Barnesklubb: Make Your Own Primstav or Calendar Stick

People have devised ways to keep track of the passing days for millennia. In Scandinavia, where the growing season is so short, this was particularly important. It was imperative to know the best time for the sowing of seed, or the time when cattle might safely be let out to graze.

In measures that varied from valley to valley, they notched off the days from that week in winter when the sun barely crept above the horizon, or from the day the ice broke up on the lake. The days were carved on a stick or board and eventually an elementary almanac of weather and crops evolved – the first “Farmer’s Almanac”, if you will.

Make Your Own Primstav or Calendar Stick @EvaVarga.netThe Primstav, or calendar stick, served our nordic ancestors for seven centuries as a guide long before the invention of  printing. With the arrival of Christianity, the Primstav evolved as a religious calendar to keep track of the saints’  days.

Each day was represented by a notch on the stick and the year was divided into two halves. One side of the Primstav represented the summer season, beginning on April 15, and the other side represented winter, beginning on October 15. Symbols were carved onto the primstav as a reminder of merkedager (significant dates). Saints’ days were often marked by symbols representing the circumstances of their martyrdom.

Red Letter Days

A red letter day is any day of special significance. In Norway, Sweden, Denmark and some Latin American countries, a public holiday is sometimes referred to as “red day” (rød dag), as it is printed in red in calendars.

Here are a few of the merkedager Norwegians observed throughout the year.

  • April 14 – Summer Day (symbolized with a tree or branch) – The beginning of summer
  • June 24 – St. John the Baptist or Jonsok (an hourglass or sun) – Originally a solstice celebration and rededicated to St. John the Baptist
  • Oct 14 – Winter Day (a mitten) – The beginning of winter
  • Feb 22 – St. Peter’s Day (a key) – According to legend, St. Peter threw hot stones in water to keep it from freezing. His keys to the kingdom of heaven serve as a  reminder that ice may be too thin to walk on safely.

Look here for examples of Primstav dates, symbols and meanings.

Make Your Own Primstav or Calendar Stick @EvaVarga.netMake Your Own Primstav

For Barnesklubb this month, we learned how to make our own Primstav using the tutorial provided by Keith Homstad in the July 2011 issue of the Viking (a magazine for members of Sons of Norway).  I have summarized the steps here for those interested in taking on this challenge – a wonderful hands-on history project.

Materials:

  • Pencils and erasers
  • Sandpaper
  • Flat piece of wood (3 feet long, 1 1/2 inches wide, and 1/4-inch thick)
  • Permanent markers or wood burning tool
  • Howard Wood Polish or other furniture polish (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Sand the stick to remove any rough edges.
  2. With a pencil, mark 1 1/2 inches from each end. One end will be the handle and the opposite end will be the “far end”.
  3. Choose one side for “summer” and measure 22 3/4 inches from the far end. Starting here, use a pencil to make 182 marks along the edge about 1/8 inch apart and 1/8 inch long.
  4. On the reverse side, measure 23 inches from the “far end” and mark off 184 marks along the edge for the “winter” side.
  5. On the “winter” side, the first mark (nearest the handle) is Winter Day on October 14th. Continue marking off 30 days for November, and 31 for December and January. Mark off 28 days for February, then make one marks for February 29 (Leap Year Day). Continue marking off 31 days for March and the first 13 days of April.
  6. On the “summer” side, Summer Day marks the beginning on April 14.  Count off the remaining 17 days of April. Continue marking 31 days for May, 30 days for June, 31 days for July and August, 30 days for September, and the first 13 days of October.
  7. You may now begin to customize your Primstav by adding important family dates and any major holidays. Create a special icon or symbol for each event.
  8. Decorate the handle as you desire – perhaps with your name and the year you made your primstav.
  9. When you are happy with the design, consider using a wood burning tool to mark them permanently. Younger children can use a permanent marker.
  10. To protect your Primstav, you may also wish to apply a coat of furniture polish.

