Straw Mobiles! This page will introduce a variety of hand made straw mobiles that are quite magnificent pieces of straw art in themselves. The Straw Shop acknowledges and admires the artists’ skills and countless hours each hand made straw mobile creation requires.
This article begins in a class taught in southern California, in which the guest instructor called straw mobiles Puzuris. Having never seen straw mobiles before, we Californians interested in straw began calling every straw mobile we saw Puzuris. A few years later, in 2003, some of the same classmates attended an international straw arts festival held in Minsk, Belarus. At that festival, before seeing the Exhibition Room, filled with countless arrays of absolutely magnificent treasures made of straw, we were greeted by the sight of an enormous straw mobile hanging from a second story ceiling seen from the building’s entry. It was breathtakingly beautiful, unbelievably complex, and invoked awe as this huge creation silently spun! It made quite the impression as an astonishing straw art piece. Curious to learn more about Puzuris, we were informed the mobile had a different name in Belarus, translated to “Spiders”. Since then, due to that mobile experience,The Straw Shop has referred to straw mobiles as Spiders. More than a decade later The Straw Shop met an artist named Eija Koski from Finland.Through that meeting The Straw Shop learned of yet a third name for them called Himmeli. Apparently several names exist for straw mobiles! Why was this? Our research and collection began.
Mobiles made of straw are found in Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Russia. Due to the varied locations names beyond Puzuris, Spider and Himmelli emerged: Sodas, Oro, Pajak, Pavuks, Halmkrona, Pulmakroon, and Himmel. All these names describe amazingly intricate straw mobiles.The list of names is likely incomplete and may be inaccurate. Due to the complexity of this subject, this article is merely introducing straw mobiles as another straw art form. The Straw Shop encourages actual historical documentation, for each mobile style type, be shared in several languages, if for no other reason than to record this unique work.
As mentioned many cultures and countries make them in one form or another and have for generations and in some countries the tradition may have ended. From our research, no one country can really claim origin to these mobiles of straw as their stories have yet to be discovered and documented, if that is possible today. The area making straw mobiles covers a lot of territory. A map has been included to better see where straw mobiles are/were found: Belarus, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, Estonia, Norway, Poland, Ukraine, Russia and possibly others.
According to a speaker of the subject heard at an international straw festival held in Vilnius, Lithuania in 2019, the origin of straw mobiles is thought to be Northern Africa. Wherever they truly originated, a look at a map of today’s Europe may indicate the straw mobiles movement from the continent northward eventually making its way to Norway, Sweden and Finland. During this design migration, if it did migrate northward from the African Continent, cultural differences began to appear in the mobiles as well. With no substantive documentation located thus far, it is impossible to know how old are they or where they actually began at this time.There is so much to learn.
From several accounts the mobiles are part of weddings, christenings, Christmas traditions, Easter traditions, New Year’s celebrations, Winter Solstice and other celebrations in life, depending on the culture making them.The mobiles were often temporary fixtures and routinely destroyed. In recent years they have become quite a popular home decor where they are perpetually on display. Some are geometric, some not so geometric but all astounding in their own way.
