...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In the forest lies the Kingdom of Crystal

First installment of our Amazing Car Trip story

Bordering Östergötland county in the south is the province of Småland, itself made out of several counties. Rumors abound that its residents are deeply religious (they have the highest church attendance in all of Sweden), that they are entrepreneurs (the founder of IKEA is a smålanning) but are tightwads and miserly, due to the poverty in which their ancestors lived. In the mid-1800's, when about 50% of the Swedish population emigrated to the U.S. for a better life, most of the emigrants were from Småland. The fact that the pebbly soil was unsuitable for farming made conditions very hard for the people who lived there then. Even today, only 14% of the total land in the province is farmland; 50% is forest. Driving in the small forest roads, you feel that if you don't have a map and you've been left in the middle of the province, you'd go around in circles without even knowing where in Sweden you were.

The dark waters of Småland. Though potable, the humus material from the forests make the water appear like black glass, so suiting for the Kingdom of Crystal.

Yes, the province looks sleepy. The occasional dilapidated shack in the foreground of an endless forest gives a hint of the poverty and lonesomeness the whole region must have endured. But in the middle of its black forests with its black mirror-like lakes lie the jewels of Småland. Or rather, its crystal. Glassmakers have a history here that stretch back from the 18th century. Now well known for their quality, new glass art techniques and striking designs, the glassmaking municipalities which are collectively called Sweden's Kingdom of Crystal (Glasriket) lure many local and foreign tourists.

Crystal produced by the Orrefors glassmakers. Some of these are displayed in their museum of glass; others in an exhibition by Orrefors artist Erika Lagerbielke; some are available in their shop.

There are today 14 glassworks in the area, two of which, Kosta Boda and Orrefors, are very well known in the realm of Swedish design. Many tasteful Swedish households will have design glass in everyday use as fruit bowls, flower vases and water- and wine glasses. Some other glass art products are, well, simply art for art's sake.

I underestimated glass art until we were showed an exhibition of how glass was blown and made. These aren't glass that are just pressed into a mould and glued together, but are handcrafted by patient people who know the temperature of the glass by intuition can roll a blowpipe in the same tempo time and again from experience. Spheres seem easy enough to make by blowing the glass while it rotates at the end of a tube, but what about irregular shapes? Squares? Human figures? Larger-than-human forms? The extremes of glass art making were currently in display in an exhibition in Boda while we were there. Artist Kjell Engman, already known for striking flowing figures in glass that portray wavy guitars, ladies, and (oddly enough and extremely witty), a tin can on its side with its liquid contents (also in glass) "pouring out", had now come up with a set of medieval dresses, all in glass. The flowing skirts, the dresses' embroidered edges and the shoes' leathery look are all deceiving. But now you can really talk about Cinderella and her crystal shoes! On display were also larger-than-life flowers with their thin delicate stems balancing top-heavy blooms. Handcrafting all these with his team should have taken imagination, courage, and a lot of sweaty days in the glassblowing hall.

We didn't leave The Kingdom of Crystal empty-handed. Mats and Margareta, who were so kind as to treat us to this whole experience, also gave us our first design tea light holder. We also got to keep the glasses from our "Hyttsill" traditional glassblowers' dinner, which I will write about shortly. I'll also write something about the art of glassblowing, and my first attempt at blowing a glass bubble. Check back soon!


Anonymous Margareta said...

Det är en fröjd att läsa din reseberättelse om Glasriket och det Smålänska landskapet. ex sjöarnas svarta vatten likt svart glas så passade för kungadömet "Glasriket av kristall" Fotona från Kjell Engmans utställning i Boda är mycket fina

10:25 PM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Hej Margareta! Coolt at du besökte och skrev kommentar. Tack! Jag har laddat upp några bilder från Glasriket. Klicka länken till min Multiply-sida om du vill se dem.

9:50 AM

Anonymous Lara said...

the glass photos are my favorite in this trip series. amazing art!

2:05 PM

OpenID mmmbeigne said...

Whew! Very detailed account of your trip! Sounds fantastic! We're going to visit Per's parents in Smaland this weekend so hopefully I will have something new to blog about after this weekend.

9:12 AM

Blogger Duncan said...

The Kjell Engman medieval dress is now in Johansfors...Over the years we've collected a lot of his work, but each year we find something new and inspiring.

4:23 PM


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