In continued search of Minnesota’s Scandinavian legacy…

June is a good month for my continued search https://klasbergman.com/2013/03/20/in-search-of-minnesotas-scandinavian-legacy/ for the Scandinavian legacy in Minnesota… Maypole goes up at ASI …from the Danish Day at the Danish-American Center on the banks of the Mississippi, to the Scandinavian Folk Music Festival in little Nisswa up north where musicians from all of Scandinavia had gathered to play, to Midsommer celebration and the hoisting of Maypoles everywhere, at the American-Swedish Institute (ASI) in Minneapolis, at the Gammelgården Museum in Skandia, at nearby Lindstrom’s Nya Duvemåla, the replica of Karl Oskar’s and Kristina’s home from Vilhelm Moberg’s epic about the first Swedish immigrants to this uncannily Swedish landscape around the Chisago Lakes some miles north of the Twin Cities, and at Svenskarnas Dag, Minnesota’s classic Swedish heritage day, which this year was the 80th time that it was celebrated in Minneapolis’s Minnehaha Park.

National costumes and traditional fiddle music everywhere.  Fiddlers Paul Dahlin and his son Daniel, third and fourth generation Swedes, play their grandfather’s and great grandfather’s music from Rättvik at Lake Siljan as well as anyone, and, for someone like me, who spent every summer as a boy in Rättvik, tunes like Gärdebylåten and Gånglåt från Mockfjärd brought, if not tears to my eyes, strong memories…

There was traditional choir song by the ASI Male Chorus and the ASI Cloudberries, Svenskarnas Dag Girls’ Choir, and Flickorna Fem; Vasa Jr. Folk Dancers danced to old tunes,  and the national anthems, both Swedish and American, were part of the celebration, although most of crowd needed a printout of the text of their old anthem, while they belted out their new one, by heart.

And everywhere are those for whom the Swedish heritage seems to mean something special, spurring them to volunteering and action.

At Gammelgården in Skandia, the director Lynn Blomstrand Moratzka has helped built up quite an outdoor museum next to the Elim Lutheran Church’s Cemetery, where the names on the grave stones are Carlson, Mattson, Olson, Anderson, Edstrom, Lindgren, Holm, Peterson, Spjut, and on and on.

Girls's Choir at SkandiaAlice and John Mortenson at Nya Duvemåla

What would Nya Duvemåla be without John and Alice Mortenson, two eighty-year-olds, whose ancestors came over from Skåne and Värmland, and who now lovingly tend to the old homestead on Glader Boulevard with Glader Cemetery close by. It was established in 1855 as the first Lutheran cemetery in Minnesota and is the final resting place for Vilhelm Moberg’s fictional Karl Oskar and Kristina.

Or, for that matter, what would Svenskarnas Dag today be without Ted Noble and Dan Nelson, chair and vice chair for the big day that once drew tens of thousands to Minnehaha Park but now draws a considerably smaller, but no less, enthusiastic crowd. We are looking for a younger generation to take over to keep the legacy alive, but it’s not easy to find, says Ted Noble.

Claes Oldenburg – “the pop patriarch” – now at MoMa

I have to head up to New York soon to check out two exhibits opening today at MoMa, the Museum of Modern Art, with work by Claes Oldenburg, the”pop patriarch,” and a “pop master,” according to two recent articles in the New York Times.

Oldenburg, now 84 years old, has made New York his home since 1956, but he was born in Stockholm, Sweden and grew up in Chicago. Today, he is one of the most prominent living Swedish-Americans, and I love his work.

The two exhibits, ”The Street and the Store” and ”Mouse Museum/Ray Gun Wing,” are described under the headline, ”Window Shopping With a Pop Patriarch” and in an interview with the artist under the headline “Dark Roots of a Pop Master’s Sunshine,” Oldenburg says:

“It all sort of coalesced as the ’60s came. It was magical, when you think about it, because everything seemed to start all of a sudden.” With the election of John F. Kennedy “there was a feeling that the country was going to come to life.”

