Lina Jansson was a straw crafts teacher at Sweden’s pattern school for straw braiding crafts in Upperud in the province of Dalsland. She played an important role in the development of Swedish high quality straw crafts.
Karolina (known as Lina) Jansson was the daughter of the owner of the Upperud works, Lars Jansson and his wife Kerstin. Lina Jansson was born in 1849 and was the oldest of ten siblings. Their father Lars Jansson died in 1884. On their father’s death, Lina Jansson’s brother Axel R. Jansson took over as works owner at Upperud. The whole large family lived at the manor house and Axel R. Jansson ran the works from there.
The straw braiding school in Upperud was founded by the straw hat company Rügheimer & Becker in Stockholm, the county governor in Älvsborg, Count Eric Josias Sparre, and the Älvsborg Province’s northern crafts association. Both Rügheimer and Becker came from Germany and they brought with them knowledge, skills and ideas from there that they realised in Sweden. They wanted to build up a Swedish production of straw braids and develop straw braiding into the home industry that it already was in several countries in Central Europe. The reason was that their company imported great numbers of braids.
County Governor Sparre and the crafts association wanted to promote a home craft that could give poor women a side income. They also wanted to change the manufacture of rather simple straw hats that had been made on a large scale since the 1860s in Ärtemark parish in northern Dalsland. Sparre and the crafts association wanted to start the manufacture of quality braids and make them available to a wider circle of customers.
The idea of training a woman from the province in a straw hat factory in Central Europe gradually grew stronger. After her training, she would later be able to teach pupils who in their turn could spread their knowledge and skills further. During a business trip to Germany, Becker came to an agreement with business executive Duffner, who promised to receive the Swedish apprentice at his straw hat factory in Schönwald. On 15 March 1884, Lina Jansson was awarded the home crafts association’s scholarship to learn the art of straw braiding in Germany.
In a brochure from 1897, Rügheimer & Becker describe the development of their school. Lina Jansson is described there as a “young, enterprising woman who was well versed in the language”. On 10 July, she left her home in Upperud and travelled to Schönwald. She stayed there until 28 September, when Carl Becker fetched her for studies of the Saxon straw braiding methods used at H. H. Reichel’s great hat factory in Dippoldiswalde (Strohhutfabrik H. H. Reichel, Dippoldiswalde). She arrived back home in Upperud just in time for Christmas in 1884 and on the 16 February the following year the straw braiding school was opened in a building near the manor house. It was run by the Älvsborg Province northern crafts association. The straw braids manufactured there were bought up by Rügheimer & Becker.
That Lina Jansson now mastered the art of straw braiding was certified in a letter from H. H. Reichel in Dippoldiswalde. In a letter to the straw hat company Rügheimer & Becker of 21 December 1884, Reichel hopes that the straw hat company and Lina Jansson would succeed in introducing the braiding industry to Sweden. He has had the experience of its not always being that easy to persuade the peasantry to braid straw. According to H.H. Reichel, Lina Jansson was “in any case the most suitable woman as a teacher”.
The first year at the straw braiding school, 45 pupils were trained and the following year 70 pupils. They came from the whole of mid-Sweden and their ages varied: there were children of only three or four years old, school-age children, teenagers and adults. The adult pupils were mainly primary and elementary school teachers. They were attending the course on the assignment of their home municipalities, who paid for their stay in Upperud. These teachers were later expected to include straw braiding in the girl pupils’ crafts lessons and start course for adults in their home towns and villages. This they also did, and as early as 1885, girls at six schools in Dalsland were learning to braid straw.
Every year, four courses were held at the straw braiding school and they each lasted about two months. The first was held during February-March, the second during April-May, the third from the end of July to the end of September and the fourth during October-November. Apart from braiding, the pupils were taught how to cultivate and prepare the straw. It was grown on the works’ land, harvested and threshed by the farm labourers and bleached in sulphur to make it really pale or dyed in great vats in the manor house meat storeroom. It was dyed in many different colours: ordinary ones like red, yellow, green, purple, blue and also more exotic types like Schwarzwald brown, silver, garnet and Dippoldiswalde black just to name a few.
On invitation of Rügheimer & Becker, Lina Jansson and some of her pupils participated in the great art and industry exhibition in Stockholm in 1897. In the company of Carl Becker, she also visited the King, Oscar II, and showed him her pattern book. The King was very interested in straw braiding and ordered a straw hat for himself.
However, as H.H. Reichel in Dippoldiswalde had hinted in the letter to Rügheimer & Becker at Christmas 1884, it was not easy to start up straw braiding on any great scale. In the letters that Lina Jansson wrote the following years to the secretary of the crafts association Axel Sahlén, she oscillated between the happiness she felt when straw braiding was taken up in new districts and disappointment over the small interest in the craft that she often met. The straw braiding school struggled with a diminishing number of pupils, and the municipalities did not seem to take the new craft seriously. Perhaps that was the case, but the difficulties may also have had other causes. The problems mentioned by the municipalities where straw braiding was being taught, were that it was difficult to find good quality craft straw and also to find outlets for the finished products. From 1885 and for several significant years onwards, the feared disease diphtheria was rife in the Upperud region. On the 4 August 1888, the school was closed for the year on account of diphtheria.
Since the crafts association no longer considered itself able to run the straw braiding school, it was shut down in November 1895. A total of about 500 pupils had learnt the art of straw braiding there from Lina Jansson. That was quite a number and it is clear that they were significant for the development of straw crafts in mid-Sweden. In Steneby in Dalsland, where one teacher lived who at the end of the 1800s had taught straw braiding at the school, the craft was still flourishing, though on a small scale, when a new straw crafts epoch was initiated by the Steneby home crafts association in the 1930s.
As a person, Lina Jansson has been described as energetic, happy and extrovert. Since her brother had taken over as the works owner, she became his great support. She was the hostess, responsible for the servants, the distribution of work tasks and dinners with prominent guests. Of the ten Jansson siblings, two had died as children and one brother emigrated to America. Of all the siblings, the youngest sister Gerda was the only one to marry and start her own family. When she was newly married, Gerda moved away from home, but returned later with her family, when her husband Axel H. Lundberg took over the works after his brother-in-law Axel R. Jansson.
The senior woman at the manor house was Lina Jansson. She and her brother Axel R. and four younger sisters lived there all their lives. The younger sisters had their special fields of responsibility, among others the bookkeeping, garden and bakery, but it was Lina Jansson who had the overall responsibility. She was the one who politely but discreetly always stood behind her brother the works owner.
Lina Jansson died in 1936. She rests in works owner Lars Jansson’s family grave in the Skållerud Cemetery.