A new twist on the Swedish tradition of blown glass

Sweden has a tradition of glass blowing that dates back to the 1500s. The region of Småland – with its ample forests and sandy geography – became known as “The Kingdom of Crystal.”

A new exhibition at the American Swedish Institute showcases the work of eleven Swedish artists, who are infusing the centuries old craft with contemporary innovations.

The cornerstone of the exhibition, Ingalena Klenell’s “Homeland” consists of seven glass trees that evoke the trees of her native Sweden. Those same forests represented home for many Swedish immigrants who moved to Minnesota to farm a similar landscape. And then there’s the symbolism of planting a tree and putting down roots in a new home.

“This project is about longing,” said Klenell on a recent break from installing the crystal forest. “It’s that moment when you’re displaced from home… the images start to grow and home becomes something in your mind, not just where you lived.”

Homeland (Ingalena Klenell, 7 trees in 120 parts, 2013)

Accompanying “Homeland” is a series of “postcards,” photos that have been transferred onto glass to create a nostalgic image of a voyage. How many immigrants still attempt to find a new home by boat, only to be lost at sea? Just as our memories are imperfect, the postcards are filled with holes, only allowing us a partial view.

Postcard (Ingalena Klenell, 2013)

ASI’s Laura Cederburg says Klenell’s pieces are significant because they reflect what so many people feel coming to Minnesota.

This shows it from the point of view of an older generation of immigrants, what they found that reminded them of home.  How does the latest generation find this environment? How will they adapt?

The rest of the ASI’s show, titled “Pull, Twist, Blow,” features the work of several contemporary glassblowers responding to traditional pieces in the museum’s collection. The results are on display throughout the Turnblad Mansion through October 13.