Swedish Design, Soft Power and the Pedagogy of Modernism


The arrangement of an Exhibition is a piece of Roman statecraft [carried out] within the realm of commerce. Paulsson [Dec 1929 quoted in Pred p106]

 IKEA is soft power. It’s Swedish design, a Swedish way of thinking: pragmatic, easy going, laid-back, egalitarian like Australia. It’s very much soft power for Sweden

Swedish Ambassador, Sven-Olof Petersson {Canberra Times May 9, 2014] 

“We interpret this as a sign that we are heading in the right direction when it comes to the foreign ministry telling the story about Sweden. We all invest a lot in social media, the ministry itself, the embassies, and the foreign minister,” Mats Samuelsson. Swedish Foreign Ministry [No 6 in Monocle Soft power Index]  The Local Nov 28, 2014


There is an important factor in the project which does not follow our clear periodization and our foreshadowed subjects of study. It is a silence but it is deafening, it is invisible but it materializes constantly. It is the way that Sweden/ Swedishness appears as a brand, as soft power, and as a projection that surrounds our subjects. In this case, it is the elements of a projection of a state and a society through its positive and innovative ‘take’ on modernity, a major 20thC feature in social and cultural policy and their commentaries.

It is necessary to illuminate this phenomenon not just in itself but because it may be a significant factor in the way that influence in other areas, like education, research and innovation, grew significantly. The relation between the national and the international, and the different forms of transnationalism, can be studied through the national practices we are studying, their movement across borders and the wide effects they produce, that is, the way they create and extend mythologies of the nation. The 20thC appears as a period when the brand of Swedishness and the Swedish state appears to be created through a series of internal and external acts, by accident or design, and develops into a form of soft power, used in statecraft and with private partners.

The paper continues the narrative about sloyd which, although it begins to decline as an international movement with its strict pedagogic order by the 1920s, continued strongly in Sweden as a distinct practice of handicraft with its own nationally important association. The association was active in supporting new national actors in modern design, indeed in the design of modernism, who produced a major national exhibition of domestic and national design in Stockholm in 1930. It was a point of sale for Swedish design, a crucial event in the production of a new Swedish identity, and influential in the pedagogy of exhibitions[1]. The idea of Sweden as a leading modernist nation, in domestic consumption, housing and culture, continued to grow in the immediate post war years and in turn, it allowed Sweden to take a dominant role in education innovation. So, comparison with Sweden would not be on the basis of particular techniques or objects but increasingly on the idea of societal innovation as a whole. Sweden consolidated its reputation as a modern, innovative education state and society and acted as a centre of attention in the post-war period for European nations in flux. By accident or design, Sweden was able to create a persuasive soft power around its modernist educational and social policies, and through this, flows of ideas and practices took place. Education practices and pedagogy are produced within bordered places but flow over borders and are assimilated into other receptive places of education, and create a cross national/ transnational series of transfers and translations. Even very distinctive and local practices are capable of dislocation and flow from the local to the regional and the international.

Design and the Stockholm Exhibition 1930

The Svenska Slöjdföreningen, also known as the Swedish Society [and now as Swedish Design] was founded in the mid 19thC as mass production threatened traditions of Swedish handicraft. The Society became a leading force in the promotion of good quality, ‘everyday products’, in the words of Gregor Paulsson, its influential director in the 1920s and 1930s. The Society was a prime mover in a series of exhibitions on design and craft from the Stockholm Exhibitions of 1851 and 1866, the Art Industry Exhibition of 1909, and the Hemutställningen 1917.The latter exhibition was intended to show the latest designs of artists and architects for contemporary mass living and it showed 23 fully furnished apartments.

