Saturday, December 10, 2005

Uromager n. (Danish) Maker of things mischievous and always on the move.



I’m unclear if this word existed in the Danish language before Christian Flensted, mobile-maker extraordinaire, or came about as a title for Flensted himself. You might not think you know about Flensted mobiles, but you do. I’ll explain why later.

Last weekend, I went to the Scandinavian Christmas Bazaar at Melbourne’s Swedish Church. I’m not sure how large the Swedish community is in Melbourne, but I presume most of them were at the bazaar, including the two zaftig blonde Vikings in tight, tight t-shirts with SWEDEN emblazoned across their chests. The bazaar has a long tradition at the Swedish Church, and it made an impact when I was a child. I desperately wanted a pair of painted red leather clogs. Come to think of it, I still do.

We went looking for Danish paper cut mobiles. The original ones in my parents’ house came from the Christmas Bazaar. We weren’t disappointed in our search, and muscled our way in between the genuinely Scandinavian. The mobiles are lovely, delicate things. Cut from paper and hanging by thread, they move gently in the breeze, each part moving independently, but in concert with it's other parts.

It turns out that paper craft is an important part of Danish life, most particularly at Christmastime. This article talks about how families will spend an afternoon cutting and pasting paper ornaments for their tree, trying to out-do each other and the ornaments made the year before.

The mobile lady was hardly able to keep up with sales at the Christmas Bazaar. Caught up in the frenzy, I came home with five, rationalising that some would be given as gifts. All, however, can be found hanging chez girlprinter.

Thus began a dangerous train of thought. Perhaps I could make some mobiles of my own? First, I googled Danish paper mobiles. This is how I learned about Christian Flensted. In 1954, Flensted broke from traditional mobile making with his Stork mobile. Since then, he’s become famous for his innovative designs, and along with his wife and son regularly issues new and original designs from their Department of Space Research.

Researching Flensted, I had a growing sense of familiarity. Did you see Stephanie’s mobile? I had this exact mobile in a different colourway as a child; my Mum recently repaired the thread and gave it to me. Turns out, the Hen & Eggs is a Flensted design. Mine is a thin wood, the contemporary versions are plastic. [Update: I'm mistaken. The new ones are made of paper. Thanks, Stephanie!]

In some ways, it’s not surprising that Flensted found his calling as a mobile maker. He lives and works on the island birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, who alongside fame as a writer and storyteller, was famous for his paper cuts. Andersen never went anywhere without scissors; once, when he thought he might be robbed in a London taxicab, he hid his money, watch and scissors in his boots for safekeeping. This fascinating essay by Jens Andersen (entitled “Scissor Writing”) talks about the relationship between Hans Christian Andersen’s writing and the performative practice of his paper cutting. I won’t write more for fear of this post degenerating into a Master’s-level cultural studies essay, but it’s an interesting read, I promise.

Moving along, I was hoping to find a Dover-type how-to book on the traditional Danish paper cut mobile. I discovered a distinction between mobiles (which might be wood, or plastic) and paper cuts (generally simpler, made of paper, usually with one main hanging object.) I found this book on Polish paper cuts, and this one about Mexican-style papercutting. This snowflake book looks like a good one for impressing little kids. But nothing on the Danish paper cut. I might need to bypass tradition and correct technique and branch out on my own: who knows, I might find my inner uromager.

Isaac asked “Who invited you?” when I told him I was heading out to the Scandinavian Christmas Bazaar. Stupidly, I forgot that I am part Norwegian: a very, very small part, but a part nonetheless.* This year, I’m trying to channel my inner Scandinavian with my holiday decorations. I have the mobiles, and a wooden Swedish table tree. I have pewter ornaments, and vintage mirror glass balls hanging from twisty willow branches. I have a simple red berry wreath on the front door. I have an idea to thread fairy lights all through the jasmine vine that runs along our front verandah, but that may or may not pose insurmountable logistical challenges. I’d like to remember winter by lighting candles and drinking glüwein. Because traditions develop out of our attempts to mark an occasion: if I want to have a swedishjapanese Christmas, with latkes on the side, I will.