As to Oldenburg’s art and longevity, the paper writes:

“He’s not seeing America’s popular culture through the eyes of someone born deep inside it, the way Andy Warhol did as a poor kid from Pittsburgh. Rather, Mr. Oldenburg came at that culture as a bit of an outsider, with a European’s eyes, and always saw it as bigger than it was and more full of magic than such ordinary subjects had a right to be.”

In search of Minnesota’s Scandinavian legacy…

Swedish writer and feminist activist Fredrika Bremer once wrote way back in the 1850s, “what a glorious new Scandinavia might not Minnesota become.”  Minnesota did become that new Scandinavia, with hundreds of thousands of Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Danish, and Icelandic immigrants settling here during many decades, up until 1930.

Still today, 32 percent of Minnesota’s 5.4 million inhabitants are of Scandinavian, or Nordic, descent, an important part of Minnesota’s legacy and an important part of modern Minnesota.

It’s still winter in the Upper Midwest, just south of the Canadian border, as I noticed during a recent visit, with piles of  graying snow along the roads and icy sidewalks. The air bites, and as in my boyhood’s Stockholm by this time of the year, everyone longs for spring.

The Twin Cities — Minneapolis and St Paul – do not look much like Stockholm between Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea, although the Mississippi River meanders impressively through the two cities. The prominent New York City restaurant “Aquavit” opened here a decade or so ago, but had to close a few years later. Last year, “The Bachelor Farmer” opened and, according to the New York Times, “has given Scandinavian food a much needed adrenaline shot.”

It’s a nice, modern, friendly place, and difficult to get a table. It seems that Minnesotans like what  they serve, although I couldn’t find much that resembled traditional Swedish cuisine, like gravlax, herring, meatballs, or even the wonderful Västerbotten cheese.

American Swedish InstituteFor that, one has to go to “Fika” — the modern restaurant in the American Swedish Institute’s (ASI) splendid new wing, the Nelson Cultural Center, which opened last year. It sits next to the classic mansion that Swedish newspaper publisher Swan Turnblad donated in 1929 and what eventually became the American Swedish Institute.

What a sight it now is, dominating Park Avenue in the middle of Minneapolis!  None of the other Nordics have anything similar, and ASI director Bruce Karstadt is rightly proud and excited about his institute’s future.

In the search for Minnesota’s Scandinavian legacy, Scandinavian Studies programs are alive and well at several universities like Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, St. Olaf College in Northfield, and the gigantic University of Minnesota in the middle of the Twin Cities. Swedish language classes seem to thrive and the students’ knowledge of Swedish was impressive.

But maybe the most impressive proof of Minnesota’s Scandinavian heritage one finds at the gorgeous State Capitol in St Paul, designed by the prominent architect Cass Gilbert. The front of the Capitol is dominated by three statues of former governors, Knute Nelson, born in Norway, Swedish-American John A. Johnson, and Floyd B. Olson (photo), the legendary Norwegian/Swedish-American, who led Minnesota during the Depression, but who died young, just as he was about to achieve national prominence.Floyd B. Olson

And inside, the halls of the Capitol are filled with the portraits of previous governors —  John Lind and Adolph O. Eberhart, both born in Sweden, and of a long series of Norwegian-, Swedish-, and Danish-Americans by the name of Anderson, Andersen, Benson, Burnquist, Christianson, Rolvaag, Petersen,  and Arne Carlson — between 1991 and 1999.

After Carlson, Minnesota has been led by Jesse Ventura, Tim Pawlenty, and, now, Mark Dayton – none of them Scandinavians.  An end of an era, or?

For Pittsburgh, a new future without steel

On the road again…

…and once again to Pittsburgh, the old steel city among the green hills of western Pennsylvania, where old friends live in a city of optimism and hope.