The idea of providing products of good design and function at a low price [Forström p197] had been a fundamental Swedish vision since the late 19thC. Ellen Key produced a strong critique and a guide about practical and beautiful objects, which had an international impact[2], and the Svenska Slöjdföreningen organized a very popular Ideal Homes Exhibition in 1917 in Stockholm. Everyday goods needed an artistic representation, and be practical and easy to maintain. “The artists for the industry” became the objectives of the agency which the association started in 1914. Hemutställningen in 1917 was the breakthrough with hundreds of new products – everything from drinking glasses to entire rooms dedicated to the working class and lower middle class. : “What Slöjdföreningen sought [was to] provide consumers with opportunities for comparison and to stimulate critical reflections.”

Gregor Paulsson, the Director of the Svenska Slöjdföreningen and the Commissioner General of the Stockholm exhibition in1930, had worked with the Swedish exhibition in the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, displaying mainly Art Deco influenced arts[3]. He was also an important element in the growing international impact of Swedish design, including the major Paris exhibition in 1925 at the Metropolitan in New York in 1927, in Paris in 1937, and in New York in 1939. By the time of the 1939 New York Worlds Fair, with its theme ‘Building the World of Tomorrow’, the Swedish exhibition was not as futuristic as many other exhibitors, but more ‘rooted in the present’.

“The organizers of the Swedish Pavilion sought to reveal the great social strides that the nation had made in the previous decade to secure a higher standard of living for its citizens. The production of well-designed goods had contributed enormously to that goal and the pavilion paid homage to that reality” [Ericsson et al p148]

The Swedish government made great play of the significance of the country’s indigeneous decorative arts: these were displayed throughout the pavilion, from the restaurant to the five room settings

The Stockholm Exhibition of 1930 was a national exhibition, with no international representation, but with a dual aim; to promote Swedish design internationally and to create a new internal market for aesthetically pleasing goods for mass consumption. Like the Ideal Homes Exhibition, the Stockholm exhibition was focused on the education of the public, indeed they were intended to construct a new public. Parallel to the new functional approaches to design in objects and architecture was a social modernization, in which the public would be able to view new designs and understand how they were to be used.

Commissioner Paulsson tightly managed the Exhibition which presented designs within a new ‘street’ or corso of buildings and exhibits. Visitors walked along the corso and into apartments in which objects were placed in ideal settings. It was a new and particular way to manage the new European problem of mass consumption and mass production. It stayed within the embedded concern with sloyd, now updated and rationalized into a question of appraisal and judgment. It involved appreciation and instruction. These Exhibition aims were set high. It was a key element in the construction of a new identity of the person and the nation –‘intellectually trained, morally mature’ [Pred p135 quoting Nordstom 1930]. The three storey building, Svea Rike, the Swedish Realm, concentrated on creating a new mythology of the nation by radical new technologies, photomontage and the visualization of fact, and amplified the already strong message that capital and social democracy were to be subsumed in the modernity of Sweden.

The Stockholm Exhibition is an important milestone in the creation of a powerful Swedish modernity, built out of strong commercial and state interests, which projected Sweden into a lead position in European modernity, and strongly aided the construction of a new Swedish identity as modern Europeans. Sweden had demonstrated, according to Naylor, that Sweden was the only European country capable of producing a viable form of modernity [Naylor 1990 p164]. This meant that any action by Sweden in the next decades was treated as an influential act.

Educating People’s Taste

Housing policy, family policy and the issue of material consumption were linked with the creation of taste and aesthetic judgment of the people and the modernization of society.

“It was first in 1932 that a cohesive state housing policy was established, which in turn was largely influenced by the international modernist principles for city planning and architecture. The quest, however, was not only for better housing, but also for better homes. In the late 1920s, the Social Democrats had proclaimed the intention to turn Sweden into a Folkhem − literally a People’s Home − in which all citizens were to have equal rights and equal possibilities. If society were to be turned in to a good home for everyone, it had to be reorganized in a more democratic and modern way. ….. The domestic interior – its objects, furnishing practices and its use – became an arena where the vision of the ideal society should be mirrored in the ideal home, which should be modern, tasteful and rational.”[Göransdotter, p527]

With other partners, the Swedish Society [the Svenska Slöjdföreningen] produced regular series of surveys on the household living of people, to improve their living standards.