Make Your Own Primstav or Calendar Stick @EvaVarga.netPrimstav Alternatives

As an alternative to the traditional carved or wooden Primstav, I can’t tell you how much I LOVE this Embroidered  Primstav. Embroidery is an art that has always enchanted me. I love this so very much that it is now a goal of mine to create my own. Thank you, Pam!!

 

Barnesklubb: Sculpting with Vigeland

Gustav Vigeland is by far, my favorite artist.  I have loved by his work since I first discovered him in May of 2011 during our visit to Oslo.

I shared with you yesterday a post about Gustav Vigeland: Artist and Visionary.  Today, I invite you to join my Barnesklubb kids as we use his work as inspiration for our own.

Parental Advisory :: Vigeland’s work is predominately nudes.

sculptingvigeland

I opened the lesson by showing the video, The Vigeland Park and Museum.  The kids were then directed to the tables where I had distributed a number of photographs of Vigeland’s work. I took a few minutes to read a short biography and to share a few of the details of my favorite pieces.  I put emphasis on the emotions expressed in their faces.

Method #1 ~ Air Dry Clay

I then distributed the materials (air dry clay) and encouraged the kids to create a sculpture of their own. They were not limited to human figures but most chose to sculpt something simpler – an airplane, a bird nest with eggs, Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer), and even a little spouting whale.

I was most impressed with the youngest artist in our group – a super sweet little girl, just 3 years old. She took pieces of the clay, rolled it into little balls, squished each ball to make something of a pancake shape, and then layered these. She pointed to her finished work and told me, “Pile.”  She then pointed to the photograph I had on display of Vigeland’s A Pile of Babies.

Working with the air dry clay turned out to be more troublesome than I had anticipated.  It became a little crumbly rather quick and cracks appeared on the surface of their work.  The kids all expressed frustration with the medium.  Some chose not to finish the project.

vigelandMethod #2 ~ Plaster Gauze

I thereby gave it another go with my own children at home, using a tutorial I found at Art Rocks. This format worked a lot better and we were much more pleased with our work.  Rather than use the tuna cans, as she described however, we used pill bottle lids.  The only wire we had on hand was 24 gauge so it was very thin.  Our sculptures were very small and thereby a little tricky for the kids to wrap with the plaster gauze.

In the end, we had a lovely collection of miniature statues – Buddy says his is a basketball player and Sweetie was aiming for a runner.  She wasn’t happy with her end result until I told her it resembled Vigeland’s Sinnataggen running through the park.

I would certainly use this method again.  However, I would use tuna or cat food sized cans and larger gauge wire.

Gustav Vigeland: Artist & Visionary

Oslo’s Vigeland Sculpture Park is unlike any other; it showcases the work of only one man—Gustav Vigeland. Vigelandsparken was mostly completed between 1939 and 1949. It’s the world’s largest sculpture park by a single artist and according to the Vigeland Museum’s website, the park boasts more than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron.

vigeland

The Artist

In 1921 Vigeland, already an established artist, made an agreement with the city of Oslo. In return for a home and studio at Frogner Park, Vigeland would create a park built around the bulk of his work and it would forever belong to the city. 

“I was a sculptor before I was born. There was no other path, and no matter how hard I might have tried to find one, I would have been forced back.” – Gustav Vigeland

I first discovered Gustav Vigeland when we visited the park in May of 2011.  I’ve never been as touched by any piece of art in my life. I could recognise myself, people I love, people I know, what we feel, and what we have felt, in almost every single sculpture in the park. I would look at a sculpture, walk away and look at several others, turn around, and then return to the same sculptures over and over again. The concern on a father’s face, an elderly man’s frailty, the joy in a mother’s smile, each emotion he captured held me enraptured for hours.

For 20 years, the last two decades of his life, Vigeland lived and worked here, creating more than 200 projects for the park. The work includes the impressive entrance, impressive two-dimensional iron gates, a bronze fountain with a tableau of the circle of life. The pinnacle is a five-story monolith of the bodies of men, women and children—more than 120 figures—carved from a single column of solid granite.

