Findings from ancient times provide many examples of a conscious attempt to add aesthetic qualities to everyday tools and equipment. The Osberg findings produced textile and wooden engravings of professional standard, providing ample evidence of the work of ingenious artisans. The interiors and furnishings of Norway’s medieval churches also bear witness to great craftsmanship, represented by pulpit engravings, by various items of ceremonial paraphernalia in copper and silver and perhaps most notably by beautifully-woven church textiles such as the Baldishol decorative carpet, made by an unknown artist, which was customary at that time.
Rose painting is a uniquely Norwegian decorative painting technique which uses roses of various shapes and sizes as the main pattern. Popular in bygone peasant and farming communities, rose painting is now regarded as a classic Norwegian folk art.
During the 16th century Norwegian goldsmiths began to stamp their products, so that from this time onwards the craftsman’s name always appeared on the finished product.
Another great tradition which flourished during the Renaissance was the ancient tradition of pictorial weaving, a woman’s activity firmly established in the region of Gudbrandsdalen. From the early 17th century too, the Norwegian iron works delivered ovens with engravings of high artistic value and interest, defining the origin of Norwegian craft.
In the rural areas the traditions of wood carving and rose painting continued well into the 19th century. The coming of independence in 1814 promised many new opportunities for the crafts community but in subsequent decades poverty seriously hindered development. During the second half of the 19th century Norwegian crafts were still strongly influenced by the ancient traditions, but gradually new technology began to enter craft production. Established in 1852, Hadeland Glassworks took up the production of more refined glass, often by using foreign techniques of high technical standard. Egersund Faiance Industry introduced English stonework and in 1887 the Porsgrunn Porcelain Factory was opened.
The last 100 years have witnessed increasing recognition of the aesthetic value of crafts, with numerous large international craft exhibitions being held in major centres of population since the turn of the century. Central to this development has been the trend amongst Norwegian goldsmiths to spend less time on workshop commissions and focus more on the artistic design aspects of their craft.
Renewed interest in Norwegian crafts during the Jugend period also inspired a renaissance in the use of ancient Viking insignia such as drakes’ and dragons’ heads, which have since been incorporated into many craft forms, attracting wide international interest and becoming something of a national symbol.
Functionalist design of the 1930s had a significant impact on Scandinavian crafts production and by the 1950s it had given rise to a distinguished, softer and more humane form known as Scandinavian Design.
Developments of the 1970s revolutionised the craft industry. Textile, glass work, ceramics and other crafts were now fully accepted as a visual art form and the actual means of product was no longer considered important. In 1974 craftsmen and artisans through their association Norske kunsthåndverkere (Norwegian Craft Artists) were at last considered for the State Guaranteed Income Scheme and more generally accepted by the Norwegian artistic community. During the 1980s industrial design increased in importance and a growing number of craftspersons were commissioned to decorate public spaces and buildings. Also, craft and design formed an important part of the artistic expression during the 1994 Winter Olympics at Lillehammer.