Made in America with Foreign Parts
By Larissa Cangussu
Despite its simplicity, the Goli music cabinet has a great background story and relevance, not only due to its artistic attributes but its history: it belonged to an active member of the society and it came from a family that represents well the community life of the Norwegian-American people early established in the Midwest. This object encapsulates the importance of traditions, ethnicity and cultural manifestations in music and religion. The collaborative process of making of this piece is an interesting aspect of this distinct piece.
Constructed of pine, this music cabinet has a curved backboard and sides and an arched apron. The wooden interior of the cabinet is unfinished and there are three internal shelves that fit with standard music sheets size. An original hardware pull to open the cabinet door and a lock to secure the music inside are missing. The object’s exterior is painted in yellow-mustard color that could be milk paint with a layer of varnish due to its glossy finish. This rather plain surface ornamented with traditional pigments created a simple backdrop to a later striking painted design, an oval vignette that depicts a tropical landscape with a couple of swans on a lake surrounded by mountains and palm trees. The upper front corners, backboard and sides have incised floral motifs (acanthus flowers) and dragons. The dragons are important symbols to Scandinavian ancient people and are often viewed as guardians of treasures. The presence of this element on the music cabinet’s door is coherent: music sheets can be considered precious goods. The acanthus flowers, very popular in Norwegian culture, can be seen in many other artifacts with rosemaling painting and wood carving. Both dragons and flowers were added with the traditional Norwegian decorative technique known as kolrosing, constantly used on folk art wooden utensils like spoons and caskets. In kolrosing, the pattern is scribed into the wood surface with a knife tip and then rubbed on a dye that adheres to the etched lines. The mustard color paint on the surface obscured these earlier details of Kolrosing, exemplifying one possible update on the music cabinet.
This cabinet is a unique folk art piece with a peculiar combination of the decorative elements that don’t seem to belong in the same context, but since this is a collaborative piece, these singular elements appear to be more independent, generated between the three makers with different temporal artistic tendencies. Each maker worked in a different stage of this fluid process and the influence of new aesthetics could be interpreted as an attempt to make it more modern. Analyzing the aesthetics as a whole, the Music Cabinet does not have immediate features expected in a Norwegian-American piece of furniture, although it does has a naïve charm and individual expressiveness. Nonetheless, the traditional Norwegian decorative technique is not the focal point of the music cabinet. The object’s dramatic centerpiece added by the object’s third maker is the oval landscape vignette. The couple of swans painted in opaque and dull colors could be a representation of the cabinet’s owner love for music and the scene can be associated with the artistic Naturalism movement that focused in landscapes and rural themes, responding to economic and political changes in Norway.
According to the records of the Mt. Horeb Area Historical Society, this music cabinet was constructed by Erick Goli between 1900 and 1920, for his daughter Kristine Olava Goli (1886-1985), by that time, a piano apprentice. His other daughter Margrethe Goli (1883-1971), the second maker, was a pianist at the Perry Lutheran Church. She was the one responsible for adding the kolrosing adornments. The third maker, Amanda Goli, sister-in-law of Kristine, was married to her older brother Martin, painted the central element of the cabinet inside the oval shape line done also in kolrosing, by Margrethe. Kristine Goli was a piano teacher, church organist for 69 years and the director of the Perry Lutheran Church choir.