From Mount Washington, where the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers come together and become the Ohio River, the view of downtown Pittsburgh from the steep mountain as dramatic as in any other American city. Below, some twenty bridges in all directions cross the rivers between the city’s many neighborhoods. Among the skyscrapers downtown are some of America’s finest buildings, from the days of Carnegie, Heinz, and Mellon to modern masterpieces by Philip Johnson and others, and to native sons Andy Warhol’s and August Wilson’s museum and cultural center, respectively.

And across the rivers lie the splendid ballparks for the Steelers and the Pirates, important landmark in a city of passionate sports fans.

Carson Street on Pittsburgh’s south side reminds me of Haight Street in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco’s old hippie neighborhood, with its galleries, rock clubs and small shops. Old mixes with new, former philosophy professor Edward Gelblum’s lovely old bookstore “City Books” with young Jake Nickman’s “Buddy’s Brew on Carson” – the finest of beer stores.

Coming into the city, along Monongahela River in Mon Valley, where the steel mills lie as giant monuments to a bygone era, side by side, mile after mile, in the small towns of McKeesport, Braddock, and Homestead, with furnaces long since cold and chimneys without smoke, the optimism and sense of hope might be a bit hard to understand. At its peak, the steel mills employed well over 100,000 workers, but in the crisis of the 70s and 80s, most of them lost their jobs, and Pittsburgh’s steel industry is only a fraction of what once was.

Today, Pittsburgh is the prime example that the old industrial cities in the “Rust Belt” can come back. But the recovery is based on something completely different than the steel, on distinguished universities and hospitals – biotech, green technology, health care, finance, and research. Today, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s (UPMC) logo is seen on top of what once was U.S. Steel’s 64-story headquarters, and with its 50,000 employees, the university hospital is western Pennsylvania’s largest employer.

It’s a city of history and character, and of excitement. I will return, again.

The Nixon Library tells it all about the biggest scandal

It has become tradition that every American president opens his own library and museum in his home town as a, most often, glowing tribute to his years in the White House. In Los Angeles, there are two such presidential libraries, in completely different parts of the vast city – Ronald Reagan in Simi Valley in the north, and Richard Nixon in Yorba Linda in the south.

It’s possible to visit both in one day, with a little luck with the traffic, by jumping from freeway to freeway,  straight through Los Angeles’ downtown.

The Reagan library, high on a hill — in the middle of nowhere — with sweeping views of the neighborhood and its treeless, sunburned hills, is such a glowing tribute, only bigger and more glowing than usual – with a statue of Reagan as a cowboy, a piece of Berlin Wall, antique cars, and his old plane, Air Force One, as part of it all.

”One man had the courage”…”he fought for freedom”…“he set out to change the nation”… “he refused to surrender…”

Not a bad word. Reagan’s memory is to be cherished. The Iran-contra scandal, for example, now mentioned in passing was not mentioned at all for a long time.

Richard Nixon’s much more modest library in Yorba Linda, the little town where he was born, was also a flattering tribute to his years in the White House, until March this year, when it opened the Watergate Gallery about the biggest presidential scandal in American history — the only one that forced a sitting president to resign. The permanent exhibition, which opened after a long battle and strong opposition from Nixon loyalists, asks the question:

“Why Watergate Matters? Since the 1970s the public and the media have attached the suffix, –gate, to major American political scandals. Why did Watergate sear itself into the public imagination and our history? And what is its legacy for us today? Did public expectation about the use of presidential power change because of Watergate? What, if anything, can it teach us about our rights as citizens and the workings of our Constitution?”

It describes in direct terms, without excuses, how Nixon set the stage that would lead to the Watergate scandal, with Donald Segretti’s “dirty tricks” and the “plumbers” and G. Gordon Liddy, which were followed by the break-in at the Watergate on June 17, 1972, and, ultimately, Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974.

“Our long, national nightmare is over,” said his successor Gerald Ford.

The Watergate exhibit has triggered a debate about the purpose of presidential libraries and museums, all run by the National Archives. Nixon Library director Timothy J. Naftali to the New York Times:

”The library has a nonpartisan mission, it’s a nonpartisan federal institution, and it has an obligation to provide exhibits that encourage the study of history”.