“It was not enough to provide good dwellings and sensible furniture and objects in order to raise the standard of living in Sweden. People also seemed to need guidance and information on how to use their homes in a rational way, as the investigations showed that a majority of the families’ living conditions were either materially or aesthetically unsatisfactory” [Göransdotter p530]

People were irrational, and did not use their new homes suitably; they were judged on their inability to organize their homes properly, buy the right furniture or connect their otherwise modern and progressive lifestyle to their conventional tastes. Under the maxim ‘Better Homes – Better Society’, standards of taste and household knowledge were discussed and then taught by a new pedagogy, the study circle. Courses on the furnishing and decoration of the home could be ordered from the Swedish Society and a speaker organized. All this took place within a ‘democratic and participatory form’ and the study circles grew in number [300 in 10 years] from 1944. Good taste was not just a question of good objects, but of achieving an ideal home. Good taste could be visibly shown, and in doing so, the degree of modernity achieved [Paulsson is quoted in in 1944 as saying ’a correct quality of life’ Göransdotter p538].[3]

In a paper for the Yearbook of Education in 1955, comparativists in education were introduced to the Swedish arguments about aesthetics and function, and their development in education. Its author, Steenburgen, used the arguments of Gregor Paulssen, of whom she had been a student in Uppsala, and his promotion of the idea of beautiful, everyday products, which later metamorphosed into ‘acceptera’, a movement for modernity and functionalism[4]. She argued that aesthetic evaluation of ‘things’ can be taught, that the ‘sound and genuine’ can be shown, and that this is connected to function and not taste. This view demanded a cultural programme where things can be appraised and discussed, from the functional qualities of an object, method of production and harmonization of material and function [Steenburg p329] or what Pred called in ‘the lessons of rational consumption’ [Pred p157].

This cultural programme would connect the ‘Swedish art professors, art critics, architects, craftsmen and industrial art leaders’ with the people [Steenburg p329]. The programme, or home course, would create a home knowledge, incorporating functions, economics, sociology and psychology, specialist elements [lighting, colour, textiles and furniture] [Steenburg p331]. The Swedish Society for Industrial Design [Svenska Slöjdföreningen], the Cooperative Movement, the Broadcasting Corporation, the WEA and University Extra Mural departments were all involved in producing study circles or providing material for study. Schools, through the Art in Schools society, worked through touring exhibitions of modern art and in artistic methods [engraving etc].

“Enabling pupils to elect – when the time comes – the objects they are going to use and have around them” [Steenberg p334]

Schools were advised on the arts and crafts, and decoration of schools. The whole point was to

“share in the education of the child by showing that there are aesthetic values in our daily surroundings – values which perhaps are only too liable to get lost in a highly mechanized and over-efficient world” [Steenberg p334]

Even the housing corporations of Sweden took part in this major educational programme; they built ‘nurseries and paddling pools, set up furniture and textile shops, undertake lectures, films and exhibitions to educate the public in house management and hygiene, and organize sporting and holiday clubs in the summer resorts. [Holford p70]

As a consequence of these social and cultural innovations, and the large scale democratic, pedagogic engagement that was associated with them, Sweden’s modernity became powerfully associated with design and cultural and social policy. It was total –

“There have been few countries in recent years which achieved what Sweden has in making the public at large, and the various government agencies In particular, conscious of good design. Architecture, furniture, housing and household ware – in fact, design in all its ramifications as it affects people – have been forced towards certain high aesthetic levels or they will suffer public inattention as a consequence… This rather enviable situation has not come about overnight. It has been achieved by – and it is still progressing, for such a policy can never end – by an intelligent, far-sighted educational programme, which a group of patriotic citizens, the City of Stockholm and the Swedish crown, have undertaken to make everyday Swedish articles attractive from a design point of view. This propaganda is inculcated by the schools, the press, radio and various exhibitions.”  [Kidder Smith p87]


From the design community’s point of view, Slöjdföreningen, the problem of improving Swedish aesthetic taste and consumption became an education and research programme

“For the last twenty years or so, the planning and equipping of homes and public buildings, and the design of things in everyday use, have prompted theoretical speculations, experimentation, and practical action”. [Steenburg p329]

According to Steenburg, Slöjdföreningen had to change over time. It had begun with the aim to promote handicrafts and then the qualities of mass produced goods, but by mid century, it was promoting knowledge about modernity and design. This shift into education and research was paralleled by the growth of state inquiries into housing, everyday life and the family,

“a vast array of state commissions and inquires into the standards of housing and the practices of everyday life were initiated. As parts of these different investigations, a number of so called “surveys of dwelling habits” were undertaken by state departments, housing organizations” [Göransdotter p530]

Swedish modernity was strongly associated with learning and knowledge, and not just with objects and their relation to each other. Study circles grew with several organizing bodies and with different purposes in mid century. In 1949, there were over 17, 000 study circles organized by the WEA and Young Farmers as well as the Swedish Society’s home course circles. The powerful Cooperative Association [KF] developed Cooperative groups [based on the practice of the English Co-ops] which discussed the ideas of cooperation and the economy of production of modern objects and the problems of family costs and the Domestic Economy [Childs p 49]. They were organized within a Correspondence school so that new courses in this area could be developed and distributed easily.

The policies and practices of Swedish society and the deliberate performance of modernity, operated by voluntary organizations with state support, and its focus on education and research, created a model and a mythology out of particular social circumstances which was to become a brand, a form of soft power in which our project subjects were located and received.



Childs, Marquis W ‘Sweden – the Middle Way’ [15th Ed]  Yale University Press 1947

Ericsson, A-M, Ostergard, DE and Stritzler-Levine, N ‘The Brilliance of Swedish Glass 1918-1939: An Alliance of Art and Industry’ Yale University Press 2012

Forström, Stina ‘The Infancy of Fine Swedish Design’ pp197- 201 in kid size 1997

Göransdotter, M ‘A Home for Modern Life: Educating taste in1940s Sweden’

Conference Proceedings :Vol 02 Design Research Society 2012: Bangkok

Holford, William. ‘The Swedish Scene – an English Architect in wartime Sweden’

[Sep 1, 1943 pp 60-70 ].

Key, Ellen. ‘The Century of the Child’. New York; London, 1909.

Kidder Smith, GE ‘An American looks at Sweden’ The Architectural Review

(Sep 1, 1943) pp 87-88].

Lengborn, T ‘Ellen Key (1849-1926’) in Prospects: the quarterly review of comparative education (Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol. XXIII, no. 3/4, 1993, p. 825-837.

Malmsten, Carl ‘Training of the Form-Sense in the Age of Machines’ p323 – 328 Yearbook of Education 1955 Chap Sweden –

Pred, Allan (1995) ‘Recognizing European modernities : a montage of the present’ London: Routledge

Steenburg Elisa ‘Functional Aesthetics, Swedish Society of Industrial Design’ p329 – 334 Yearbook of Education 1955 Chap Sweden

Vitra ‘Kid size – the material world of childhood’ Vitra Design Museum 1997


[1] Ekström, Anders. “International Exhibitions and the Struggle for Cultural Hegemony.”Uppsala Newsletter 12 (Fall 1989): 6-7. This article summarizes Swedish participation in various nineteenth-century world’s fairs. Ekström discusses Swedish exhibitions in light of national consciousness, industrial development, and the establishment of cultural hegemony. Applying Antonio Gramsci’s concept of hegemony, the author argues that the Swedish exhibition at the world’s fair at Stockholm in 1897 represented a “manifestation of hegemony” which legitimized the social dominancy of industrialists.

