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Courtship, Marriage, and Family Rituals

Objects used in courtship and family rituals are especially rich documents as they express communal identity as well as the individual identities of the participants. Individuals pick and choose from established forms and styles to create their own interpretations.



Carved Norwegian Ironing Board (mangletraer), c. 1850

Gift of the Mrs. Eva Kittleson Marks estate.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1958.914


Carved Norwegian Ironing Board (mangletraer), c. 1850

This hand-carved ironing board is similar to the other, but it has a more highly stylized horse handle and repeated rosette carvings. Closer inspection reveals that the handle is likely not original as it obscures carved initials. Gift of Glen H. Ridnour.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1960.192.2

These handcarved wooden ironing boards served to work wrinkles out of linen cloth, yet their carved geometric patterns, painted decoration, and stylized, horse-shaped handles suggest the objects' aesthetic importance.

The horse symbolized strength and virility in pre-Christian Scandinavia. Its appearance on these more recent objects may not have the same symbolic meaning, but the horse has survived as a decorative motif in Norwegian folk culture.

The variety in chip-carving techniques demonstrates the craftsman's woodworking skill, an important attribute for 19th century rural Norwegian men. The more elaborate the "mangletraer", the more skill possessed by the maker. This was important as the boards often served as betrothal gifts, a marriage proposal by proxy, from a man to a woman. The maker demonstrated his abilities and creativity by making the piece as elaborate as he desired. If a woman accepted a man's "mangletraer", she accepted his marriage proposal.



Handmade Towel (dowry gift), 1900-1905

Gift of Mrs. Peter Guidotti.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1957.191


Norwegian Bridal Crown and Decorated Bridal Cape, 18th century

Gifts of Olaf Strand.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object #s 1956.4756 and 1956.4757

When she made this example of fine Italian needlework as part of a dowry for her daughter, Maria del Frata linked an established marriage tradition with her ethnic identity. She wove the towel from heavy white linen, crocheted daisy-patterned rows at each end, and embroidered the floral monogram with satin stitch at the center. The donor brought the towel to Wisconsin from Sagromagno, Italy in the early 1900s.

Norwegian people began to use bridal crowns in the mid-sixteenth century. Usually made from silver or brass, crowns often were owned by a parish church or wealthy family. The bride's family could rent a crown to accompany the rest of the bridal costume, which usually was made by the family. Some Norwegian families made their own crowns of lesser materials. This crown likely comes from Os, Osterdalen, Norway. It is not known who owned it in Norway or whether it was used in Wisconsin.

This silver-washed brass crown includes pierced, hammered, and engraved decorative elements. Brass globes dangle from crown points and hammered silver and brass diamonds hang from the frame. Decorative cloth streamers drape from the base of the crown. The accompanying cape is made from homespun wool with extensive applied decorations of silver and gold wire, glass beads, and silver filigree. It is likely that families modified the cape over many generations by applying readily available decorative materials.


Front View of Crown and Cape


Brass Bridal Crown


Decorated Bridal Cape



Ned Daniels with His Cradleboard, 1994

Source: James P. Leary, Wisconsin Folk Museum Woodland Indian Traditional Artist Documentation Project

Having been a cradleboard baby himself, Potawatomi artist Ned Daniels of Crandon, Wisconsin sustains Forest County Potawatomi family traditions by making and decorating cradleboards for his grandchildren. As Daniels noted:

A grandfather is real proud and happy that he's got grandchildren. He feels real good about it. So he makes cradleboards.

The copper bell toys hanging from the bentwood protector bar represent a warrior's ornaments.

The decorative beadwork and cloth wrap suggest the morning sky, evening stars, and woodland flowers.


Potawatomi Cradleboard by Ned Daniels, 1995

Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1996.118.95


Ned Daniels' Great Grandchild in Cradleboard, 1994

Source: Lewis Koch, Wisconsin Folk Museum Woodland Indian Traditional Artist Documentation Project