Charlotte Weibull was a folklore artist and a popular educator with regard to the national dress of the Swedish peasantry. She received global recognition for her work with national dress and particularly for her own production of dolls.
Charlotte Weibull was born in Borrby, in Simrishamn municipality, on 10 August 1917. She was the third child, out of eight, born to Julius Gottfries – an agronomist and politician – who also taught at Rösiö, Tomelilla, and Hammenhög agricultural schools. Her mother, Ragnhild Gottfries, shared her husband’s interest in agriculture and rural domestic sciences. She was also politically active and served as chair of the Svenska landsbygdens kvinnoförbund (SLKF, later Centerns Kvinnoförbund, CKF, now Centerkvinnorna) (Swedish rural women’s association) and was a parliamentary candidate during the 1944 general election. Several of Charlotte Weibull’s siblings became prominent within their own fields, such as her sister Ingrid Gottfries who, amongst other things, was a chief physician at St Lars hospital in Lund.
Charlotte Weibull and her seven siblings grew up at a 32-hectare farm with extensive fruit and seed nurseries. When Charlotte Weibull looked back at her childhood she remembered certain incidents with anger, such as one of her duties as an older child being the inverting and rinsing of animal intestines during butchering. One of her tasks was also taking the horse and cart to the nearby village and sometimes the horse would bolt during these journeys.
It was never obvious during Charlotte Weibull’s childhood that she would be given the opportunity to further her education but, whilst playing with her younger siblings at Gamlegård, she discovered that she wanted to become a teacher. When she was a young teenager she sat extra exams and eventually matriculated at a school in Ystad in 1937. She then began to read chemistry at Lund university. Whilst studying she also worked at the Ferrosan medical company laboratory. There she met the man she went on to marry, namely John Lorens “Jack” Weibull. The couple married in June 1942 and went on to have four children together. The same year that she got married Charlotte Weibull took over the national dress shop in Malmö which had been run by her relative, Ingrid Andersson.
This shop specialised in producing national dress outfits from all over Sweden and had opened its doors in 1901 at Baltzarsgatan in central Malmö. Charlotte Weibull was not the obvious person to take on this shop. Several others had shown interest and her father was not fully behind the idea of her running the shop, feeling instead that she should continue working at Ferrosan. Ingrid Andersson, however, wanted Charlotte Weibull to run her shop and so she accepted her offer. Subsequently it became apparent that Charlotte Weibull had an unusually good business sense. Although things were tight during the Second World War period Charlotte Weibull turned things around afterwards and then began to both document and conserve the handmade outfits.
Charlotte Weibull continued to produce hand-sewn national dress outfits to order all the while expanding the collection of older outfits and accessories which Ingrid Andersson had started. Further, Charlotte Weibull developed her own specialty. There were always small pieces of material left over from creating a national dress and instead of throwing them away she began to use them to make dolls’ clothes. She bought cheaply-made dolls from Germany and Italy and dressed them in regional costumes from Scania. She placed these dolls in her shop window and they sold like hot cakes. When it became harder to source ready-made dolls she then began to make her own. She and her husband jointly developed a doll model. Seamstresses were called in and Ingeborg Hansen, the artist from Arlöv, was called upon to paint the doll’s faces. Each doll had its own personal expression and Charlotte Weibull quickly became known as one of the most prominent doll-makers.
This doll production grew over time and came to include well-known fairy-tale figures such as Pippi Longstocking and Nils Holgersson; the latter was a particularly popular item. The business attained peak success during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1964 the shop moved from Baltzarsgatan to a timber-framed house at Lilla Torget in Malmö. At this point in time puppet shows were also held on the top floor of the house every Saturday. The Café Dockhuset (Doll’s House café) was also right next door to the shop.
Charlotte Weibull and her husband had owned Möllegården farm in Åkarp, near Malmö, since 1952. During the 1980s the doll-production enterprise was moved there. Three old farm buildings were put into use, both for Jack Weibull’s engineering company and Charlotte Weibull’s doll-production activities. She also had another brick house built for the enterprise which gradually became transformed into a folklore centre. Charlotte Weibull opened the folklore centre in 1989, where exhibitions of dolls, costumes, folklore memories, and more were mounted. During the 1990s this expanded to include a museum. Möllegården became a folklore centre which also housed a thorough archive of material pieces and patterns which Ingrid Andersson and Charlotte Weibull had collected throughout their lives. In 1991 there were 1,799 dolls at Möllegården. This was a large enough number to secure them a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
In 1987 Charlotte Weibull became an appointed folklore artist. At the same time, in recognition of her contribution to the conservation and development of Scanian folk costumes, she was also awarded the Swedish royal golden medal of the 8th degree with a light blue ribbon. In 1996 Charlotte Weibull was named Scanian of the year.
Charlotte Weibull worked full-on until she was 87 years old. In 1998, however, the production of both national dress outfits and dolls ceased due to financial reasons. Möllegården, now a listed site, currently serves as a cultural centre, in the ownership of Burlöv municipality since the 2000s. In 2010 Charlotte Weibull donated her entire collection of national dress outfits and dolls to the municipality. Two years later the annual Charlotte Weibull prize was inaugurated, awarded by Charlotte Weibulls vänförening. The role of this association is to conserve and protect Charlotte Weibull’s life’s work now and forever. Charlotte Weibull selected the first winner of the prize herself.
Charlotte Weibull died in August 2015. She is buried at the Burlöv cemetery. In 2017 she was posthumously elected to the Burlöv Hall of Fame because she “was one of Burlöv’s most famous celebrities. Charlotte was known far beyond Burlöv’s borders through exhibitions and her products. Her dolls – dressed in beautiful folk costumes – are very well-known and valuable to doll-collectors across the globe”.