Hollow stemmed plants such as rye, wheat, barley, (reeds in Estonia) are used for these straw mobiles. Which plant used is dependent upon what is available. Rye straw, known for it’s stalk strength comparatively, is the most common straw used in the examples shown here as it is found throughout the regions. From the multiple name experience,The Straw Shop set out to gather names, definitions and cultural explanations for each country found. One explanation for their meanings was found in an article, entitled “Latvian Straw Gardens” article which suggests the meaning behind some of the Baltic countries mobiles in the countries of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania collectively are:
“The meaning and significance of the straw garden in Baltic mythology and religion:
Baltic old worldview, according to Philip Vilkinsono ( Philip Wilkinson ) can briefly be described as a three-tier structure:
- God of Heaven, Thunder (Heaven – top)
- Man (Earth – Center)
- Spirit of Evil, Devil (Dungeon – Bottom)
In Baltic culture, the garden has a very important and respectful place, its structure and symbols directly reflect the old Baltic religious worldview. The Sky-Earth-Underground model creates a garden. Usually it is two pyramids connected by bases, one spire of the pyramid is directed upwards (heaven), the other downwards (underground), a human figurine is “planted” in the center of the pyramids (on the ground). ”
It should be noted, this is a rather generalized statement that may or not apply to the countries the author refers to. This “Baltic old worldview “explanation also surfaced while at the international straw conference in Vilnius in 2019. As this is the only written reference discovered to date that describes each component’s relevance, it may be today’s new view of them has been “modernized” based on the descriptions found while investigating each country’s mobiles today. Moving through the region, and in no particular order, here are the straw mobile countries discovered:
In LITHUANIA straw mobiles are called Siaudinis Sodas or Straw Garden when translated, shortened to “Sodas” and “Gardens”. According to one straw master’s definition, “Sodas, the Garden, represents the Universe and Order. As it is geometrically orderly it attempts to mirror the perfection of all creation. Different forms, different sizes, but all with the same underlying idea-numerous small parts joined harmoniously create the whole. From raw chaotic materials through meditative work order is born.”
From Lithuania’s Wikipedia, source considered, Soda’s are defined as:
“The garden is an ornament tied with straw strung on a thread and hung above the wedding table. When they returned from the banquet, the wedding guests found a table obsessed with disguises, so the cousins had to “buy out” the seats. The garden, as well as the seats at the table, were bought with songs, candy and vodka. The custom was widespread throughout Lithuania, but lasted the longest in Aukštaitija (until the beginning of the 20th century). Straw gardens are one of the most impressive types of Lithuanian customary decorative art, alive today. These are bulk articles of straw in a strictly geometric shape. Lithuania is dominated by gardens with a four-slope pyramid silhouette and a more complex structure derived from it. The most popular form of garden consists of an octahedron – a double pyramid of the same rectangular base, the tops of which face symmetrically in opposite directions – up and down. The simplest garden consists of two pyramids with a common base. Smaller pendants of the same shape are attached to the four corners and the top of the lower pyramid. To make the jewelry spin, it was hung on a waxed thread or horsehair. There were other forms of gardens: rolls, cubes, balls, but they are less common. Inside the garden they could place jewelry (a doll, an apple, a bird, etc.). Sometimes the garden was tied with a Christmas tree or juniper. Ethnographer Jonas Vaiškūnas believes that this custom is older. In various places in Lithuania, the garden is also called a liqueur, spider, and jaundice. The custom of decorating the premises with a garden was widespread in Latvia, Estonia, Germany, the Scandinavian, Slavic countries and elsewhere.“
Here are four examples from Lithuania, called Sodas:
Straw Mobile of another style with traditional Lithuanian birds, artist unknown.
The Straw Shop is very pleased to share the discovery of a Directory of some of today’s artists (2021) found on a website of straw mobile artists entitled “Lithuanian Straw Garden Binders” may be found here. Lots of information and talent shown by this group.
Another example shown is displaying storks, associated with Lithuania in this soda garden by artist Vida Sniečkuvienė:
From Lithuania we moved on to LATVIA. Finding the previously cited article, entitled “Latvian Straw Gardens”, written in 2014 by Etno Ideas we learn:
“In Latvian culture, the production of straw gardens, the most popular name of which is puzurs (lv. Puzurs ), also called by other names (lv. Ķists, saulīte, lampuri, krīģi, spurguļi ), has a long tradition. They were well-known decorative elements that are used to decorate the house for Christmas, autumn holidays Martin’s Day (lv. Mārtiņdiena), Mardi Gras, Easter and other important annual holidays and wedding gifts.”
