O moştenire culturală a lemnului: cunoştinţe şi metode
Cu toate că artefactele constituie surse importante în cercetarea condiţiilor istorice ale realizării construcţiilor, studiile etnologice contemporane acordă o atenţie sporită interviurilor şi descrierilor scrise, furnizori rapizi de informaţie la nivel general, dar care pierd din vedere valori ale detaliilor unui obiect ca rezultat al manufacturării.
Materialul din care este realizat un obiect sau o construcţie constituie vehicolul unui tip de informaţie cu totul diferit de cel conţinut în textul scris şi reclamă o artă a citirii şi a interpretării; artefactele sunt expresia epocii căreia îi aparţin, sunt expresia ideologiei, a sentimentelor, a nevoilor şi cunoştinţelor ce o definesc; cu alte cuvinte, studiind obiectele şi construcţiile putem învăţa ceva despre generaţiile anterioare de constructori într-un context istoric concret.
Dacă dorim să cercetăm istoria arhitecturii cu ajutorul metodelor de lucru şi produsului finit rezultat, actul muncii este punctul de pornire al investigaţiei. Actul muncii este transpunerea în concret a unor gânduri, idei şi sentimente, iar înţelegerea construcţiilor ca pe rezultate ale muncii ne permite să facem afirmaţii mai sigure despre aceste idei şi sentimente care sunt cauză şi creează condiţiile premergătoare creaţiei.
Istoria arhitecturii a neglijat aspectul muncii iar ştiinţa a fost interesată într-o foarte mică măsură de meşteşug. De aceea, prin proiectul “Construcţiile de lemn în societatea pre-modernă – cunoştinţe şi metode”, intenţionăm să punem problema construcţiei, a materialelor, a artizanatului, uneltelor şi maşinilor.
Împreună cu o nouă categorie de interpreţi ai moştenirii culturale, meşteşugarii, dorim să examinăm aspectul real al lucrurilor, felul în care acestea sunt realizate şi să interpretăm cauzele care au dus la crearea lor.
Conservarea construcţiilor şi workshop-urile
Conservarea clădirilor este în strânsă legătură cu construcţia lor, de la aspectele generale până la cele mai mici detalii, şi cu istoria oglindită în ele; conservarea unui edificiu sfârşeşte întotdeauna într-un act de construcţie, fapt de o potrivă important şi provocator prin intervenţia asupra istoriei. Casele nu pot fi conservate doar pe hârtie, nu există metode rapide de conservare cu efect imediat, ci trebuie, pe de o parte, înţeles sensul construcţiei, al materialului şi metodelor de lucru, iar pe de altă parte trebuie cunoscută istoria edificiului în cauză, ca parte a istoriei arhitecturii.
Industrializarea societăţii europene a înlocuit metodele tradiţionale de construcţie cu sistemul de producţie puternic industrializat, fapt ce a determinat, în Suedia de pildă, o ruptură totală cu tradiţia. Credem că multe ţări europene se confruntă cu o situaţie similară. Astăzi ne aflăm în dificultatea de a mai găsi meşteri capabili să realizeze lucrări de conservare cu ajutorul aceloraşi materiale, unelte şi tehnici cu care au fost ridicate edificiile respective şi, totodată, capabili de a analiza şi interpreta edificiile istorice. Ţinem să subliniem că măiestria în realizarea obiectelor tradiţionale presupune un sistem de cunoştinţe, diferit de cel ştiinţific, ce nu poate fi comunicat verbal sau vizual ci doar transferat direct prin actul creaţiei, al muncii la care se participă activ. Principalul obiectiv devine, astfel, familiarizarea meşteşugarilor cu metodele tradiţionale de prelucrare a lemnului şi implicarea acestora în interpretarea modului de realizare a monumentului istoric. Deşi diferite în detaliu, construcţiile europene pre-moderne din lemn dovedesc şi similarităţi, fiind un patrimoniu comun. Astfel, meşteşugarii, arhitecţii şi etnologii participă la restaurarea monumentelor din toate cele şapte ţări participante la programul iniţiat de noi.
O bisericuţă în România
În cadrul workshop-ului desfăşurat în România am participat le restaurarea a două biserici, dintre care cea mai mică, construită pe la mijlocul secolului XVII, a suferit modificări substanţiale: uşoare reparaţii şi lucrări de consolidare acum trei sau patru decenii şi reconstruirea acoperişului de deasupra altarului, probabil în secolul 19. Nu am asistat la realizarea unei investigaţii complete asupra tuturor etapelor de construcţie din istoria monumentului, dar meşteşugarii şi arhitecţii au fost foarte interesaţi atât de calitatea originalului, cât şi de lucrările de reparaţie.
În cadrul aceluiaşi workshop am avut şansa să vizităm un mare număr de biserici din regiune, care, dacă nu puteau fi considerate toate nişte capodopere, cu siguranţă dovedeau evidente calităţi din punct de vedere al artei prelucrării lemnului (chiar şi bisericuţa de lângă Racăş, şi ea restaurată în timpul workshop-ului)
Studiile aprofundate ale meşterilor participanţi la workshop au dovedit că cei care au ridicat bisericuţa din Baica nu cunoşteau regulile elementare de construcţie a caselor din bârne. Bisericuţa a fost mutată la actuala locaţie de pe un deal şi a suferit câteva reparaţii. Privind peretele despărţitor dintre naos şi altar, este greu de înţeles cum s-a realizat potrivirea pereţilor. Problema slabei calităţi a execuţiei nu se putea pune, ea nefiind interesantă pentru disciplinele academice tradiţionale; dar ce facem când este identificată de către meşteri? O bisericuţă de ţară este rezultatul posibilităţilor şi eforturilor reunite ale sătenilor. În context regional şi local apare interesantă întrebarea “de ce această bisericuţă, din acest sat este, comparativ cu altele, de calitate inferioară?”. Dacă este o problemă de resurse, atunci despre ce resurse este vorba: sociale, economice, legate de cunoaştere sau de numărul redus de locuitori?
Câţiva buşteni în Lituania
În cadrul workshopului din Lituania am participat la restaurarea unei case şi a unui grânar. Căsuţa era construită din bârne pe la 1861 şi fusese demontată şi mutată în valea râului Daugyvene. La examinarea materialelor de construcţie am constatat, pe lângă slaba calitate a lemnului de molid din care erau confecţionate bârnele pereţilor, şi faptul că acestea erau cioplite inegal la capete, atât la exterior cât şi la interior, afectând calitatea estetică a pereţilor. Bârnele de la bază erau prelucrate cu fierăstrăul, ceea ce ne-a făcut să credem că proprietarul nu a dispus de suficiente resurse şi a continuat construcţia cu buştenii ciopliţi manual; curios este însă faptul că şi bârnele prelucrate cu fierăstrăul comportau aceeaşi inegalitate la capete, iar căsuţa noastră nu era singura construită în această manieră. Cert este că nimic nu a fost întâmplător, tipul acesta de construcţie aparţinând probabil unui anume sistem.
Un acoperiş în Suedia şi o fântână în Germania
Satul Gallejaur a luat fiinţă la începutul secolului XIX, în mijlocul vastelor păduri din nordul Suediei. Acolo am descoperit un hambar octogonal, construit în anul 1892 (hambarele octogonale constituiau o caracteristică a zonei în secolul XIX), al cărui acoperiş era din şiţă. Dedesubt, planşeul era format din plăci de lemn tăiate şi ajustate manual, doar cu ajutorul unui topor, pentru a obţine o grosime similară. Această metodă se utiliza cu precădere în perioada medievală, mai cu seamă la acoperişurile bisericilor, diluându-se în timp şi devenind rară în a doua jumătate a secolului 19. Dacă presupunem că acest acoperiş din 1892 este unul din ultimele exemple ale acestei metode de construcţie din Suedia, este firesc să ne întrebăm care ar fi primul? Răspunsul a venit din Germania, dintr-o localitate în afara Leipzig-ului. Este vorba de vestigiile unei fântâni vechi de mai bine de 7.000 de ani (datată în jurul anului 5084 î.Ch), ai cărei pereţi din lemn de stejar sunt realizaţi prin alăturarea unor plăci tăiate manual. Metoda este similară celei descrise în cazul hambarului octogonal, plăcile din lemn purtând peste timp urmele uneltelor care le-au ajustat. Şapte mii de ani îi despart pe cei doi fermieri care au construit fântâna, respectiv hambarul, însa în ceea ce priveşte tehnica meşteşugului singura diferenţă constă în înlocuirea toporului din piatră cu cel din metal.
