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        The Trygg Family
  Roger Schroeder ... Jan/Feb 2003  
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The Tryggs often carved hoboes. This 16-in.-tall figure was carved by Carl Johan Trygg.
Editor's World ~ January 2003

The Trygg Family: prolific carvers who spanned two continents.

      Several remarkable facts emerge about the Trygg family. First, this family of father and three sons produced a great many carvings without the aid of apprentice or machine. Second, they sold their work in several European countries and in North America. And third, a single Trygg caricature will go for as much as $400 at an online auction site, making a simple wooden figure about as precious as gold.

      The story of the Trygg family began in Sweden. Carl Johan Trygg, one of nine children, was born in 1887 to Staff Sergeant Carl Oskar Thrygg in Sweden. Why the consonant loss occurred is a mystery, but interviews reveal that Carl Johan, with little education, left home at the age of 12 to earn money to help his poor family. He found employment in a company that made clocks and later worked for a shoemaker. He also took a job at a laundry and earned an income at a logging mill. In his spare time he carved rough-hewn figures of people he knew from his background: farmers, laborers, preachers, policemen and seamen.

      By the time Carl Johan was 18 years old, he attended what was called a practical school, where he did his best to learn about a variety of subjects. He soon realized that his earnings would have to come from the skill in his hands. What he worked at after he left school is unclear, but he married Maria Axelina Andersson in 1909. A year later she gave birth to Carl Olof.

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A hobo by Carl Olof Trygg.
      By 1915, Carl Johan, at the age of 28, had his own woodcarving show in Stockholm, Sweden. He was apparently able to devote himself fulltime to his carving. Ten years later, he traveled to Holland and Germany, ostensibly to expand his market.

      During the years 1927 and 1928, Carl Johan was still living in Sweden. But before the close of the decade, he made a move that has left a very indelible mark on carving collectors and students of Scandinavian flat-plane style woodcarving. The Trygg family, that now included sons Nils and Lars in addition to Carl Olof, were writing Montreal, Canada as their postal address.

      In 1929, Carl Johan hosted an exhibit of his carvings in Montreal. The move to Canada must have been lucrative, for one account notes that while in Sweden he was content with only a few crowns梐 small sum梖or a carving; but Canadians and American tourists were paying at least $10 for a figure, a considerable amount of money given the economic climate of the times.

      The Canadian social milieu obviously suited the Tryggs because the father and three sons actively carved while there. However, both Carl Johan and Carl Olof eventually returned to Sweden, where they continued their careers. The father died there in 1954 and the oldest son, based on the dates he placed underneath his carvings, was producing figures well into the 1970s. The fate of Lars and Nils is unknown, although their carvings still show up in Scandinavian gift shops.

      Carvings with the names of all four Tryggs are seemingly ubiquitous. The father claims to have carved no fewer than 10,000 figures! It抯 little wonder that these caricatures are found in almost every state as well as all the provinces of Canada. Check out enough antique and flea markets, second-hand shops and yard sales, and you are bound to find a Trygg carving.

      Best regards,   Roger Schroeder, Editor - Wood Carving Illustrated ~ Fox Chapel Publishing Co. Inc. ~ Copyright 2002 All Rights Reserved

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A well-carved facial expression on this hobo carved by Carl Olof Trygg is open to many possible interpretations.
Editor's World - February 2003

Collecting Trygg Carvings

      In my January column, I introduced the Tryggs, a father named Carl Johan and three sons桟arl Olof, Nils and Lars梬ho were such prolific carvers that the number of figures they turned out is well over 10,000.

      I grant you that I am impressed with numbers, especially ones this big that relate to woodcarving. As someone who recently started dabbling in knife work梩he Tryggs were predominantly knife carvers, I know the effort it takes to get details out of a block of wood. An awful lot of chips, many of them hard-earned, must have fallen to have produced so many figures with distinct facial features, a variety of poses, and clothing details that are downright artistic.

      For the most part, the Tryggs sold to shops in Europe and Canada that catered to tourists. The carvings were popular, and they probably moved fairly quickly. I imagine, then, that these creative men worked on figures nearly every day, with perhaps a break on Sundays for religious observance or family interaction. I have not a doubt that they were dedicated woodcarvers; but a very important question arises that seems to transcend the issues of money and productivity: What makes Trygg carvings still collectible today to the point where you come across price tags as high as $400 for a single piece?

      After lining up the 14 Trygg carvings I have collected, and looking at photos of two dozen more provided by other collectors, I ask myself the $400 question repeatedly. I pay particular attention to the hoboes and stare a long time at a cowboy that was probably done by the father. I pick up a monk signed by Carl Olof Trygg and let it sit on my desk for hours. It takes a while before I understand just what the attraction is.

      Let me share the multi-layered stories that resonate in my head when I spend time with these figures. One of my favorites is a hobo that has appeared in WCI as a pattern profile (see Issue no. 9)[1] and as both an advertising and rating icon. The shirt is torn, a shoe is coming apart to expose bare toes, colorful patches adorn the knees, and a bindle is over one shoulder. Carl Olof carved him in 1975 after he had returned to Sweden from a long stay in Canada. Whether the figure is based on a hobo Carol Olof had met or is a composite character is beside the point. He抯 the representation of a man who, while obviously down on his luck, is not to be pitied. Something about the face suggests a wry dignity that shines through despite the poverty. I抦 over sentimentalizing. It may be that he catches a whiff of a meal as he passes an open window. Or perhaps this pudgy bum is wary of a police officer nearby.

      When I take a closer look at the 5 1/4-in.-tall cowboy, I see a city slicker. I think, with some irony, that he probably pre-dates Billy Crystal抯 eponymous movies by decades. The face looks to be as out of place with the chaps, bandana, gun belt and hat as an elephant in my bathroom. Or, he really is a cowpoke who hears a good joke but does not want to reveal much more emotion than a face-wide grin.

      Maybe the portly monk shows displeasure that another of his order has interrupted his reading. Perhaps the cabbage he had for supper is causing a gastric upset. Another possibility comes to mind: He smells a bad odor coming from the catacombs.

      I believe that the secret behind my love affair for Trygg carvings is stories. Sit back with a Trygg figure, close your eyes, and you are riding the rails with the homeless of the Great Depression. Take a deep breath and there you are downing a mug of brew in a beer garden in Germany. Turn on some quiet background music and you are transported to the home of rural folk who tend a farm in Scandinavia. With well placed and executed knife cuts, the Tryggs performed a sleight of hand that made a piece of wood so much greater than what was left after the chips stopped falling.

      If online auction sites prove daunting to use and frustrating when countering other bids, keep your eyes open for Trygg carvings at antique shows, flea markets, even gift shops. Purchase one, if the price is right. And on some evening with nothing worth viewing on television, sit down with the figure, take a good look, and let your imagination do the rest.

      Best regards,   Roger Schroeder, Editor - Wood Carving Illustrated ~ Fox Chapel Publishing Co. Inc. ~ Copyright 2002 All Rights Reserved
      [1] Tips- Carving in the Round Pattern Profile: Hobo - "A Trygg carving is a classic" Wood Carving Illustrated magazine - Issue #9 - Holiday 1999
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