Chapter Three

Copies or Fritt Efter John Bauer


Third chapter Copies or Fritt efter John Bauer brings together twelve pieces of John Bauer adaptations for the first time after they left PJ Carlsson’s workshop. The wooden Bauer copies were carved at the workshop when the business was decreasing and they became quite popular with the local community. Today after eighty years they are still very much sought after and can still be found in Tranås homes.


Jönköping’s illustrious artist John Bauer was known for illustrating Swedish folk tales which included trolls, princesses, elks all set in a mysterious and magical world. When asked why the wood sculptors at the workshop were interested in making wood versions of John Bauer paintings, there are two possible reasons:


The first reason was just economics. The idea of carving Bauer figures helped Åke and Tor at times when their business was wavering. The second reason was that they enjoyed making these woodcarvings and they were much more than mere copies. They were inspired by Bauer but however their wooden versions were never identical to Bauer’s drawings. They were free interpretations, copies but different.


The chapter Copies or Fritt efter John Bauer brings together samples of wood work coming from PJ Carlsson’s Bildhuggeri, the authenticity of the carvings is debatable. The twelve pieces at the exhibiton were borrowed from the collections of Catherine Bolehed, Anna Hultman and Peter Lundberg. Even though John Bauer’s artwork is quite well known in Sweden, the free adaptations carved by Åke and Tor Carlsson are not. The are cherished by a small number of townspeople and it is hard not to appreciate the artistic value of the copies.


For years the John Bauer carvings have meant a lot to the community in Tranås and people are emotionally attached to these little objects. But for one person, Peter Lundberg from Gothenburg, the wooden Bauer copy he had, had remained a mystery to him. Peter Lundberg kept the object by his bedside for 76 years without knowing where it originally came from. He found out about its origins when the artist Seher Uysal placed an advertisement on social media in order try and gather the old Bauer copies together for her work. “It is just there is only one signature at the back and apart from that I didn’t have any references. I have only been to Tranås twice in my life. So I was really unprepared for this.”


Lundberg was the son of one of owners of a fur factory in Tranas. His grandfather, Fritz Lundberg is known as an important figure in town’s history but Peter Lundberg was born after his father and mother were separated and he grew up on the west coast of Sweden. Only quite recently he started to take an interest in his father’s side of the family. “I always had this picture and I knew it was made in 1941. I was born in 1942 and of course in 1941 I knew that my mother was living in Tranås. So I have always been intrigued by the story behind the picture and where it came from. It was very strange to have a John Bauer carving and I remember reading those books with his illustrations. Everyone in my generation read those books. So I know his illustrations but it is only now, 76 years later, that I finally know where my wooden Bauer comes from. The origins and the people who made it, is no longer a mystery to me.”


Chapter Three is not just about a number of objects brought together but it is about the value we attribute to such things and our emotions in relation to objects. 76 years later Peter Lundberg drove for three hours to bring one of the Bauer copies known as the “Motherly Love” to the exhibition space and it created another sense of bond between him and the town: "To be honest, I never asked. Possibly it was my mother who bought it. But it is from her stay here and she might have brought it with her. But why she bought a children’s motif before I was born I don’t know. Maybe she just got it as a souvenir? Me and my father were never really in touch but he sent me things from time to time; a fur coat or something like that when I was a child. So the picture reminds me of my father and I’m interested in all aspects about it. What kind of people lived here in Tranås at the time, why was there so much business going? Like my father and the fur industry etc.”


Visiting the space for the first time, being aware where his little Bauer copy was made, Mr. Lundberg’s words perfectly reflect what local history, heritage and the past actually means to someone and why it should be well looked after: “I think the unusual or fantastic thing is, this place, PJ Carlsson’s workshop, is not arranged as a museum, it looks like somebody just left it to go out and get some lunch and forgot about coming back. And here we are sixty odd years later walking into such a unique place. And I hope it will stay like this. The first time we opened the door and peeked in, it was like entering into a different time. Now that I’m getting older I’m really enjoying the idea of being an old person, because I’m enjoying the past more and the past to me is a thing you can go back into and start understanding properly the things that happened. Past is a living thing, you can go back to your past and understand it, experience it. Sometimes I feel that the future is coming and there is not much to do about it but the past can change all the time in a deeper, more meaningful and a more inclusive way.”

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