Hillstrom Museum Celebrates Swedish- American Artists

Emily VanGorder – Editor in Chief

The Hillstrom Museum of Art is presenting “Art for All: The Swedish Experience in Mid-America”, a new exhibit presenting the works of Swedish-American artists. The exhibition will be available from September 13 to November 17. The exhibit was co-organized with the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery in Lindsborg, Kansas which is associated with Bethany College. The exhibit features around 60 paintings, drawings, and prints from the Birgen Sandzén Memorial Gallery and the Hillstrom Museum of Art. and It includes the works of 20 well- known Swedish- American artists active in the late 19th to early 20th century.
“In Sweden, around the time these artists were getting ready to leave, there was a popularizing movement about the idea of art being for everyone… It’s this Democratic ideal that the Swedes bring with them to America, and it works well in the U.S.,” Director of the Hillstrom Museum of Art, Don Myers said.
The term ‘art for all’ comes from Swedish- American artists who wanted to make art more accessible. The Konstnärsförbundet, (the Artists League) in Stockholm was created in response to the more traditional values and attitudes towards art held by the Swedish Royal Academy.
Birger Sandzén was one of these artists, who notably sold inexpensive prints of his paintings, which allowed those from poorer financial backgrounds to purchase and appreciate art. Sandzen’s pieces were one of the first collected by Richard L. Hillstrom, the namesake of the Hillstrom Museum of Art. Hillstrom graduated from Gustavus in 1938, and was invested in his Swedish heritage.
“It’s exciting to see more works by that artist, but it’s also exciting for me to have a chance to show off the Swedish- American things in our collection. The Swedish roots of Gustavus are long and dearly held, and I think there’s been a reinvigoration of that in the last couple decades… It’s exciting to be able to connect with that very fundamental part of the college’s roots” Myers said.
Sandzén has a more personal connection to Gustavus. A Swedish friend of his was a teacher at Gustavus, and came to visit. Gustavus offered Sandzén a position as an art professor. According to letters he wrote, Sandzén was going to leave his post at Bethany College and teach at Gustavus. It is unknown why he remained at Bethany, but it may have been due to rumors about Gustavus moving campus to the Twin Cities.
However, the woman who founded the art department at Gustavus, Lorena Daeschner Hall, went to Bethany College and studied under Sandzén. In addition to the exhibit, the museum is displaying the one painting of Hall’s it owns.
“The museum is open pretty liberal hours and it’s here for you all. Students are our primary focus, and it’s so easy to nip into the museum for just a couple minutes… for me, art can be a real tonic… I hope students realize that this is a resource and a pleasure that is here for you. If I do say so myself, I think it’s a pretty cool place” Myers said.
The Hillstrom Museum of Art is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and weekends from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. All exhibitions are free and open to the public. COVID restrictions are currently being enforced at Gustavus, and masks are required to be worn at all times while indoors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *