Beda Aronsson-Galle was an artist who crafted straw into lively and story-telling straw sculptures. She was called by the press ”The uncrowned queen of straw” among other epithets.
Beda Aronsson-Galle was born in 1891 in Ärtemark parish in the province of Dalsland. Her parents were Andreas Galle, a yeoman, and his wife Katarina. Beda Aronsson-Galle was the youngest of six children. She grew up with the making of straw hats, a well-established home industry in Ärtemark when she was a child and young person. Straw hats were made in almost every home and hats were currency in many of the small shops there. Beda Aronsson-Galle learned braiding from her mother, who herself had learnt the art at the age of four and continued with it all her life. Her mother lived until she was almost 104 years old and had thus braided for almost 100 years. Beda Aronsson-Galle married the shoemaker Axel Aronsson and they had four children.
For Beda Aronsson-Galle, straw art was more than just a way of earning extra income, it was a means of expression. Working at home as wife and mother, she made straw hats in various models as well as Christmas decorations. For a time, she worked at the Ärtemark home crafts association, but never felt truly at ease with making what she felt were their ”stiff and starchy Christmas gnomes”. She gradually abandoned the association’s demand that straw objects should first and foremost be solid and long-lasting, and started making expressive figures. In time, these figures grew into detailed groups describing whole sequences of events.
”For skill in her craft”, Beda Aronsson-Galle received in 1945 a diploma from the Älvsborg county northern crafts association. She had her breakthrough in the summer of 1946 at the great exhibition Bengtsforsexpo. Among the exhibitors was the firm Konst & Halmslöjd, Galle & Suttner, who sold among other things straw art by Beda Aronsson-Galle and other works by artists from Dalsland including Beda Aronsson-Galle’s son Algot Galle.
At this exhibition, Beda Aronsson-Galle’s craftswork won much attention. Her snapshots in straw were a completely new concept. Three groups received special notice, displaying as they did the district’s tradition of straw hat manufacturing. The groups showed the path of the straw from the fields to the shop shelves. The first group showed how the straw was harvested, collected and bound into sheaves. The second showed how it was threshed by hand as well as the cleaning and braiding, and the third group showed the sale of straw hats in the square at the neighbouring town of Norwegian Fredrikshald (nowadays Halden), where many thousands of Ärtemark hats were sold during that epoch of home industry.
The firm Galle & Suttner was taken over after a year or so by the Galle family and changed its name to Ärtingeslöjd. Beda Aronsson-Galle’s home now accommodated both a workshop and an office. Contracts were signed with farmers growing rye straw and every autumn several tractor loads of straw were fetched from farms in Ärtemark. During the winter, the straw was transformed into a broad assortment of straw objects: hats of various models, beach shoes, shopping baskets, figures and groups. Table runners were also woven with straw elements.
The enterprise was at its greatest from the end of the 1940s until about 1960. The production of hats reached 10,000 per season in the early 1950s. Christmas gnomes were produced in about 40 versions. Straw crafts were sold by travellers throughout Sweden and great quantities were exported to America. Apart from Beda Aronsson-Galle and her family, Ärtingeslöjd employed about 60 farmers’ wives who made straw details in their spare time after their farm work. The details were put together later by Beda Aronsson-Galle to make groups.
She worked spontaneously without sketches or patterns. Through her window, she saw canoeists gliding past along Lake Lelång and soon she was making paddling holidaymakers. With a twinkle in her eye, she captured the image of a married couple in the Sweden of the 1950s, the woman standing at her stove and the man sitting in his armchair reading the newspaper.
Some of Beda Aronsson-Galle’s works can still be seen at the open-air museum Gammelgården in Bengtsfors, with a mixture of concert pianists, red crayfish, jungle and motifs from the old farming community at all seasons: men ploughing and working in the smithy, women preparing flax, weaving and spinning, sledge rides, farm weddings, and dance around the midsummer maypole.
In her house, Beda Aronsson-Galle continued to make straw sculptures until she was 90 years old. She became famous far beyond Sweden’s borders and got to meet many well-known people. When King Carl XVI Gustaf travelled through Dalsland in 1975, Beda Aronsson-Galle presented him with a straw group. In 1970 she was awarded the Dalsland Medal.
Beda Aronsson-Galle died in 1986. She rests in the Ärtemark Cemetery.