Din exemplele de interpretare a monumentelor istorice prezentate în această lucrare rezultă că acest tip de abordare, de multe ori centrată pe micile detalii, poate conduce cercetarea în varii direcţii. Întrebări sunt multe, răspunsurile poate nu sunt întotdeauna suficiente dar, relaţionându-le cu alte surse istorice putem face lumină în direcţia dorită, dizolvând graniţele geografice sau naţionale.
Trecutul reprezintă domeniul profesional al moştenirii culturale iar prezentul este perspectiva. Sarcina noastră este aceea de a interpreta trecutul, contribuind la propria interpretare a unui popor. Totul, de la conservarea materialelor şi până la aspectele critice şi sociale implicate în redarea istoriei, se constituie într-o sarcină unică a celui ce cercetează moştenirea culturală.
A Cultural Heritage of Wood: Knowledge and Methods
The artefacts are very important as sources when it comes to studies about historical conditions. Not many doubt that, although there can be a discussion about how these sources are used. There is often a lack of written sources or they are at least very fragmentary and the oral sources do not always reach as long back in history as we many times want. In ethnological contemporary studies the artefacts many times seems to have lost ground to sources as interviews and written descriptions that more immediate can give a broader and more easy available information.
In architectural history the studies often are about contexts and complexes and one seldom comes very close; what the single part actually looks like and the sometimes very fine traces of the manufacturing process.
Processed, built and used materials are carriers of a different kind of information than written texts. Buildings and objects call for another art of reading and thereby also special experiences and methods. To some extent archaeology and ethnology have tried to deal with this through typologies and chronologies. One has tried to structure a body of information in, for the purpose and the point of time, relevant categories. The preconditions have often been that the objects are a part of, or can be put into, a lapse or a period. It is the context between the object and the lapse that gives meaning. But the objects, or mostly the buildings in our case, are also the expression for certain situations. They are the material result of somebody who did something. They are signs from a certain point of time of thoughts and ideas, feelings, needs, means, knowledge and skills. In other words we can learn something about human beings, for instance previous generations of builders, in a concrete historical situation.
If we want to investigate the architectural history through the practical working methods and the built, material results, the starting-point is simple. Without labour there would be no buildings. Behind every act in the constructing process there are feelings and thoughts. It is in the sphere of thoughts and feelings we find causes, values and standpoints but it is through practical labour that they will become both buildings and reliable experiences. In the meeting with the built cultural heritage the first that requires interpretation is historical work. Therefore it is reasonable to presuppose that if we can understand buildings as actions of work and building techniques, we will also with more certainty make statements about the thoughts, ideas and conditions behind.
The labour is a neglected part of the architectural history. Science has only to a small extent been interested in the crafts. Our intention with the project “Wooden constructions in pre-modern society – knowledge and methods” is to put new questions to buildings, materials, craftsmanship, tools and machinery. Together with a new category of interpreters of the cultural heritage, the craftsmen, we want to examine what the things look like, how they are made and try to interpret the causes that have directed the workmanship.
Building conservation and the workshops
Building conservation always have to deal with the real building - both overall and down to the smallest objects and details - and about what kind of history is represented within the building. And building conservation always ends up in building actions. This is both important and challenging because we are doing something with history. We intervene in history as one of the first statements in the Venice Charter says. Houses cannot be preserved just on the paper and there is no “preservation remedy” that can be powdered over our buildings and landscapes. Accordingly the building conservation needs a standpoint to the actual historical materials.
To formulate the possibilities and to recognise different kind of historical values for these standpoints there is a need for knowledge. We think that the required knowledge therefore follows two lines: to understand the meanings in constructions, materials and working methods we need knowledge about the history of building in practice. To make choices among levels and extension in a restoration, the overall knowledge about architectural history is needed. Between these two lines there must be connections. One discovery in the detailed observation is important for the interpretation of the overall perspective and reversed.
The industrialisation of the European society has to a large extent changed the methods of building. The traditional way of building has been replaced by a highly industrialised production system. In Sweden there was a total brake with the traditional way of building and there is no continuos, living tradition in the crafts related to traditional wooden constructions. We think the situation is similar in many other European countries. We have ended up in a situation where there is extremely difficult to find craftsmen skilled in traditional crafts related to traditional or pre-modern ways of building and that are capable of doing conservation work with the same materials, tools and techniques that once was used to erect these historic buildings. The implication of this is that it is very difficult to preserve historic wooden buildings “within its own logic”.
The preservation is also depending upon the existence of craftsmen that are capable of making detailed analysis and interpretations of the historical constructions. This loss of accumulated knowledge is a fundamental problem today as the modern, scientific (natural science) paradigm only offers a number of modern skills, materials and methods, very different from the traditional knowledge of the craftsmen and the local community.
An important thing we must take into account is that skills in crafts represent a system of knowledge different from scientific knowledge. This knowledge cannot be fully described and communicated in words and pictures. On the contrary, this knowledge is developed through the practical application of craft and can only be transferred through a working situation where people are participating. The conclusion must be that the main task is to develop methods for training craftsmen in traditional wooden crafts and involve them in the interpretation of how historical work was executed.
This knowledge is relevant to every detail of the preservation of the European wooden building heritage. The pre-modern wooden constructions differs in many details between countries, but the conclusion must be that the pre-modern wooden buildings of Europe shows striking similarities. In any significant dimension, this is a common heritage. In this project craftsmen, architects and ethnologists are working together at building restoration sites in all the seven participating countries.
If we improve our possibilities to read our built environment not only with the help of the traditional academic knowledge - as unique or representative parts of a chronology or category, or a well preserved building from a certain style or important era, region or nation – we may be able to come closer to the individuals in history and to the local environmental and social conditions in which these persons were living.
In the Romanian workshop we participated in the restoration of two churches (see article by Ana Bârca). After the presentations by the restoration architect and the different team’s own investigations we understood that there had been some substantial changes of this very small church from the middle of the 17th century. Some not very sensitive reparation and reinforcement measurements were carried out in the some three or four decades ago. There had also been a rebuilding of the roof over the “altar” (sanctuary), probably during the 19th century. A complete investigation of all the phases in the history of the building was not carried out during the workshop. But craftsmen and architects together became more and more interested of the quality of both the original work and reparations.
During the workshop we had the opportunity to see a lot of other churches in the region. Our first impression of the church in Baica was strengthened after these visits. Many of the other churches was, if not masterpieces all of them, of very high quality in terms of craftsmanship. Even the church in the nearby village of Racâs, which was also restored during the workshop, was originally of higher quality considering the skills in the way the church was built. Close studies by the participating craftsmen could show that the men that originally erected the church in Baica had problems with almost elementary rules for log-house constructions. The church has been moved down from the hill to its present placing and maybe at this time one did some necessary repairs. In the partition wall between the “naos” (nave) and the “altar” it was almost impossible to understand how one had managed to make the walls fit together.
This question of comparatively “poor quality” could of course be left behind. Poor quality is usually not very interesting in the traditional academic disciplines or in preservation contexts. But what to do about it when it is now identified by the craftsmen? A village church is the result of the villager’s common possibilities and efforts. In the local and regional context it must be interesting to ask: Why was this church, in this village, of comparatively low quality? If it is a question of recourses, we can ask what kind of resources: just the number of the inhabitants (a small village?) or social, economic or knowledge resources?
As pointed out before, in serious building conservation one always has to face the traces and signs from the manufacturing and construction process. But at the same time we can presume that we many times uncover values whose meanings we are unable to evaluate. The shortcomings are of course bigger in the fields where the lack of knowledge is big; i. e. that parts where the history disciplines has shown little interest. Working processes belongs to them.