[2] The German version of The Century of the Child had been printed in thirty-six editions by 1926. Both before and after the Second World War Ellen Key’s works received great attention in German-speaking countries. Ellen Key’s books and ideas also drew attention in several other countries. Already in 1909, The Century of the Child had been translated into nine European languages. In the United States, her ideas played an important role in the ‘Child-Study Movement’. Less known, perhaps, is the fact that Key was also discussed in the early Soviet debate on education, side by side with Dewey and Montessori. A Russian educator, K.N. Ventcel, considered The Century of the Child to be a central work in education. In Japan, the interest in Ellen Key’s ideas on education has grown strongly in recent decades. The Century of the Child was translated into Japanese in 1916, a second edition followed in 1960 and a third edition in 1970. [Lengborn 1993]

[3] Fact Sheet on Adult Education, Swedish Institute 1988. 309,000 study circles operated, sponsored by voluntary educational associations, were eligible for government subsidies: two thirds of them were on civics or aesthetics subjects.

[4] During the 1930s, Steenburgen was the editorial secretary ,”Craft and Handicraft in Sweden between 1930-1940″ collection. and was engaged as an employee in the Swedish Pavilion at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1937.

Sweden, Sloyd and Entrepreneurial Power

This draft tries to explain how Sloyd was explained as a major innovation, how it was codified and enabled to cross borders, how it operated an international training centre, and how it was exported.

In addition, it starts the process of seeing how Sloyd was received in different places and the problems of its reception.

The international and local perceptions of Sloyd as a form of modern Swedish educational export, derived from the international exhibitions, innovation centre and publications, is discussed.


Sloyd in Sweden started, according to the Life of Otto Salomon [Salomon 1892a], as a movement for training in home industries and crafts. It had no direct educational significance and might vary from area to area, depending upon the purposes of their private sponsors. Salomon’s version of sloyd, on his uncle’s estate at Naas, near Gothenburg, included modern school subjects and a particular focus for boys on wood-sloyd, and for girls, on weaving and cookery. As his school turned towards producing sloyd teachers from class teachers, the widening of the curriculum necessitated an agreement with the folk high schools. This shift from a vocational to an educational purpose led to the growth of vacation courses for teachers, and further, permanent short courses. Over the course of ten years, the Naas school grew from a local vocational course of useful crafts into an educational movement, focusing on wood, and more and more attractive to teachers from abroad [1]. It is this last factor on which this note is concentrated and the question of how the ideas and practices of Sloyd travelled out of Sweden and what happened to them when they travelled.

Although located in a place, the school at Naas, Salomon’s ideas on sloyd were expressed in several ways which were intended to allow it to influence wide audiences, first in Sweden and then in Europe, and through the medium of English. Salomon was a ‘great traveller and communicator’ [Salomon 1892a p x]. He offered an account of an entirely new system of education, which, although graded and closely observed, was about values and the education of the person. His keywords were respect, independence, self-reliance, attention, a sense of form etc. These terms were used as chapter headings but then followed detailed ways in which they could be achieved. This made the works of Salomon stand out from the educational literature of the time, which concentrated on values at the expense of practical pedagogy. For the elementary teacher, often faced with very large classes and few resources, this was essential.

Salomon was a great publicist for Swedish or Naas sloyd. His lectures were written to engage with varied audiences – school teachers in different countries, the experienced Froebelian and kindergarten teacher, those who persisted with direct instruction, and systems which had been built out of ad hoc elements. His first book, Handicraft School and Elementary School, was ‘sent to a large number of supporters of handicraft teaching throughout the Nordic countries’[2] His notes on handwork books and articles appeared in his monthly newsletter [the teacher’s sheet]. His texts in newspapers and from lectures were translated into English, and sometimes into German, French, Spanish, and Russian among others. In turn, his supporters wrote their own books about Sloyd [according to Thorbjörnsson, over a hundred were produced] across Europe and South America, and hundreds of articles in magazines and newspapers as well.

Naas was also a physical meeting place for ‘leading teachers of all degrees and nationalities, for common work, and for the interchange of ideas. Professors, inspectors, secondary and elementary teachers – these meet on common ground as brethren.’ [Salomon 1892a p xi]. Every summer at Nääs, Salomon lectured in English and German to the many foreign attendees.