Ruta Laizāne, former head of Culture Hall at Rēzekne, Latvia, speaks of the mobiles in a December 1, 2015 article entitled, “Straw mobiles – an Old Latvian Craft Being Revived”. Here is part of the interview:
“[…] The idea is that the puzuris sucks up all the negative energy when spinning,” said Laizāne.
Laizāne said that puzuri are hung above the table or in the corners of the room so that they bring holiness from their spinning.
She also said that in the evening the shadows of these miniature copies of the universe leave Latvian signs on the walls or the ceiling.
One puzuris – called a lantern by some – consists of 12 straws, just like there are 12 months in the year. “a puzurs starts with a single knot and ends with another, just like it is in life,” said Laizāne.”
The next example, a Puzuri, is from Latvia:
BELARUS and it’s Spider led us to a 2015 article entitled, “Christmas Spiders Made of Straw” appearing on Dudutiki dot BY revealing more about the Belarusian mobile:
Hanging straw constructions called spiders are the most mysterious articles made from straw which were made specially by the day of winter solstice. According to the ancient beliefs, the spider with its web symbolizes our Creator and his creation, i.e. the Universe. Our ancestors believed that creative spider energy would influence the future harvest. That is why it was always made from the best reaped cones. A pyramid form is the most spread spider form. People say that under the canopy of straw pyramids one can feel unimaginable pacification. Spiders in the form of a ball symbolized the sun and were decorated with straw, paper, seeds and feathers. Usually the spider was put in the most honorable place in the house, i.e. above the table in the icon’s corner. It was spinning under the influence of warm steam rising from pots with hot food. In such a way beautiful unusual shades resembling spider’s web were created on the walls of a house. People believed this web could gather all the negative energy in it. On the day of vernal equinox the spider that served all the winter was burnt.”
Although many mobiles are made completely of natural straw, POLAND created their own style of a straw mobile called a, ” pajqk” (or pajak), pronounced pah-yonk.(Plural: Pajaki). According to Making Mobiles author Karolina Merska, the Polish word, Pajak, literally translates to spider. Interestingly, a now forgotten Polish word for chandeliers hung in churches and palaces also translates to pajak. A spider chandelier combination perhaps? Nationally, the Polish Pajak differs from other mobiles in it’s use of added materials, primarily paper flowers, to the natural straw creating the colorful mobiles seen here:
SWEDEN may have two or more straw mobile traditions. One style described as Himmel (heaven/sky) and another called Halmkrona (Straw Crown).
A Straw Crown appears on Europeana dot EU that is part of the Helsingborg Museum Collection and is described as:
“Made by a woman living a short distance north of Torekov”, according to the accession catalog.
The straw was considered to have a supernatural power and straw crowns, like other straw handicrafts, are part of the traditional folk Christmas decorations. The straw crowns were placed in a place of honor in the ceiling and they were also called “concern” as they were kept in constant motion by the draft from the door and fireplace.
Straw crown. The straw was considered to have a supernatural power and straw crowns, like other straw handicrafts, are part of the traditional folk Christmas decorations.”
Also from Sweden is Dr. Maria Huhmarniemi an artist and teacher at the University of Lapland, Faculty of Art and Design who instructs: “The word himmeli has origins in the Swedish and German language: himmel means sky and heaven.” Dr. Maria Huhmarniemi, also makes himmel, also known in Sweden as Oro apparently, as seen in the following examples of her work:
Again from Sweden, we located a very different example incorporating dried mushrooms and paper. A Halmkrona perhaps?
Onto FINLAND we find an article, entitled “About Himmeli” presented by Aitonordic dot com in November 2014 offering this viewpoint:
“Long before Christmas tree as a symbol of Nordic Christmas traditions these delicate, geometric mobiles called Himmeli were a part of Christmas decorations in Finland. They were originally made of straws and used from Christmas to Midsummer. The fragile decoration ‘danced’ with the drafts over the kitchen table. There are many stories about the origin, but the designer of this modern version in plywood is fond of the one which tells how the ordinary people were able to experience the same ‘holy’ feeling they had had seeing chandeliers in churches.
