Gunnel Hazelius-Berg was a costume and textile historian who worked at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm.
Gunnel Hazelius-Berg was the daughter of Gunnar Hazelius and his wife Gina. Her paternal grandfather was Artur Hazelius, the founder of the Nordic Museum and of Skansen. Her father died before Gunnel was born, leaving her mother a widow aged only 24. Mother and daughter went to live with the maternal grandparents at Wallingatan 14-16 in Stockholm. Gunnel Hazelius-Berg grew up in that house.
Gunnel Hazelius-Berg attended a girls’ school and gained top merits in modern languages. These skills were later polished when she spent time living abroad. She gained a certain sense of social confidence from her upbringing, which made it easy for her to socialise with people from varying social backgrounds. Gunnel Hazelius-Berg never trained for a particular career. It was expected that she would work at the Nordic Museum until she got married. Gunnel Hazelius-Berg had a proclivity for organising and analysing things, which would have made her well-suited to continued academic studies, but this was not to be. She put her theoretical and practical talents to good use in her role as procurer of all fabrics required for the culturally historical buildings in Skansen and for Svindersvik, the family summer house in Nacka. In 1929 she married Göst Berg, a doctor of philosophy, and they had two children together.
At a young age Gunnel Hazelius-Berg had worked for Anna and Lovisa (generally known as “Visen”) Lewin, two sisters who had been administrative assistants. Anna Lewin was responsible for the textiles and costumes of the higher social orders. The time Gunnel Hazelius-Berg had spent working with Anna Lewin probably gave rise to her interest and knowledge in that sphere. Anna Lewin was also the registrar of all the objects in the museum and Gunnel Hazelius-Berg became responsible for cataloguing and registering all new donations.
Gunnel Hazelius-Berg was a good public speaker as well as a prolific writer. She had generated a large collection of extracts, noted on paper in the format typical for the museum, namely ¼ folio. Her writings always contain a lot of source material gained from diaries, estate inventories, museum collections, and from scientific literature. She often selected subjects which had not been written about before and her writings therefore take the form of the first research into the relevant subjects. She only published one book on her own, namely Gardiner och gardinuppsättningar (“Curtains and Curtain Arrangement”), which was released in conjunction with a major exhibition on curtains at the Nordic Museum in 1962. The book situated curtains within a cultural context and its author expanded on the nature of windows, how the curtains were hung and how they influenced the rooms they were in. Gunnel Hazelius-Berg also published many essays which were based on items in the Nordic Museum. These included jewels, hair accessories, clothing and furnishings, both from higher social ranks and from the common social orders, from the sixteenth through to the twentieth century.
Gunnel Hazelius-Berg, along with her daughter-in-law Inga Arnö-Berg, co-authored a book on traditional costumes entitled Folkdräkter och bygdedräkter från hela Sverige, 1975. It was released at a time when traditional costumes were very popular. The book has colour images throughout, which was unusual at that time. It was a best-seller for many years, and reprinted in several editions, and was also translated into English. In her later years Gunnel Hazelius-Berg collected material for a more thorough study of the costumes of Leksand in all its variations, but the study was never completed.
When the Nordic Museum was organising its large costume gallery in the early 1930s Gunnel Hazelius-Berg moved on from recording the museum holdings to working with the costumes. This was the first time that a selection of the impressive museum collection of costumes was going to be displayed all at once. They were exhibited in dampened lighting so as to protect the items from bleaching and were placed in showcases behind large glass screens. Each costume model was made individually to suit each costume. The shoes, collars, ties and jewels were selected in order to fit with the period, social status and setting. The colour of the showcase walls, along with the chosen portraits and solitary items of furniture, provided a contemporary feel to each showcase. This was all the work of Gunnel Hazelius-Berg.
One of the temporary displays that Gunnel Hazelius-Berg was largely responsible for included “Vi stockholmare”, a major effort, particularly with respect to the costumes. This was arranged in order to celebrate Stockholm’s 700-year anniversary in the summer of 1953. The exhibition comprised Stockholm citizens strolling along a street over a 200-year period where the street changed according to the passage of time. Axel von Fersen, J.O. Wallin and Anders Zorn could be found ambling along the street amongst anonymous men, women and children representing various time periods and social classes.
In 1955 a new major display opened which was initially called “Mat och dryck” (“Food and Drink”), but later came to be known as “Dukade bord” (“Set Table”). This exhibition was considered to be epoch-making. Gunnel Hazelius-Berg had collaborated on it with her husband Gösta. His knowledge of food and her expertise in the museum’s holdings and practical approach proved a successful combination. The displays of tables laden with artificial food along the inner wall of the gallery was complemented by all the table accessories and other tools from the corresponding era along the windowed wall of the gallery.
The last exhibition which Gunnel Hazelius-Berg organised at the Nordic Museum was “Gardiner” (“Curtains”) in 1962. It was a beautiful production with its suggested interiors including windows in various sizes and styles and curtains from the museum’s collection which dated from the eighteenth century through to the Art Nouveau period. Items were borrowed from the royal household collection and small number of reconstructions were made. When Gunnel Hazelius-Berg’s husband became the museum director in 1955 it was considered inappropriate that his wife was an employee there. Despite this, Gunnel Hazelius-Berg still managed the textile conservation and the cloth holdings for Skansen for several years. At the time the Berg family lived at Sagaliden at Skansen, where Gunnel Hazelius-Berg managed the formal representation of the museum.
However, new tasks were around the corner. Gunnel Hazelius-Berg became the chair of the Nya Idun society from 1962 to 1969. She was also involved in setting up the Swedish section of the Soroptimist International association, which was an organisation for prominent career women. She very quickly became its European president and from 1969 to 1971 she served as its international president. This entailed a lot of travelling and attending conferences globally. Her language skills, talent for public speaking, organisational skills and ability to take initiative all served her well. From 1972 to 1978 she was the chair of Svenska Hemslöjdsföreningarnas Riksförbund (“the National Association of Swedish Handicraft Societies”).
Gunnel Hazelius-Berg died in Stockholm in 1997.