At the time, World Exhibitions were a major means of showing modern innovations produced nationally to a world audience. Abrahamson, his uncle, sent models, plans, tools and information about Naas to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia but failed to make a big impression, unlike the full scale model of a Swedish Schoolhouse., which was very influential. Determinedly, they aimed to make a stronger impression at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1878 and Abrahamson sent a description of Nääs sloyd schools to several Swedish ambassadors in Europe and an invitation to their country’s delegate to the Nääs stand in Paris.[3] By the time of the 1900 Paris Exhibition, Hjalmar Berg, the Stockholm craft inspector [and later Director of the Swedish School Museum] and the organizer of the Swedish school exhibits in Paris
”Even during a brief stroll through the various departments, one received a strong impression of the great influence that Nääs has had on handicraft schooling. One clearly saw how even in the most diverse countries, Swedish educational sloyd has served as a paragon./…/ Sweden’s influence is most apparent in the exhibitions from Russia and Austria-Hungary, as well as from some English schools and the famous American-Swede Gustaf Larsson’s Sloyd institute in Boston. Close ties with Swedish educational sloyd could be witnessed in the Finnish and Norwegian exhibitions.” (SLUB 1901:6)[4]

Salomon often travelled beyond Sweden to discuss his ideas with leading thinkers and practitioners in Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Italy, Austria, England and France [5]. At the same time he was building a network of sloyd converts, who treated Naas, his work and his methods as the centre of their work, and their mission. Soon it was not a question of where Salomon went or where his ideas were published or re-published in translation but what his major ‘disciples’ were writing and doing. Sluys in Belgium gave a series of lectures around the country and a report for the Belgian government, which was influential in England, France and the US. If they had attended Naas courses, there was a good chance that they would become Sloyd champions, and Thorbjörnsson mentions a range of principals and inspectors across the world in this role, sometimes working across a sequence of countries. Salomon appears to have been able to place his teachers, by request, into key positions in national systems of education, especially In South America.

One of the most effective champions was Gustaf Larsson who founded the Boston Sloyd School and in the next twenty years trained about 400 teachers. In 1888 he travelled to Boston, and with the support of the philanthropist Mrs Quincy Shaw, he started a handicraft school for children and a college, Boston Sloyd Training School, where for over twenty years he trained around 400 teachers, who then went on to teach in the Americas, and he and some students exhibited at the great World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago.


When sloyd travelled, and despite Salomon’s strict injunctions on what to do and why, national and local variations of sloyd were produced. However, this natural process of change and variation, would be viewed as deviations in Naas. The Danes created two rival variations and were described by Salomon as heretics [Whittaker p 90]. Goetze in Leipzig using the practices of sloyd nevertheless disagreed with the order of the work, and started his osn school, which attracted British teachers [Whittaker p 93]. A Russian variant, focused on vocationalism, was exhibited at the major Exhibitions [Vienna, Philadelphia and Paris]. In several European countries, visits to Naas were followed by local proselytising by Sloyd disciples and the creation of national associations and journals, and sometimes by new educational ordinances and the provision of grants for sloyd adoption in schools. These new variants from the Salomon model influenced each other, the Russians on the US, and the German on the British etc. and by publication and through popular newspapers and teacher journals, the different ways of doing handwork engaged with each other.

The influence of an idea or practice across borders on depends on the practice itself, and also on the perceived need or problem in the host country. Using some guides to the English elementary school curriculum, we can see the problem and the opportunity clearly. There was a tension around handwork, handicraft or manual skills, as the English 1862 Revised Code focused on key subjects, that is, reading, writing and arithmetic. Central government payments to the school depended upon tested progress in these subjects. One tension about this curriculum at the time lay in the idea of a useful education for the pupils, which was presumed to mean skills useful for manual employment, an absence from the 3Rs curriculum. It was argued that the influence of Froebel on the new kindergartens which were starting meant that the idea of activity was gaining ground in education. Also, experiments were being made in some cities, the First Report of the Royal Commission on Technical Education appeared [1882], and new grants became available, from 1884, in tool proficiency in working with wood and iron. The pressure in England to engage with Sloyd came from the vocational and employer sectors, the Department of Education was untouched by arguments about a wider curriculum, and even more by additional demands for money.

