The Secret Decoder Ring
What a delight to learn that random carvings on a piece of folk were an insight into the artist’s background.
We purchased this hand-carved mirror at a farm auction in South Dakota in the late 1970s. According to the auctioneer, it had been made by the original homesteader in the late 1880’s as a housewarming gift for his new bride.
At the time, we knew the figure framed in red was an ancient Sanskrit symbol that was viewed as a symbol of good luck. The fact that Hitler had misappropriated it for his own use undoubtedly explained why we were one of a handful of bidders on this one-of-a-kind piece.
A few months ago, I posted the mirror on Instagram and wrote a short blurb commenting specifically on the swastika figures. A fellow poster contacted me with information about the other symbols on the mirror. It turns out they are an artful appropriation of “Nordic runes”, a pictographic system of writing that was developed by the Norse and German people beginning around 150 AD. She taught a crafts class for the “Sons of Norway” summer camps in the same area of South Dakota where she instructed young campers on how to write their names with runes.
After studying the mirror, she informed me that three of the symbols she circled were simply fanciful creations on the part of the artist. However, she was pleased to report the other shapes definitely are Norse and Etruscan runes!
According to my online acquaintance, they aren’t the equivalent of words; rather they are the traditional symbols for good luck, prosperity and creativity. Since we know that many of the homesteaders in that area in the late 19th century were of Norwegian extraction, it’s safe to assume that her interpretation of the symbols is correct.
What a treat to learn that we are the caretakers of a gift symbolizing the artist’s wishes for his bride’s long and happy life. I still don’t know who the artist was but thanks to his inspired work, we have tangible proof that love and art are intertwined.