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.