Dala horse (Dalahäst) is a traditional carved, painted wooden statue of a horse originating in the Swedish province of Dalarna.
In the old days, furniture makers in the forests made carved out toys and animals for their children as by-products of their creations. In the 18th century, they started to decorate the horses and sell them. The horse became embedded in Swedish culture as a symbol of good luck.
In the 30s the Dala horse was introduced in the World Expo in Paris and the World’s Fair in New York and since then it is known as the unified symbol of Sweden.
Founded in 1928, Nils Olsson is one of the oldest companies in Sweden to make Dala horses. Still today they make the horses the traditional way (by hand) with special skills needed.
The wood from which the figures are carved comes from the slow-growing pine forests around Lake Siljan, close to the Nils Olsson factory. The wood is ideal for carpentry and carving. The trees that will be made into horses are marked out while still standing in the forest. Only the best timber is selected for carving into horses.
The tree planks are sawn and carved by hand, so no two horses are identical. The horses are dipped in primer immediately after carving, to reveal any defects in the wood that may need to be fixed. After priming, any cavities in the wood are filled in to ensure extra smoothness. The horses are polished to give them a smooth finish.
After sanding, the horses are dipped into coloured paint. The traditional pattern is painted free-hand by experienced Dala horse painters. The art of rippling requires great skill and takes many years to learn. Finally, the horses are varnished and sent out to serve as a symbol of Sweden all over the world.