We can appreciate the beauty in worn and used materials and the elaborated details of old craftsmanship techniques but we do not understand, or at least to a less extent, how cause and effect hang together. In Sweden there has been a clear changing in the way that old techniques and old materials now are very much appreciated. So-called traditional materials and methods seems more and more form the standard for the meaning in the words quality and ecology.
But the understanding of the cultural aspects of labour has however not reached the corresponding level. That is for example how we understand the concepts of theory and practice. Still the knowledge of crafts is looked upon as practical and the academic knowledge as theoretical, when in fact it is a question about different kinds of theory and practice. Yet there is an obvious difference: knowledge of different kinds is developed and educated in different ways. In crafts this is done in the practice. The theoretical dimension is a part of the practice. We can say that the knowledge is both conceived and performed.
To fully understand the historical buildings as the result of historical work, we must be even clearer about theory and practice. There are ideas that advanced knowledge is equivalent to theoretical knowledge and that practical craftsman knowledge should be less advanced and of a simpler kind. In the industrial production there has been a division between the conceived and the performed, between the “thinkers” and the “doers”. But in historical work, when people took part in much more of the process from the raw material to the completed product, we many times face an advanced complex of knowledge. The knowledge about the raw materials is one part of this, but we want to point out another thing. With a slight simplification one can say that the more of the raw materials natural forms that are kept when we start a construction, the more “thinking” is needed. Pieces of exactly the same dimensions with straight and square forms, for example processed by a sawmill, are comparatively easy to use in a construction. But in constructions were almost every piece is of a unique dimension and the dimensions of each piece differ from one end to the other, for example in a log-house construction, and maybe upon that the round form of the stems are kept, we are dealing with a somewhat advanced, applied geometry.
At the workshop in Romania the Swedish team demonstrated how to make corner-joints in round logs. There was a great interest among the craftsmen for this and the understanding of the problems was almost immediate. The elder Polish craftsman, Kazimierz Lacek, said that this was what he will remember at first, because he had wondered for many years how this was done. And the Romanian craftsman and entrepreneur, Vasile Pop, immediately commented: “There are not many craftsmen in Romania that could do this. But on the other hand, this is so complicated that we can do ten of our joints while you do one of these.” The very experienced Romanian restoration architect, Niels Auner, that has done a lot of models of joints in wooden constructions also realised the problems and used the words “the beauty of this construction”.
At the Lithuanian workshop we participated in the restoration of a dwelling house and a granary (se article by Dale Puodziukiene). The dwelling house is a log-house construction and was built about 1880 as many of the other buildings in the village of Kleboniskis. At this time free farmers erected the buildings in the village. Before 1861 the village belonged to the church. This building was dismantled and moved from a place nearby to the wonderful, little valley of Daugyvene´s River, were the Daugyvene´s cultural historical museum-reservation was placed. It is a building like the other dwelling houses in the village; a big living room with the stove and a big guestroom in the other end. In the middle there is a big hallway and in the corner of this pace there is a cooking and storage room.
When the teams of craftsmen and architects together examined the traces of the historical work in the logs and the other construction materials there were some interesting notifications. Some of them were maybe more ordinary but one thing was completely new for everybody. At first we can state that the logs in the wall constructions was spruce of poor quality. Poor quality is always a difficult judgement, one have to consider local conditions, judgements and conceptions. But together with the Lithuanian craftsmen there was an agreement that this wood did not represent a good quality by any means.
The second thing was the very thin “lines” across many of the logs. It was weak but fully readable traces of a knife, or perhaps an axe, which went all around the log at distances of 50-70 centimetres. Nothing of these two first notifications is sensational. It is known that bark was used for different purposes. And if you want it for a special use you can chose the size of the bark-sheets by cutting around the stem at suitable distances. Dale Puodziukiene, the workshop manager and architect from Lithuania, remembered that she had read about the use of bark for fire-protection in some case. If one does not need the bark for anything special, or at least any bark-sheets, one can take away the bark the usual way and there will be no traces of this kind. Poor quality of wood we could meet anywhere, but there use to be a reason.
