Ruhnu talumööbli ja puutööriistade seosed / The connections between Ruhnu farm furniture and carpentry tools


  • Kristjan Bachman



The island of Ruhnu is an ancient area of Swedish settlement in Estonia. As a result of the emigration of the people of Ruhnu during World War II, the traditional peasant culture has practically disappeared along with the farms and furnishings. Today, no relevant information or precise answers can be found concerning the carpenters who created the furniture that is specific to Ruhnu, including about those who made colourfully decorated furniture. Previous knowledge suggested that the furniture of Ruhnu was created by the farmers themselves mainly by following the examples of the Swedish farmers’ so-called ‘high-status’ furniture. However, detailed visual observation suggests that the fine farm furniture characteristic of the island is recognisably similar in style, and that not all the inhabitants of Ruhnu could have possessed such technical and artistic skills in carpentry. This assumption has been confirmed by Leila Pärtelpoeg, an interior designer who has studied the furniture and furnishings of Ruhnu, and who believes that the fine barn cupboards have either been made by a small group of artisans or perhaps even by a single person.

This article gives an overview of a study concerning the connections between carpentry tools and the furniture of the island in order to provide possible answers regarding the carpenters who were working in the farms in Ruhnu. In order to get these answers, the remaining furniture details were compared with the carpentry tools from Ruhnu still to be found in Estonian museums and private collections. The research material contained catalogued pieces of furniture and carpentry tools from the Estonian National Museum, as well as from the island of Ruhnu. Information gathered during fieldwork proved useful too. Initial observations revealed that similar techniques had been used for creating the barn cupboards of the farm buildings in Ruhnu, thus supporting the earlier hypothesis suggesting that the compatibility between carpentry tools and profiled wood pointed to a particular Ruhnu artisan (or to specific farms where highly skilled carpenters worked). In order to gain confirmation concerning particular artisans or farms where especially skilled carpenters worked, the catalogued pieces of furniture had to be compared to the carpentry tools of Ruhnu, all of which bore a farm or property mark. Using such property marks (by carving them on the artefacts) was the only way of distinguishing between the carpentry tools from different farms. This gave me the opportunity to place every single tool into the context of a specific farm. In order to find Breadwinner these connections, the similarities between the shape of profile planers’ cut and the laths of the pieces of furniture were compared with the property marks. Mapping the tools on basis of the farms made it possible to compare them to the remaining pieces of furniture and uncover the connections between specific farms and the carpenters’ work.

Arriving at answers to my research questions was nevertheless difficult as there were few remaining pieces of furniture and carpentry tools that could be used in comparisons. The similarities between the altar of Ruhnu’s old wooden church and the profiles of the cupboard at Korsi farm were the only ones that were really certain. Based on these results, we can suggest that local carpenters and artisans who worked on Ruhnu’s wooden church might have been the same people using the same tools, or that the church furniture only served them as an example. The possibilities of finding apparent similarities between the wooden profiles of the furniture of Ruhnu and the remaining carpentry tools was limited because there was not enough reference material, meaning the results were not as clear as had been expected.

Keywords: Ruhnu, barn cupboard, farm furniture, carpentry tools, property marks, carpenters


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Research Article