*Tonight, we discussed our uninformed views on Scandinavia as a whole. We agreed that the Danes seem to be the coolest. Lars Von Trier has something to do with this, I think, in my case not because of his films, but because of his wonderfully bizarre TV series The Kingdom. Denmark is also the home of Legoland, a long-time dream destination, and in recent times, the home of the Australian-born Danish Princess Mary. Australians, disenchanted with British royalty since Princess Diana’s death, have taken to this Australian-Danish connection with pathological zeal. Let me say publicly right here that my vote for the Danes has nothing to do with Mary, but everything to do with paper mobiles and Lego. For me, the Swedish come in second. I’m thinking of Camilla’s gorgeous-looking new store, and a certain tennis player from the 1980’s. The Finns are close in third place with Marimekko. Norway, unfortunately, is last. As a part-of-a-part-of-a-part Norwegian, I can say such a thing. They do, however, have fjords, and I look forward to being roundly criticized for overlooking some wonderful crafty tradition or cultural export.**

** When googling 1980’s band A-ha to see if they were Norwegian (affirmative), my first hit is a scholarly essay on the band, published by the Celcius Centre for Scandinavian Studies at the Australian Flinders University. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to read it, but you can if you’d like to.

Melbourne’s Danish mobile lady: Vibeke’s Handicraft (03) 9789-1080. She has a shop: Noa Noa Living, 18A Beach Street, Frankston.

Above images (from top left): a Flensted mobile, from Gifts of Norway, from the Danish Export Shop and from Sweden's Finest, by Oda Wiedbrecht.

9 Comments:

Anonymous suzy said...

What a great post! It's nice to learn more about the mobiles. I have the one in the top left of your pictures with hearts and christmas trees - we bought it last year as there is no room for a real christmas tree in a tiny Tokyo flat. I love it - it moves so nicely in the heater draft - so now I'm trying to work out which of the less festive versions (the chicken and egg? or the whales?) I should get, so I can leave it up all year.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Di said...

Fantastic post! so much info and entertainment- I never knew we had so much in common- I can imagine we were probably both sitting glued to tv's in the 90's at the same moment, on different sofas in different homes, urging Mats on to win the next point...
I love these mobiles too, and have been to the Scandinavian fair once or twice myself.
You gotta get yourself one of the Swedish spinning chiming candle angel tabel ornaments to help make your christmas table complete!

11:06 PM  
Anonymous Blair said...

I am obsessed with Flensted mobiles and I forgot to add one to my Christmas list. I guess its not too late!

2:10 AM  
Anonymous *jenny said...

I love this post! I am currently experiencing a mini-obession with Scandinavian Christmas stuff and you gave me lots of great info. I didn't know about the history of paper crafting and Danish Christmas traditions. I've been making Scandinavian-inspired paper decorations for years, and you told me a lot of things I never knew! Many thanks.

4:59 AM  
Anonymous Alicia said...

We are so alike, I swear. I was JUST out wanting a pair of red decorated clogs on Monday but they didn't have the ones I wanted. I need them for my "let's-pretend-we-live-in-Europe-at-Christmas" phase! At least I have your blog to help with that, then. . . .

5:16 AM  
Blogger stephanie said...

really great and informative post. i am also channeling my inner-scandinavian. by the way, my mobile, and all the new flensted ones I've seen, are paper cardstock. you can still get some in wood like the superb fish.

1:37 PM  
Blogger kris said...

sorry i'm so late to comment on this - didn't read it until today!

finland is not part of scandinavia, so that bumps norway up to third place, at least ;-) if you want to rank the nordic countries you can also include iceland before norway if you like.

"uromager" is also found in the norwegian language, then as "uromaker". the term as used about flensted is a pun - "uro" means "unrest", but is also the scandinavian word for "mobile".

even though i have never owned a flensted mobile, i have fond childhood memories of danish paper cutting. i used to have several h. c. andersen style paper cuttings, and also a portrait of myself, from one of our many summer hols spent in denmark. hmm, i wonder if my mum has held on to them for me.

sorry for this lengthy comment - just wanted to say how much i enjoyed reading your post!

11:00 PM  
Blogger brazilian said...

ditto with the enjoyment of reading your post! very informative and funny and intersting. i got here by googling about danish paper cutting which i used to do for christmas as a small child growing up in kobenhavn.

this is also an amazingly wonderful sentence:

"Because traditions develop out of our attempts to mark an occasion: if I want to have a swedishjapanese Christmas, with latkes on the side, I will."

lovely!

4:54 PM  
Blogger Mette Thomas said...

Yep I too am embracing my inner Danish roots this Christmas although this Christmas it has been red and white all the way in this house. We visit the Scandinavian fair every yr and ever so slowly add to our traditional decorations.

I have been sitting on the computer most nights trying as you have been to Google Danish paper cut outs and came across your blog. Its is bugging the life out of me as i want to know how they are made. Everybody keeps telling me they are hand cut and although i believe they used to be i don't think the ones we all buy these days including the ones from the fair are definitely not cut out with scissors - I assume they are made with a die cutting machine but do you think i can find that info anywhere???. Its driving me crazyyyyyy any clues??? if you find any info please let me know as i am going crazy over here.

LOL anyway good luck in your search for everything Danish.
Mette

10:17 PM  

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