Made in America with Foreign Parts

22 Decorated Spoon

Decorated Spoon

Decorated Spoon
Norwegian-American
Maker unknown, mid 1800s; decoration attributed to either Carrie H. Larsen or Lars Bakken, c.1900
Wood, paint
Gift of Brian Bigler & Ken Scott
MHAHS 2016.012.0001

In 19th century Norway, utilitarian items such as spoons were carved from wood and used on a daily basis. When packing for a trans-oceanic voyage to America, immigrants included spoons like this as necessary objects of daily use. Decades later, a landscape painting typical of the American Arts and Crafts movement was added to this Norwegian spoon.  And in a manner reminiscent of traditional Norwegian decoration, the names Carrie H. Larson and Lars Bakken were also added. This spoon shows how notions of utility, beauty and heritage evolve in ethnic objects as they move between places and times.


During the mass immigration of Norwegian and Swedish populations in the mid to late 19th century, many people brought their utensils and wooden ware to the United States because they were necessary for survival. This spoon traveled across the ocean in a chest, kept as a precious family item heirloom.

Norwegian folk art traditions were still vibrant at the time of immigration, so those skills were brought over. Although industrialization in urban centers removed the need for wooden crafts, there was an active folk arts tradition in rural regions of Minnesota, particularly in the southeast. These crafts often became symbols of the immigrants’ identity and heritage, passed from one generation to the next. In contemporary culture, Scandinavian handmade wooden bowls are still used as a way to commemorate significant life events like birthdays and weddings. This Norwegian hand carved spoon with its painted bowl is unique. It dates 1800 but the landscape with boats painting was added around 1900.

This antique piece, years after it was made, received a painting, probably to update it, making it more fashionable and modern. It’s possible that the spoon had other decorative elements like kolrosing details that were later covered in paint.

This object is an unexpected example of wooden spoon analyzing the most common motifs for Norwegian folk art and crafts: rosemaling.

The rebirth of the Norwegian state in 1814 was the scenery of the national romanticism movement when with the improvement in the economy facilitated the development of the artist’s skills. Through high education, including studies abroad painters started to explore different themes like naturalism and realism.

Since this is an artifact used in the kitchen it’s likely that it was used was the ancient resource of the milk paint. Milk paint is ideal to use in wooden ware because is very durable and non-toxic. The paint is a mixture of pigment, lime and the milk protein, casein. The casein makes the paint absorb into porous surfaces like wood, and the lime makes it soluble in water. One of the drawbacks however, is that the lime in traditional milk paint creates a relatively opaque and dull hue, limiting most of the color pallet to pastels. This miniature painting is the highlight of the piece.

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Decorated Spoon by Individual Contributors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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