The Visionary

The theme of the garden is life and all its stages. Vigeland’s figures show mankind from birth to death and the sculptures are arranged in groups along a series of pathways.    The figures, especially those in granite, are massive, but there is a striking delicacy to each piece.

The bridge leading from the entrance to the crest of the hill is lined with more than 50 bronze figures, including the famous Sinnataggen a furious toddler captured in full tantrum. The figure of the angry baby has become the park’s signature and his left hand shines from the constant touching and rubbing of visitors. My kids loved this one, of course. 

Beyond the bridge is the Fountain, a massive sculpture of six men holding up a large basin who give water to life, nature and mankind, surrounded by 20 bronze groups of trees and human figures represent the never ending circle of life. The huge basin of water in the fountain is a symbol of the burden of life. It represents life’s struggles. It is thought that the man struggling under the weight of the dish was Vigeland himself. Vigeland had lost contact with his children after he separated from their mother. This is the oldest part of the park. It was built between 1906 and 1914, but was not erected in the park until after his death.

The highest point in the park, to which all the paths lead, is the Monolith, an intricate pillar with 121 figures carved from a single block of granite. The imagery is said to represent humanity’s yearning for a higher spiritual plane. Three stone carvers worked fro 13 years carving the Monolith. It is 17 metres tall and is hewn from granite. It depicts 121 figures which coil around each other with a child on the top. Around the Monolith are 36 large granite groups of figures depicting human relationships of various kinds.

The Man

GVigeland

(Photo credit: National Library of Norway)

Adolf Gustav Vigeland was born on the 11th of April outside Halse og Harkmark in Mandal, Norway in 1869. He was born to Anne and  Elesæus Vigeland. His father was a master cabinetmaker. Gustav was interested in wood as a medium too, but he wanted to carve it, not make cabinets with it. He went to Oslo at 15 to apprentice at wood carving. His education was put on hold when his father died and Gustav returned home to help support he family. By 1888 he was back in Oslo studying under sculptor Brynjulf Bergslien. In 1889 he premiered his first work, Hagar and Ishmael.

In the early 1890s, he traveled to Copenhagen, Paris, Berlin and Florence. His stay in Paris, studying  at Auguste Rodin’s studio had a particular influence on the young sculptor. Themes of life, death and love — at once intimate and grand in scale — made their way into his sculpture. His works were well received in art circles and by critics, but Gustav found he couldn’t make a living sculpting naked images of death or love.

He took a job helping to restore the Nidaros Cathedral in 1897 for a few years — it was there that he began to carve dragons and lizards, animals he used later to symbolize sin and the force of nature working against man. He spent a decade carving busts of Norway’s famous writers and thinkers.  He also designed the Nobel Peace Prize which was first awarded in 1901.

Gustav secured an abandoned studio from the city of Oslo starting in 1902. He used the work space for nearly two decades before it was demolished to make way for a new library. At that point he negotiated with the city council for a new workspace; they agreed to provide him with a new studio/living space and he would donate all his future art works to the city.

When he died in 1943 his studio was converted into The Vigeland Museum. Today the museum “houses approximately 1,600 sculptures, 420 woodcuts, and 12,000 drawings, as well as other artifacts such as notebooks, photographs, books, and thousands of letters.  Sadly, we were unable to tour the museum during our visit (it was closed for renovations) but it is on the top of my list for our return.

vigeland

The true magic of Vigelandsparken is the way the sculptor imbued granite and bronze with human emotion. His figures carry the joy, anguish, fear and desire of life. They draw you in and stay with you after you leave.

If you have enjoyed his work and would like to engage your kids in a fun, hands-on art activity, be sure to see my next post, Sculpting with Vigeland, whereby I describe an art lesson I taught my Barnesklubb kids.