The Reagan Library has become a place of pilgrimage for America’s conservatives. They have never made a pilgrimage to Yorba Linda, and will probably never do so. But let us hope that all who are interested in American modern history pay a visit to the Nixon Library. It’s well worth the time.

“Pacific Standard Time” — about Los Angeles’ modern art

Los Angeles, today, has world-class museums – that’s easy to forget in the sun on the beaches from Redondo to Malibu.

And right now it’s more exciting than usual to visit the city’s many museums because of a large, joint effort about the Los Angeles art and design scene between 1945 and 1980. Called “Pacific Standard Time,” it involves 60 cultural institutions in Los Angeles and up to Santa Barbara in the north, Palm Springs to the east, and San Diego in the south. What an abundance of exciting and inspiring exhibits about how Los Angeles became a world leader in the arts!

We only managed to visit three of the museums during our recent visit: Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), The Getty Center, and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Wish we had more time…

LACMA is just getting better and better since we lived in Los Angeles ten years ago. Enlarged and renovated, it is so pleasant, and the exhibition “California Design, 1930-1965: ‘Living in a Modern Way'” reflects the city’s exciting development in art and design, especially after World War II. Swedish-born Greta Magnusson Grossman, who moved to Los Angeles in 1949 and died there in 1999 and who became a leading name among the city’s architects and designers, participates with three of her designs.  She said once:

”California design is not a superimposed style, but an answer to present conditions…it has developed out of our own preference for living in a modern way.”

One of my favorites is otherwise the mobile home, “Clipper,” from 1936, by Wallace “Wally” M. Bryan, after Pan Am’s Clipper. Has there ever been a more stylish mobile home?

The Getty Center, in the Santa Monica Mountains, is always worth a visit in itself… to take the little tram up the mountain and spend part of the day high above the city among the museums many treasures and gardens followed by lunch in the sun, is a peaceful excursion, away from it all. Getty’s three shows, “Crosscurrents in LA Painting and Sculpture, 1950 – 1970,” “Greetings from LA: Artists and Public 1945-1980,” and “From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column” make the visit infinitely more interesting than usual.

And MOCA, in the middle of downtown next to Little Tokyo, with its avantgarde “Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974 – 1981” gives an excellent picture of the frenzied activities in the Los Angeles art scene during those turbulent years, between Richard Nixon’s resignation after the Watergate scandal and the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, the two California presidents. The exhibition takes its name after a song by the local punk band X, about how the California dream and the optimism of the hippie years in the late 60s turned into the disillusioned years after Watergate and Vietnam.

A museum adds to the magic of Golden Gate Park

October is a good month in California, I was reminded recently, as I returned there for a week to that gorgeous California autumn weather, from San Francisco in the north to Los Angeles in the south. As always, it was exciting and full of new experiences, and, as always, the East Coast felt far away.

When I lived in San Francisco some time ago, on the top floor of a small house overlooking the Golden Gate Park, I could observe the new de Young Museum in the park being built, slowly raising itself above the eucalyptus trees. Today it is finished, a magnificent building clad in copper with a 45 meter high twisted tower, from which, on the ninth floor, visitors have maybe the best of views out over San Francisco and its hills, parks, and houses, down to the Pacific Ocean in the west, up to the Golden Gate Bridge’s red towers in the north, Twin Peaks to the south, and downtown with its Transamerica pyramid to the east.

The architects, Swiss Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, and the local firm Fong & Chan, had no easy task in the earthquake-prone city. But the result is grand and the location is without comparison. The copper exterior is expected over time to oxidize and turn greener in tone, thus blending in with the park’s vast greenery.

The Golden Gate Park is the most beautiful of America’s urban parks, full of that special smell from its eucalyptus trees and the winds from the Pacific. The de Young Museum changes nothing of that. In fact, it adds to its wonders and magic.