Tuesday, April 03, 2007

I feel a deep sense of gratitude to a friend in Sweden, Hans Thorbjörnsson, who is the curator of Otto Salomon's letters and library in Nääs, Sweden. We began corresponding in late 2001, and he was my host when I visited in Nääs last May. He has been a wonderful resource in helping me to gain a better understanding of Educational Sloyd. The following is from personal correspondence from Hans:

Otto Salomon and the knife:
80 percent of the Swedish people were living in the countryside about 1880, mostly farmers or farm workers and their families. Almost every farmer and worker wore a knife and used it daily. The boys took part in the farm work from 8-10 years of age, going to school a few hours a day or every other day. Even these young boys used the knife in a natural way; they could handle it and were seldom injured. Of course Salomon was aware of this – and he is using this knowledge already in his early articles and books. (And he knew that the knife was the most common and most important tool of homesloyd.)

It was an old tradition in Swedish farm homes sitting around the stove making utensils to be used in the kitchen or the farm work. This tradition was weakened from about 1860 (the growing industry made these utensils faster and cheaper) – perhaps the most important reason why sloyd was introduced in the elementary school (the “folkskola”).

Translated from ”Om slöjden såsom uppfostringsmedel” i Ur vår tids forskning, 1884. p. 86-87
(The knife) can be looked upon as the fundamental tool in Sloyd, especially as its usefulness is so manifold. With the knife alone many pieces of work can be completed. The knife is so easy to obtain and convenient to carry. From simple objects made with a knife, it is advisable to proceed to more difficult works through step by step introduction of new tools, new hand-operations, new kinds of joints, woods more difficult to work, and more complicated shapes.”

Salomon was very fond of quoting the Norwegian Christian Jacobsen from his book I slöidsagen. Et indlaeg (Oslo ,1892) (not an exact translation)

When using the knife the child is learning to use the muscles of the hand and the forearm with elastic capacity (proficiency?). The child learns to plan in advance the form he is going to bring about. The knife demands total attention and permits no mechanical work. Furthermore the knife can produce – unlike the plane as an example – curved surfaces in form work. This makes the knife superior when it comes to development of sense of form and beauty.

I realize that knives aren't allowed in most schools, and even during the early days of Sloyd, knives were controversial outside Sweden. It is a shame, though that instead of allowing children to know it as a useful and creative tool, Hollywood and the gaming industry implant images in children's minds of dreadful things. Students of today would do better for themselves and their development by putting down the video and computer games that occupy their spare time and picking up a knife. Learn to whittle and carve. You will learn more about wood and its interesting qualities with a knife than with any power tool. You will need to learn to keep it sharp, but you will never need batteries. The photo above and below is of sloyd knives I bought in flea markets in Sweden. Both were made in Mora, a city still famous for its knives.

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