As the tradition is really old, you have to keep in mind that at the time, chandeliers were something exclusively for the church or for the rich: ordinary people may have never had the opportunity to see one before the first chandelier seen in a church. You can imagine how amazed they must have been!
Some other stories talk about himmeli as a token to promote good harvest. Made of rye straws (as it is one of the most resistant of natural straws), the bigger and the more complex the ornament was, the better your crop would be. Yet another way to interpret these beautiful decorations is that originally the would have been created to keep away bad spirits.”
It is interesting the chandelier shape is once again referenced here.
Here is an example of a Finnish Himmeli:
From UKRAINE, we are instructed by Marichka’s Ukrainian art blog in an article dated March 16, 2005 entitled, “Ukrainian traditional straw decorations “Pavuk”-Spider” in which she states: “I want to share some pictures of my favourite “spiders” that I made specially for exhibition in the Ivan Honchar Museum of Ukrainian traditions in Kyiv.Spider is a geometric construction made of straw and threads. Ukrainians used to call it a spider as it used to be hang from the top of the ceiling in a corner called “pokuttya” (the corner decorated with icons, embroidered towels, angels) while real spiders prefer to live exactly in the corners. One of legends tells that the whole Universe was inweaved as the greatest masterpiece of a spider. These constructions are also called Universe. Ukrainians used to create them gathering all the family together and making element by element. The Spider`s mission was to absorb negative energy, to purify the ambience and to bring happiness to the house. Each year during celebration of winter holydays the old spider who absorbed negativity of the year was burned and a new one created.”
Three examples by Marichka for the Ivan Honchar Museum of Ukrainian exhibition are shown:
We further learn from a January 4, 2013 article, entitled, “Spiders and Straw” written by author, poet and educator Valya Dudycz Lupesca: “The Pavuk (“Spider”) would be hung in the home for the winter season. Some say the name comes from patterns like a spiderweb, others say the hanging mobiles themselves are like giant spiders. Spiders are cherished in Ukrainian culture as messengers, harbingers of good fortune”.
The next style is from NORWAY where the name for their mobile is called an Oro. Respected Swedish artist Katja Pettersson, while researching historical uses of straw mixed with other materials states: “Straw + hair a mobile called ORO (UNREST) the straw mobile was mounted with women’s hair over the babies beds so that it’s never resting movement would capture evil spirits.”
The Straw Shop was unable to find additional information through cultural straw traditions in Norway beyond this reference at this time. Perhaps the custom has since disappeared. Perhaps it is not Norwegian at all and the auction house origin attribution in error. The described Oro is another unique interpretation of a straw mobile. You may notice similarities in the Oro construction has been seen in some of the examples shown earlier:
From ESTONIA, we located a Pulmakroon, which translates to “wedding crown”. According to Lastega dot EE: “The Estonian meaning – the Christmas crown is a trap for bad souls.” Miksike dot com continues the explanation: “Christmas crown, wedding crown. Hanging decoration made of straw, reed or tubular pieces, decorated with pieces of paper or cloth cut into circles or stars, blown eggs, including feathers, beads or ribbons. In Western Estonia, crowns were made for Christmas, less often for weddings, usually in the form of octagons and matched shapes, which were hung on a dining table with string.” Other than as an energy cleansing trap, no other definition regarding the Estonian mobile has been found.