The most interesting thing we noticed was about the logs in the wall construction. All the logs were hewn, both on the inside and the outside. But they were not hewn so the logs had the same width all the way. One end was thicker than the other, a difference of about ˝ - 1 inch. This is not very much over a length of about six meters, but fully possible to observe in the walls. After this discovery we could see that many of the other houses were constructed in the same way. There is no explanation for this due to the construction method; it is as hard or as easy to make a wall of these logs as it is with logs of the same width. But there is a difference in the esthetical effect of the wall. With the same width in both ends of the logs it is easy to achieve a plane wall, in the other case it is impossible. When the widths differs in this way there will be a pretty big difference in each corner of the wall in the thickness between each “layer” of logs. If we compare to a “normal” hewn and plane log-wall the difference is substantial, but on the other hand, if we compare with a not hewn wall of round logs there is no difference.
Even more strange is that the bottom logs, the sills, were not hewn but instead manufactured by saw. It was not possible to judge that if it was done by a sawmill or with a crane saw. It is not remarkable with sawn logs among hewn logs in a construction. Usually they belong to different periods and are the result of reparations. But the Lithuanian participants did not find it very strange that the sill was sawn. They argued that these logs were not from reparation; it belonged to the original construction. Sawn logs were expensive and maybe could the owner not afford any more sawn logs and instead he had to use hewn logs for the rest of the walls. And that is very plausible. The sawn logs were prepared in the same way as the other logs, in terms of the difference in width between the both ends of the logs. No one of the participants had ever seen this before.
One can think about the reasons for this difference. This was nothing that occurred by chance; it was done by purpose and must belong to some sort of system. We have already been into technical, constructional or esthetical arguments. If we instead look at the preparation of the raw material, the trunks, to the hewn logs ready to fit in the wall construction, there may be an answer. At least if we look at the sawn logs. All trees are broader at the root than at the top. Conifer trees are very straight and the stems are evenly getting more and more narrow at the top. Therefore they are more suitable to process to construction material, especially when long parts are needed, than for example the oak tree.
If one use this very odd method to saw the trunks that was used in the houses in Kleboniskis village, the natural form of the tree with a broad and a narrow end is kept. The boards one get from the sides of the trunk after sawing in this way has almost the same width. If it is sawn the other, more “normal” way, we get the opposite result. The logs will have the same width, but the boards will differ a lot in width in both ends. Many times the difference is so big, with one very broad end and almost nothing in the other, so it is not even a useful board. It is possible that this is what was wanted; the sides of the trunks that were taken off by saw, should be easy to use as boards in a roof construction for example.
But what about the hewn logs? If one had tried to get boards from the sides of the trunks by cracking with wedge and axe the result would have been the same. By cracking the crack will follow the fibre of the wood that follows the shape of the stem and the result would be a log with difference in width, but boards of almost the same width. We could not state that one had taken boards of the hewn logs. There were not enough evident traces of the cracking method. Then there is maybe only one alternative left: laziness – or effectiveness? To hew a trunk to a log with the same width is a little bit harder than if one just follow the form of the stem all the way.
What kind of knowledge, understandings and possibilities could the combination of new sources and a new perspective (the practical historic work) give? One result is already implied: studies of materials, techniques and working processes are investigations of the direct historical materials as “carriers of meanings”. No matter if the purpose is building conservation or to clarify a historical condition or a historic event the sources of information must be analysed for what they are. Not giving interest to the aspects that belongs to the origin and the use of the historical materials is obviously a limitation of the investigation. One result could therefore be more ensure historical conclusions and maybe also other conclusions of historical conditions and transformation processes. In this way building conservation would not only be an objective in itself, but means that can contribute to the interpretation of history. We may also expect historical disciplines and the cultural heritage sector to reach out and engage more people. How things are made and the use of them is a direct road into the questions of the cultural heritage for many people that do not have scientific knowledge as an accessible entrance.
To a large extent this is about the legitimacy of the cultural heritage sector. The values of the cultural heritage must be related to the historical materials, the objects and the buildings, that should be preserved and restored, and not only to the category in general, the “evolution” of a style or just the idea about a type of building. But also because the objects and the buildings can tell us about everyday life, local conditions and social categories where other historical sources are not very rich. We must of course bear in mind the difference between social categories and institutions that use the written language as memory and those whose memories are almost only manifested by artefacts and oral and manual traditions.
