Artur Hazelius was born in Stockholm in 1833 and died at Skansen in 1901. In founding Skansen, in 1891, he created the world’s first open-air museum. The creation of Skansen is related to the romantic ideas and the patriotic spirit of the latter part the nineteenth century, both of which strongly influenced Hazelius.
Artur Hazelius initially studied at Uppsala University, completing a doctorate in Scandina-vian languages. He undertook long journeys in the Swedish countryside on foot and saw with his own eyes the radical changes that the traditional farming society was undergoing.
At the beginning of the 1870s, three million of Sweden’s population of just over four million people still lived in the countryside. But country life had changed. The number of independent farmers had declined and the ranks of the landless had grown. The increase in population created a growing body of tenant cottagers, servants to the gentry and indentured labourers. Land reforms that destroyed villages and re-allocated the fields transformed the way of life in the countryside as well as its buildings. Agriculture became mechanized, industrial products did away with crafts and new means of communication opened up more efficient ways of distributing goods.
The landless classes left their homes to seek work on the railways, in the shipyards and the factories and in the sawmills of northern Sweden. Sweden developed into an urban society. Crop failures at the end of the 1860s caused more than 100 000 Swedes to emigrate to America. This wave of emigration reached a peak in the 1880s when 325 000 Swedes left for America and a further 52 000 emigrated to other countries.
Hazelius realized that Swedish society was changing. During a visit to the province of Dalarna in the summer of 1872 he noted how rapidly the transformation was taking place. He started to collect clothing, household utensils, furniture and hand-tools from the old farming culture: everything that needed to be preserved for posterity.
In 1873 Hazelius opened his first museum, the Scandinavian Ethnographic Collection, in Stockholm. His museum showed cottage interiors decorated with authentic objects as well as fullsized dolls dressed in folk costume. Painted panoramas provided the backdrops. At the world exhibition in Paris in 1878 Hazelius was able to try out his ideas about exhibitions on an international audience and he was awarded a gold medal.
His success in Paris and the growing collections in Stockholm caused Hazelius, in 1880, to change the name of the museum to the Nordiska Museet (the Nordic museum). The museum became an independent foundation. Hazelius later noted with pride that the Nordiska museet “could be considered the property of the Swedish people”. The network of contacts that Hazelius had built up throughout the country led to the rapid growth of the collections. There was a pressing need for a larger building and, in 1882, Hazelius managed to persuade the crown to make land available on Djurgården. Building was commenced in 1888 but it was not until 1907, six years after Hazelius’s death, that the new Nordiska Museet was opened to the public.
Traditional exhibitions and museum interiors were not sufficient to fulfil Hazelius’s educational aims. He wanted to emphasize the sense of history by showing complete environments, that is, fully furnished houses occupied by people wearing period costume surrounded by their domestic animals in a natural landscape.
Hazelius had probably long nurtured the idea of an open-air museum but with the acquisition of the so-called Mora cottage in Dalarna in 1885 his plans took more solid form. In 1891 he was able to buy the first piece of ground at Skansen. In his own words: “it was hither that my thoughts removed of founding a museum which was unlike any existing museum, namely, an open-air museum devoted to folklore and the history of civilization”.
On Sunday the 11th of October 1891 Skansen was opened to the public with the Mora cottage as the museum’s first building. During the early years Skansen occupied an area of less than 30 000 m2. In 1892 Hazelius acquired the tower known as Bredablick with the surrounding park and this was incorporated into the original site, increasing the size of Skansen six-fold. Shortly prior to his death in 1901, Hazelius made his largest acquisition of land when he purchased the old fairground which comprised what is now the Solliden plateau as well as the area below it. Skansen was now almost the size it is today. A few later extensions have brought the current area up to some 300 000 m2.
During the expansive 1890s Skansen’s activities were organized in accordance with aims that Hazelius was later to enumerate: “But the Skansen open-air mu-seum has much greater diversity and still greater tasks... It seeks more to be a living museum, a museum that does not merely exhibit buildings and furnishings, tools of very varying sorts, memorials... Along side all of that it seeks to do much more: to present folk life in living brushstrokes.”
The first years of the 1890s were devoted to building up the open-air museum with historically interesting buildings, animal enclosures, paths and gardens. When this had been achieved, programmes of events began to be organized at Skansen. Hazelius realized that festivities were attractive to the public who attended in great numbers. Historical events were remembered; there were spring festivals and the royal name of Gustav was celebrated on the appropriate day in the calendar, the 6th of June. This latter was duly transformed into a celebration of the Swedish flag and this in turn, in 1983, was officially deemed Sweden’s National Day.
The basic programme of events, which remains the backbone of Skansen’s popular entertainment, was thus laid down during the 1890s: the celebration of feasts throughout the year and in people’s lives, traditional country dances and folk music, living crafts and household
activities in cottages and farms. But such popular events have to keep up with the times and today Skansen can offer a wide-ranging programme for people of all ages with events for children, appearances by popular artists and concerts of all sorts of music.