Robertson, who had major responsibilities [in agriculture] for the Dominion of Canada, reported back to the Ottawa School Board

“During the summer I had an opportunity to visit some of the primary schools in London in company with the School Board’s organizer of manual instruction. Manual training in the primary schools was begun in London about 1886. As woodwork was not then recognized by the English Education Department as a subject to be taught in Elementary Schools the School Board was unable to use public monies to maintain it. Next year a grant of one thousand pounds was obtained from the Drapers’ Company through the City and Guilds’ Institute. A Joint Committee was formed whereby the funds were administered. The manual training was found so thoroughly useful and acceptable that it was speedily extended. In 1890 woodwork was recognized by the Education Department as a school subject. The School Board was thus enabled to expend its own funds upon this branch of school work, and in the same year money was provided by Parliament for grants for it from the Imperial Exchequer, Now there are about 150 manual training centres; and as nearly as I could learn, about 50,000 boys between the ages of nine and fourteen are receiving courses of instruction in wood-work, iron-work, brass-work or leather-work in the Public Board Schools of London”.[Robertson p 13,][6]

Similarly to Sweden, the Sloyd movement benefited from gifts from private individuals in its early days

“In England and Scotland, gifts of money by private individuals and guilds enabled educational reformers to give the system a fair trial at many centres. During the decade now closing it has been taken up and extended by School Boards with the co-operation and financial support of the Department of Education”.[Robertson p25]

Sir Michael Sadler, an important observer of innovations in Europe, was conscious of the fact that it was the education professionals who were involving themselves in this Swedish innovation in education.

Naas is a good Sloyd school, and much besides. It is the meeting place of leading teachers of all degrees and all nationalities, for common work, and for the interchange of ideas. Professors, inspectors, secondary and elementary teachers, women as well as men, there meet on common ground as comrades. It fulfills, more than any other institution that could easily be named, the ideal we are aiming at in England in the Teachers’ Guild [p24 quoting Sadler][Memorandum date nk]

In his history, Birchenough stated that ‘In 1891, 145 schools were giving instruction in manual work, in 1899, there were 1587 schools, and in 1910, 4261 schools [Birchenough p315]. This rate of growth continued into the late 1930s. it would seem that sloyd appeared to be a solution to how the schools and teachers could develop the elementary school curriculum. The ideas of sloyd were related to Froebelianism but it was hampered by its own limited practices, the emphasis on hand and eye training, and the context of manual training. Manual training was usually undertaken by craftsmen in special manual instruction centres, and often viewed as a technical subject. Yet the Board of Education’s 1897 definition saw it, in the sloyd way, as a ’disciplinary exercise destined to train hand and eye to accuracy and to due appreciation of form’ [Prideaux p151].

The shortage of handwork teachers meant that the English Board of Examinations for this subject began, in 1898, to standardize the examinations and began to issue certificates for different aspects of handwork viz kindergarten work, clay modelling, cardboard work, school gardening etc [Prideaux p153]. The new Sloyd converts were often closely connected to the Froebel Society and sometimes slipped between education and technical training arguments, and even national achievements. The Froebel kindergarten was seen as an institution for manual training and training in the use of tools. Salomon was viewed as building his Sloyd ideas upon Froebel thinking. Froebel and Sloyd became caught up in England with the threat of industrial competition, modernization and national survival. Hand and eye training was associated with the new education, and in turn with a new skilled working class [Brehony passim].