Previously we touched the question about the legitimacy of the cultural heritage sector. In our opinion this is basically about democracy. If we want the cultural heritage to be a living and essential force in society, if the cultural heritage shall be able to be a resource for the many people, the citizens must be invited to influence and interpret the cultural heritage. This is a big challenge. If the cultural heritage should play an important role in society we think that we can not delegate to one profession – the officers of cultural heritage departments – to judge about this by their own. There are many questions connected to this. What kind of phenomenon should be a part of the cultural heritage? And, last but not least, who is going to make the choice and who will be given the mandate to add meanings to the cultural heritage, to tell the stories?
In times like these one can argue that nations have not the same valid as before. There is competition from both the big European region, but also the regional and local. New entities are valid beside the nation and they are not necessary bound to the borders of a nation or even a territory. As an alternative to national and territory identities there are good reasons for using other categories, such as social, gender or professional.
The village Gallejaur was established as a new settlement during the first years of the 19th century in the wide forestlands in the very north of Sweden. In one of the farmsteads an octagonal threshing barn was built in 1892. Those octagonal threshing barns are very characteristic for this area during the 19th century. A specialist that was not from the village constructed the building and it was a masterpiece in terms of craftsmanship. The roof was covered with wooden shingles. Under the shingles there are boards that are cracked – divided only by the use of an axe and wedges – and then just slightly worked up afterwards with an axe to boards of the same thickness. The area of the roof is about 150 m2.
Most people today associate construction wood as wood prepared by a sawmill. The imagination of construction wood assumes that the tree trunks are divided into useful pieces by a sawmill. This is so evident that very few are reflecting over the alternative, but how was the construction wood produced before we had the sawmills?
The sawmills close the watercourses are very rare in the north of Sweden before the 17th century. During the 19th century they became frequent and many new wood processing machines were introduced. In the medieval churches in Sweden with original roof constructions there are boards produced in the same way as in the threshing barn in Gallejaur. We sometimes also find it in the elder log-houses. We don’t know when this manufacturing method ended, but in the first decades of the 19th century this method must have been limited to a few places where a sawmill or a crane-saw was not accessible. During the second half of the 19th century this “cracking method” should only have been used at few occasions when the building site was very isolated. Most likely we can presume that this roof from 1892 is one of the last ones in Sweden that is constructed of boards not manufactured by saw. The roof of the threshing barn should accordingly give us the end of one of the ways that was used to benefit and work up the resource that the trunks of the forests provided.
In any case we can state the fact that when the people in the farmstead needed a new threshing barn 1892 one could have chosen to produce the boards with a crane saw (that was available in the village) or to transport the trunks to the sawmill in the “neighbour”-village some 10 km away. But they choose to use the method they had used many times before. What seems remarkable for us was maybe hard work for them, probably rational and fairly ordinary. If the octagonal treshing barn in Gallejaur possibly represents the end of a manufacturing and constructing method we can put the question: where do we find the beginning?
In Zwenkau outside Leipzig in Germany the remains of a well is found. The wooden walls in the well are of oak and are dated to 5084 BC. In other words the construction is more than 7 000 years old. All the wood from the remaining parts is from the same tree – an oak tree that has been cut into the lengths of 1,5 to 2 meters and then cracked into planks. The planks are jointed together in a familiar log-house technique. Many of the planks in the well are so well preserved that it is possible to see the traces of the tools. The traces show that these farmers with stone-axes could cut down and then crosscut oak wood of big dimensions. They could crack the wood to planks to fit in a construction. The rough surface of the planks they could make even by using the stone-axe. The ends they could cut off straight and they were able to make holes, wooden nails and notches; that is all the moments that belongs to the craft of a log-house constructor from the trunk to the manufactured wood put together in a construction.
At this well we can get a hunch of the beginning of something were the boards in the roof of the threshing barn are in the ending. 7 000 years divide these farmers, but as far as to craftsman technique the main difference is that axes of stone has been changed to axes of iron. Almost as long as we possible can imagine people obviously have had both knowledge and means to process the recourses that the forests provide.