Barnesklubb: Learning the Norwegian Lyrics to “Let it Go!”

la den gå

I was excited when Disney announced the release of their new animation, Frozen, in November of last year. It was the first Disney animation to be set in Norway; a stunning big-screen comedy adventure.  It features the fearless optimist Anna as she sets off on an epic journey — teaming up with rugged mountain man Kristoff and his loyal reindeer Sven — to find her sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. Encountering Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls, and a hilarious snowman named Olaf, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom.

Frozen is inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s classic The Snow Queen, about a young girl who saves her friend from a magic mirror and wicked snow spirit. To adapt the story to the screen, Disney needed a suitable setting to match. After traveling to several Nordic locations, the art direction team settled on Norway as the perfect backdrop for the fictional ice kingdom of Arendelle. The Norwegian influence is reflected not just in the wintery landscape with snow-capped mountain tops and deep fjords but also in characteristic Norwegian elements like the ancient stave churches, the traditional Norwegian folk costume the bunad, and even in the typical Scandinavian hairstyle with braided plaits.

Art director Mike Giaimo explains, “Norway offered a cultural backdrop we’d never explored before and we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to blend its dramatic environment, architecture and folk costume aesthetic?’ It feels like a world from a classic Disney film, but it’s completely new.”

My kids and I have been singing the theme song of the film since we first saw it in theaters months ago.  We have enjoyed the film so much (my daughter is not into Disney princesses – so this is saying a lot) that I thought it the perfect opportunity to learn a little Norwegian with our Barnesklubb friends – Norwegian Lyrics to “Let it Go!”

La den gå

Det glitrer hvitt over fjellet i natt,

det er vakkert vintervær.

I riket jeg bor alene,

og som dronning står jeg her.

Og vinden hyler lik som

stormen i mitt bryst.

Holdt det ikke ut, himlen så min dyst.

Slip ingen inn, la ingen se,

slik er plikten, jeg er jo født til det.

Jeg dekket til. Det ingen så,

det vet de nå!

La den gå, La den gå.

Den kraften jeg skjulte før.

La den gå, La den gå.

Jeg har snudd og stengt en dør.

Jeg er lei, alt de tror de har sett.

La det strome nå,

litt frost gjør meg ingenting unasett.

We focused on learning only the first verse in Norwegian but the kids thought it would be fun to learn another verse in Chinese and then sing it in three languages. I would love to see them follow through. 🙂

To accompany this language activity, the kids enjoyed creating snowflakes using Disney snowflake templates as well as their own designs.

Christmas in the North Woods: A Jan Brett Winter Author Study

Jan Brett is one of my favorite children’s authors.  I love not only her amazing illustrations and the intricate and intriguing borders she is so well known for, but I also love her stories.  She is an amazing story teller – both in print and in person.  We had the wonderful opportunity to hear her speak earlier this year while she was on a book tour to promote Mossy (you can read about our experience in my post, Meeting Jan Brett).

Jan Brett is a best-selling American author/illustrator of children’s books. Her books are known for colorful, detailed depictions of a wide variety of animals and human cultures ranging from Scandinavia to Asia. Today, I share with you a number of her books that share the spirit of Christmas in the north woods.

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jan brett author study

I have written a lot about Scandinavian Christmas traditions here at Academia Celestia.  It is during the Christmas season that the culture and traditions of our ancestors have been most obvious. In addition, we enjoy reading a variety of traditional Christmas stories.  This year, we will be incorporating an author study as well.  I’ve compiled here a number of literature connections and activities that you can also use to experience the spirit of Christmas in the North Woods with your children.

Christmas Trolls

  • Explore the prevalence of trolls in Norwegian literature; consider reading tales by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, and Jørgen Engebretsen Moe.
  • Draw your own trolls and make up your own stories describing their mischief.
  • Compare trolls and nisse – How are they the same?  How are they different?

The Night Before Christmas

  • Watch Jan Brett’s All About The Night Before Christmas movie
  • Create handmade ornaments to decorate your tree. Jan shares a few on her website.
  • Put on a short play to act out this delightful story for your family.

Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve?

  • Make a list of the traditional foods you eat on Christmas
  • Learn how to make one new traditional holiday recipe – consider Seven Sorts: Traditional Norwegian Christmas Cookies
  • Teach your children how to prepare a favorite family recipe
  • Write about the traditions in your home. Research the cultural significance of one (or more)

The Three Snow Bears

  • Visit a zoo to observe live polar bears
  • Consider doing a nature journal entry on bears
  • Learn How to Draw a Baby Polar Bear
  • Watch a documentary on polar bears
  • Research the arctic tundra biome. What is the average yearly precipitation here? Is this trend changing?

The Wild Christmas Reindeer

  • Research the arctic tundra biome. What other animals live here? What adaptations do they have to survive this cold climate?
  • Enjoy the story The Christmas Wish by Lori Evert – a delightful Nordic tale of a little girl who wants to help Santa’s elves.  From a red bird to a polar bear to a reindeer, a menagerie of winter animals help Anja make her way to Santa
  • Research the Sami culture of Scandinavia and Russia.  What are their customs and beliefs?

Gingerbread Baby

  • Bake and decorate your own gingerbread cookies or a gingerbread house, if you are ambitious
  • Visit (at least virtually) the world’s largest gingerbread city in Bergen, Norway – Pepperkakebyen

Home for Christmas

  • Write a letter to a someone serving in the military who is away from home during the holidays.
  • Learn How to Draw a Moose

BookBigIdeaWinter

This post is iHomeschool Network’s A Book & Big Idea: Winter & Christmas series.

In the Kitchen with Barnesklubb: Aebleskivers

In our home, the second Thursday of each month is all about Scandinavia.   This is the day our Barnesklubb (Scandinavian Kids Club) gathers to explore the culture and language of our shared ancestry.  Throughout the year we engage in a variety of activities – including weaving, Rosemaling, Orienteering, and painting.  This week, we made progress towards our Cultural Skills pin in Traditional Norwegian Cooking as we learned how to make aebleskiver.

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BarnesklubbAccording to Wikipedia, Æbleskiver (Danish meaning apple slices, singularly is is written æbleskive) are traditional Danish pancakes in a distinctive shape of a sphere. Somewhat similar in texture to American pancakes crossed with a popover, Aebleskiver are solid like a pancake but light and fluffy like a popover. The English language spelling is usually aebleskiver or ebleskiver.

Aebelskiver (Traditional Recipe)

Mix together:
1-1/2 Cups Flour
1/2 Tsp Baking Soda
1 Tsp Baking Powder
1/4 Tsp Salt

Beat together with a whisk or fork:
1 Cup Sour Milk or Buttermilk
2 Eggs
1 Cup Sour Cream

Combine with the dry and wet ingredients and mix until smooth. Put 1 tsp oil in each space in the ebelskiver pan and heat the pan until hot before adding batter. Cook until golden brown and turn over to cook the other side until golden brown. (Can be turned with a fork or two toothpicks.)

Serve hot, right out of the pan. Dip in powdered sugar. You can also fill the inside with apples or jam by placing a teaspoon of filling in the center as soon as the batter is put into the pan, then push it down into the batter a bit with a spoon.

<— This is a great book of ebleskiver recipes.  You might also like the recipe I found at Williams Sonoma, Spiced Apple Aebleskivers with Maple Whipped Cream. When we were in China, we saw something that looked a lot like aebleskivers.  As I researched to write this post, I think it may have been Japanese Takoyaki.  Takoyaki are similar but are generally savory rather than sweet.  Regardless of your preference for sweet or savory, you’ll need an aebleskiver pan.  I highly recommend a Cast Iron Pan, but less expensive varieties (cast aluminum) are available.  You can sometimes find these at second hand stores or garage sales.

For more information about the Sons of Norway’s Cultural Skills, see my post Lessons in Heritage and Cultural Skills.  For related youth activities, you may also be interested in following my Pinterest board, Barnesklubb.