59 Tapestries: Bäckahäster

Carol Johnson’s tapestry collection includes two versions of the Swedish Bäckahäst, the river or sea horse.  This mythological creature was thought to lure people to ride on their backs and then plunge into the river. Other times I have just seen this sort of image referred to as a mythological horse.


The colors are bright and retain nice contrast.  It’s fun to see the back, too; you can examine the finely-woven interlocking edges on the tiny squares, and also see the deeper, richer original red of the background.




The second piece has two attractive and unusual bands of rosepath in the horse design. This is also one of the few weavings in Carol’s collection that include a date. But– is it perhaps a lion?  Viveke Hanson, who has written extensively on Swedish weaving, included a similar image in her Textilis blog post, “Lions, Stars, and Pomegranates from Southern Sweden” (June 13, 2013). She called it a lion.

Double interlocked tapestry with lion within eight-sided frame, part of bedcover. Färs, Skåne, Sweden, c. 1800. (Owner: Regionmuseet, Kristianstad). Photo: The IK Foundation, London.

But usually I see it referred to as a horse.  I saw a similar pattern on a billedvev cushion from northern Gudbrandsdal in Norway, in the book Gammel Norsk Vævkunst: Putetræk og Tæpper i Farvetrykte Gjengivelser, Volume 1, Plate 1 (H. Grosch, Oslo: Mittet & Co. kunstforlag, 1922). It is woven in Norwegian billedvev technique (tapestry with dove-tailing) rather than the Swedish pieces done in a double-interlocked technique composed of small squares.

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In the book the animal is described as “a horse-like animal figure of Middle Ages character with a stylized lily in its mouth,” which makes it seems more benign than the fire-spewing animal I thought it was.

Weavers in the 20th century have designed with the bäckahäst, too.  See Anne Whidden’s wonderful posts in The Swedish Rug Blog about Märta Måås Fjetterström (which also includes many photos of older bäckahäst weavings) and Barbro Nilsson. I thought I might weave my own, converting the dragon-y horse pattern into a dragon from the Game of Thrones.  So far, it’s only a cartoon…..



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