Writing in the late 1930s, in his history of elementary education, Birchenough was sceptical about Sloyd and its effects, even though it combatted the un-practical character of schools. Although recognizing the Sloyd goals of dexterity, accuracy, ideas of form, and self reliance, he criticized for its creation of an artificial idea of manual work, abundance of faith in hand-eye, and obsession with technique. Most of all, he argued against its lack of pupil goals and failure to meet their desire or need for practical purpose. More forcefully, he argued that

‘a standard of manual instruction was implanted on the country which seriously hampered progress’ [Birchenough p314]

His description of manual instruction classes where a class did the same work at the same time and worked through a graded set of models and used tools in the right sequence, and without freedom and initiative, and led by a craftsman [and not teacher, the Sloyd rule] implies that in the need to provide practical handwork teaching in the elementary school, a number of differing tendencies were at work. The Sloyd movement contributed to, and was implicated in, the critical failures of the time. Failures could be caused by

“because woodwork contrasted with the country’s own handicraft traditions, because obtaining handicraft benches was costly, because material was expensive or because politicians had different ideas about schooling.”[Thorbjörnsson, p26]

Sloyd was used to change the English education system, to widen it from deskwork into manual handwork, and brought together several arguments about the elementary education system and the working class. Its high period seems to have been 1880-1910. Even when its surge was over, it had served to widen the curriculum and opened it to woodwork.

Salomon was at the very centre of a network which promoted Sloyd and without him, this very Swedish subject would have probably remained very local, or at least only shared between Sweden and Finland. Otto Salomon was very influential in the spread of the ideas and practices of educational sloyd over the world. Salomon corresponded intensively with his representatives/students in other countries. Letters were sent in both directions five or six times a year. He continuously encouraged them to summarize their experiences and problems, and to describe the teaching system in that country, etc. [Thorbjörnsson,p17]

The linking of pedagogical innovation and modern school subjects with Sweden was not the result of direct Swedish state invention or policy but of private entrepreneurs and enthusiasts who devised a programme, trained students and sold texts. Yet the home of the innovation was situated in Sweden, at Naas, and Sweden benefited by association.


Birchenough, C[1938 3rd Ed] History of Elementary Education in England and Wales London: University Tutorial Press

Brehony, KJ (1998) ‘Even far distant Japan’ is ‘showing an interest’: the English Froebel movement’s turn to Sloyd, History of Education: Journal of the History of Education Society, 27:3, 279-295,

Eyestone, JE The Influence of Swedish Sloyd and Its Interpreters on American Art Education Studies in Art Education, Vol. 34, No. 1 (Autumn, 1992), pp. 28-38

Hallström, J (2009) Technical knowledge in a technical society: elementary school technology education in Sweden, 1919–1928, History of Education: Journal of the History of Education Society, 38:4, 455-474,

Jamieson, WD The Journal of Education, Vol. 73, No. 6 (1816) (Feb 9, 1911), pp. 154-156

Prideaux, EBR [1914] A Survey of Eleemntary English Education London: Blackie

Salomon, O [1892b] The Teacher’s Hand-Book Of Slöjd Silver, Burdett & Co. Boston, [2013 The Toolemera Press][Authorized, Revised and Edited by an Inspector of Schools, TG Rooper]

Salomon, O [1892a] The Theory of Educational Sloyd London: Philip and Sons 43:1, 31-49,

Icelandic students in Nordic Sloyd, History of Education: Journal of the History of Education Society,

Thorsteinsson, G & Ólafsson, B (2014) Otto Salomon in Nääs and his first Memorandum on Manual Training for boys in Primary Schools in foreign countries, by M. P .Sadler, Director of Special Enquiries and Reports to the Committee of Council on Education England.

Robertson, JW [1899] Manual Training in Public Schools The Macdonald Sloyd School Fund , Ottawa, I899.

Thorbjörnsson, H Swedish educational sloyd – an international success pp10-33 Tidskrift för lärarutbildning och forskning nr 2–3 2006 årgång 13

Vaningen Note


[1] According to Thorbjörnsson, 1500 foreign participants attended the summer school in Naas, and from 40 countries [p15]

[2] Thorbjörnsson

[3] Thorbjörnsson

[4] Thorbjörnsson

[5] Thorbjörnsson

[6] Otto Salomon, ‘Manual training’. An Address to the National Union of Teachers, London, 1890, ‘Manual training: Evolution, Not Revolution’. Address to the National Union of Teachers, London.