The Old World in the New

6 Mangle Board (Mangletre)

Mangleboard Mangle Board (Mangletre)
Norwegian
Maker unknown, 1806
Wood, paint
Little Norway Collection, Gift of Raymond & Margaret Vicker Charitable Trust
MHAHS 2014.073.0025

Imagine carving and painting a board with wonderful symbols to iron your clothes. The maker of this mangle board (also called mangletre) does just that by creating a flat finished surface on the bottom and a carved and painted top. Used with a kind of rolling pin, a woman could properly press her family’s linen.

This mangle board’s overall landscape scene includes many symbols and stories that had been shared across Europe for centuries before this board was made. Some specific signs to bless a marriage were in the form of animals: swans (eternal love) and storks (childbirth). So too the figure of a horse, used here as a handle, was a long-time symbol of strength and virility throughout Scandinavia. Orange, green, yellow, red, and blue paint made the board more vibrant.

This object is an extraordinary example of the way Norwegians produced beautifully crafted practical household items. It also demonstrates how cultural signs were preserved, translated, and understood for centuries.

For a complete essay on this object, click here.


Unlike traditional mangle boards, this board has a story of two lovers etched in it for eternity. The board is carved, with colors of orange, green, yellow, red, and blue painted on it to make the board more vibrant. The bottom is smooth like traditional mangle boards, and the top appears to be chip carved. The swans are a symbol of love and partnership, the flowers are a symbol of fertility, and the storks are a symbol of children. The traditional horse handle is a symbol of strength and virility throughout pre-Christian Norway and the rest of Scandinavia. The horse has survived in Norwegian folk culture to this day. The maker of this board carved a detailed landscape full of signs of blessed future happiness for the couple.

The origins of the board are unknown, but the board is carved with the date of 1806.  While dates on objects often denote the date they are made, this year might have been added later for the actual wedding or as a commemoration. We can be sure that the board though was on display in Little Norway for over eighty years, which is why it is in poorer condition today as it was not in a climate controlled area.  Nonetheless, beetle damage was already seen when Little Norway cataloged the board in 1935.

The swans at the bottom of the board, and the couple near the top located above the flowers and vines indicate their love growing. The man that carved this board appears to be more into the idea of having a relationship and growing with someone rather than just having authority over them. A more romantic love than the traditional mangle board depicts. This man wanted more than a housewife; he wanted someone to love and to love him back. This man must have really loved the woman that he carved this board for, so that she would always be reminded of their relationship as she did her housework.

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Mangle Board (Mangletre) by Individual Contributors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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