The traditional knowledge about style or different categories and types of farmhouses does not help us to identify the small traces of the manufacturing process of the boards in the threshing barn in Gallejaur. The very well constructed, octagonal building maybe becomes a little more remarkable by these traces of this ancient manufacturing process. But, the category Threshing barns, the special Type or this characteristic building, this “label”, of this region is by no means influenced by this little observation. About the Gallejaur village though, and about the inhabitants that lived their lives there, it must be possible to tell an interesting history. One identified detail, described and explained, can give a broader context. The end of the development of making settlements out of forests, without any other means than the knowledge and the tools one could self produce and carry about, is as interesting as the beginning.
From the examples of interpretation of historical work mentioned in this article we can see that this perspective, many times focused on very small details, can lead in different directions. There are several questions and in the examples not many answers are given, but put together with and compared to other historical sources we may have some answers in the indicated directions. In the examples given we have discussed local resources mostly in terms of knowledge and the asset to natural resources – here of course particularly wood and forests. The labour, the historical work in our case, is a necessity between those natural and human resources.
In Lithuania we saw the traces on the logs that showed that one had used the bark of the tree for something. We don’t know exactly for what, but some questions to elder people in the region will give the answer for certain. We have also a question about the manufacturing process. Did one use the material from the sides of the trunks for anything? At the workshop in Lithuania we looked at pictures taken in the village around 1930. At this time there were no forests in the area, almost not a tree. The buildings were made of spruce of poor quality and we can always put the question about where did one get the materials for building houses. For the dwelling houses in the village there is at least 100 trees needed. Why the poor quality? Were they from the small forests that belonged to the village, was there enough for every villager after 1861 or did they have to organise this in a special way? Or did the villagers have to by the trees, or trade (with what?), to get it, and one could not afford a better quality? Or was this the only available quality in the region – why?
In Rumania we worked together at a beautiful little church with paintings inside. But after examining the craftsmen work in the construction, we could state that this was not, compared to the many other churches we saw, very well executed. Actually it was pretty bad in some parts. Why? Why here in Baica, in this village? Is it chance or is there any explanation connected to the history of this village, the neighbour villages or the region? If we will have some answers we may have a monument over a significant local context and history. Anyhow it is a very good decision by the authorities to spend money on restoration of this very small and humble church in Transylvania.
In the village of the very north of Sweden there also were some interesting questions about local conditions and choices made according to abilities and factual possibilities. And here we could also at least imply, that if we choose the historical work in wooden constructions as a perspective, we could “cross borders” and find interesting connections that goes way back in time.
The knowledge about historical work may have other borders than regions and nations. For example during these first two workshops we have observed that there is knowledge associated with the different varieties of trees. Discussions about the pine tree or the characteristics of the spruce among craftsmen ended up in an exchange of experiences that were very much of the same kind.
The perspectives we have tried to argue for in this article are not very peculiar ideas. One can think in this way about most objects or buildings. There will be a direct connection to the physical materials, to small traces, details or strange measurements. We have had questions directly from the buildings and they could be put into a larger context. If we get answers we can bring them back to the building and find a history that will be concrete and tangible in our cultural heritage. And the meaning of those traces we can all experience and question with all our senses since they are a physical reality.
The past is the professional field of the cultural heritage sector and present time is the perspective. An essential task is to interpret the past, to contribute to people’s own interpretation and supply a matter for many kinds of history to be told. This involves a lot of undertakings. Everything from the technical preservation of the materials, to the aspects of criticism about how the history will be told and further the social issues about whose history is going to be presented and what is possible to be told. Taken together this task is unique for the cultural heritage sector.
* Göran Andersson este conservator şi coordonator de proiecte la Timmerdraget –
centrul pentru construcţii tradiţionale al Muzeului Regional Jämtland dinSuedia.
** Peter Sjömar este director al departamentului de cercetare al Universităţii de meserii tradiţionale Dacapo din Mariestad, Suedia.
* Göran Andersson, conservation officer and project manager for Timmerdraget – centre for traditional log-house constructions at the County museum of Jämtland, Sweden. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
** Peter Sjömar, techn, dr. and research director at the Dacapo Vocational School of Crafts in Mariestad, Sweden. E-mail: email@example.com