous than the painted wooden Dala horses from the province of Dalarna, in the Swedish heartland. People have been carving wooden horses as toys and decorative items for hundreds of years, but it was in the early 1800s that the Dala horse began to take its classic shape, with bright colors and painted flowers. The production of Dala horses was localized to four villages outside Mora, especially the small community of Nusnäs, where they are still produced today.
At the far northern tip of Denmark is a narrow finger of land jutting into the waters of Kattegat and Skagerrak, the two great straits that join the Baltic and North Seas. This is the Skagen Peninsula, a land carved by wind and waves, whose constantly shifting sand dunes have shaped both the landscape and the human life here – so much so that the town’s 14th-century church had to be abandoned in 1795 after it became increasingly difficult for the congregation to dig through the sand to attend services.
Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943) may just be Norway’s most important artist you’ve never heard of. There are very few works by this talented sculptor outside his native country, the result of an arrangement Vigeland made with the Oslo City Council in 1921. Vigeland agreed to bequeath all his works to the city in exchange for the lifetime use of a studio and apartment specially built for him at Frogner. For the last two decades of his life, Vigeland lived and worked in this space; after his death, it became the Vigeland Museum, now one of Oslo’s top attractions along with the adjacent sculpture park.
Sweden has a world-class reputation for fine crystal and decorative glass, and the place to go to explore this art is a region of Småland known as Glasriket, or the Kingdom of Crystal. The neighboring municipalities of Emmaboda, Lessebo, Nybro, and Uppvidinge are home to more than a dozen glassworks and glass studios where you can watch glass being blown, learn about the traditions of glassmaking, shop to your heart’s content, enjoy a drink in a bar made entirely of glass, and even enjoy hot shop herring (“hyttsill”), a festive herring dinner party right in the hot shop.