When the mobile names are translated some similarities exist. The word Spider is associated with Sky or Universe by 3 countries; Belarus, Poland and Ukraine. Sky is also referred to by Sweden and Finland. Heaven is associated by Finland (Himmeli) and Sweden (Himmel). Universe is a shared definition by Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine. An Energy Cleanser attribution appears in 4 countries: Estonia, Latvia, Norway, Sweden (Halmkrona) and Estonia (Pulmakroon). If Sky/Heaven/and Universe are combined as one description, 8 of the 9 countries would fall together, 4 of the 9 countries believe cleansing negative energy. It is also interesting to learn both Finland and Poland share the chandelier description. Sweden, Poland and Estonia, and perhaps Norway, feature paper additions. The interpretations of the mobiles make them difficult to define, due to their own cultural significance. Relying on the information found for this piece, straw mobiles appear to be accepted in several forms some being strictly geometric in construction appearing in a variety of geometric shapes, some shapes with purpose, some with additional materials.
The Straw Shop’s Artists Page includes some straw mobile artists from Ukraine, Sweden, Finland and Lithuania. Our list of artists will give the reader an opportunity to see versatile straw mobiles made by the artist’s own interpretation:
We met Ukraine artist Yannah More and wanted to share her work.
Exploring straw’s geometry in new ways is another featured artist Per-Åke Backman, a Swedish artist who blends tradition with innovative concepts of design and recycled materials.
On a miniature scale, featured Lithuanian straw artist, Rasa Družienė offers her interpretation of Sodas:
From Finland, featured artist Eija Koski makes Himmelis found throughout her home. Eija has also written books on the subject of Himmeli and exhibits her creations internationally:
The gallery, below, showcases several morel designs from Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus, Finland, Poland and Sweden. In many cases, as is common in straw work, the works shared are by masterful anonymous artists.
We hope the images offer inspiration for these beautiful expressions of straw art:
Now To further understand and learn some of the techniques used in making straw mobiles, from our Videos page, presented below are some helpful videos on this subject. We have learned over the years, it is not unusual to find a variety of straw arts taught to children, in countries such as Belarus Lithuania and Ukraine. Our first video is from an unknown origin:
The Straw Shop also offers the following link to a nine minute educational video making a Polish Pajak, step by step . Click on the title below:
Here is yet another video that shows another style:
From Latvia an instructional video of a Puzur:
From Estonia, we offer the following link:
Straw mobiles, like many other forms of straw art, are beginning to disappear in this age of electronic technology and cultural abandonment. A November 7, 2021 article, entitled, “Himmeli-European sacred geometry straw ornament” features Finnish Himmeli maker Heta Haavisto. Haavisto states,”The tradition used to be wide-spread in Northern, Eastern and Central Europe but today is only found in Finland and Lithuania as a living tradition.” Is this assertion accurate? It may or may not be a fully inclusive statement but in the twenty-first century, plastic straws, brass tubes or paper straws are commonly used and suggested by a few mobile makers, however these unnatural substitutions dramatically change the mobile’s outcome. Mobiles created using man made materials, may be quite beautiful, but change the weightless airiness movement quality, due to the weight added, while removing straw’s unique glow altogether from the mobile. From the initial introduction to Puzaris to this point of highlighting several countries, a commonality of reverence and faith associated with the straw mobiles is evident. It is the hope of The Straw Shop their straw mobiles stories are documented and shared if that is possible today. Accounts of their history seen thus far range from the mid to late 1800s into the 1950s depending on country.There is an interest in reviving these spectacular pieces of straw work as indicated by the workers today who have discovered them as adults. It is should be said, this article is obviously a starting point for information about the many styles and interpretations found in straw mobiles. So much remains to be learned.
In response to inquisitive artists who would like to make a straw mobile of their own,The Straw Shop, recognizing materials may not be locally available everywhere in the world, does carry the raw materials rye and wheat.
The subject of mobiles is a fascinating straw art form to have presented.The Straw Shop welcomes additional information and corrections should they be presented on the subject. The Straw Shop encourages additional natural straw mobile artists to contact us so we may share their outstanding works of art and their history with others so we may all learn more!
Copyright 2021: Jan Huss,The Straw Shop, and all the artists and their original works shown here. (Replaces original Himmeli article copyright 2013).