Mangle boards epitomize artistic function

“Mangle Boards of Northern Europe,” by Jay Raymond, is an awe-inspiring, in-depth investigation of a heretofore little-known household implement, is a must-have for any Northern European historian, art historian, folk art enthusiast, traditional woodcarver or armchair anthropologist, among others. It is an invaluable representation of, as Raymond succinctly states, “the life of mostly common people, whose lives are not in history books and are lost to us except in this way.”

For those unfamiliar, mangle boards are long, flat wooden tools used (together with a dowel or rolling pin) for smoothing linens from the 16th century through the early 20th century. These hand-made implements vary in design and construction from very simple and plain, “with the look of worn driftwood,” as Raymond says, to masterfully carved and elaborately designed works of art. The variance of design and detail comes from the fact that mangle boards were made by home craftsmen and by master woodcarvers. Raymond explains, “In every board, those hands worked to express a part of themselves and their experience of life.” Each board, regardless of its own aesthetic prowess, is explored with an attention to detail.

Raymond has examined private and museum collections from all over Northern Europe and included 267 of the finest and most representative examples in this book. Each mangle board, in addition to being clearly photographed, thereby illustrating the finest details, includes an aesthetic analysis and detailed description including design, condition, and size (plus date and origin, when known).

Organized by country (which includes Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Norway and Germany), each section contains in-depth research including mangle board population estimations (thereby establishing a sense of rarity), general artistic influences, and relevant history. These history lessons provide a context in which the boards were created and used. Each chapter also includes breakout lists of the characteristics and design traditions common to that country’s mangle boards.

Published with nearly 300 pages and an oversized 12-inch by 15-inch format (and weighing in at 8 pounds), “Mangle Boards of Northern Europe” is no lightweight in either size or content. Although lavishly illustrated, it is no vanity picture book; it is an authoritative composition of substance and significance created by combining the author’s own analysis and observations with previous mangle board research.