Handicraft and History on Park Avenue in Minneapolis

Abstract  The American Swedish Institute (ASI) is a historic house museum and cultural center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the former residence of a Swedish immigrant couple Swan and Christina Turnblad as well as their daughter Lillian.  The museum plays host to changing exhibitions, as well as a large range of programs for children and adults. Programs focus on Swedish holiday traditions, immigration and history, and arts and culture. The Mansion itself is the focus of some programs, in particular tours that are offered to visitors of all ages. ASI staff has developed a tour entitled "Stone, Tile, Wood and Wool" which serves to give focus to the rich craftsmanship evident in the Mansion and on its grounds.  

The purpose of the tour is to illuminate times gone by through examining the work of artisans of one century ago. The elaborate woodcarving in the Mansion's Grand Hall is evidence of Albin Polasek's hand, as well as the work of other very skilled and mostly immigrant laborers. The "Visby Window" is a painted and pieced glass masterpiece, created in Sweden using techniques understood by a very few today. Students are shown this window, and then instructed in the use of glass by creating fused glass tile. In this way, ASI celebrates the "slöjd" tradition so prevalent in the educational system in Sweden and so absent from most U.S. children's formal and informal education. Slöjd are the practical arts, such as textile and woodworking, where students are presented with real materials and taught age-old techniques for creating useful objects with their own hands. Through linking the masterful and historic work evident in the Mansion to hands-on activities, especially for youth, ASI makes the Turnblad Mansion a living and better understood landmark in the community. One student made clear in a thank you letter to ASI's education staff that she had learned the meaning of the stone gargoyles on the Mansion's facades, and loved making knitted cord on her visit. The materiality of these visits makes the visit accessible and practical, yet also historical as participants virtually step into the shoes of those who practiced these arts every day.