As we head into the busy holiday season, two low-key art shows with Scandinavian genes are in danger of getting lost in the mix — and they shouldn’t.
As Ballard changes, the Nordic Heritage Museum — a veritable redoubt of the neighborhood’s genetic memory — remains vital and relevant.
A new exhibition asks: Is it art, or is it kitsch?
“Bad Art? 1,000 Birch-Board Pictures from Sweden,” the largest collection of its kind in the world, makes its U. S. debut at the museum Nov. 30.
As the museum's website states: “The show features more than 1,000 mixed-media works — Northern European folk art of unknown origins — from the Backlund & Håkansson Collection in Sweden.
“Sold as tourist souvenirs for more than a century, these humble objects can be found in collections in almost any corner of the globe. The artists usually created these pieces by gluing postcards to thin, diagonally sliced pieces of tree trunk —preferably from birches. The postcard images were then hand-painted to the edges of the oval slices of wood and sometimes
included three-dimensional objects.
“Once displayed in private homes, restaurants, gift shops and cultural clubs, the birch-board pictures have now found their way into museums.
“The collection itself may be viewed as an art piece set in a particular time,” chief curator Lizette Gradén said. “It was compiled in the late 20th century and can be understood as an expression of the collectors’ experience of a Sweden infused by globalization and cultural change.”
But is it art or kitsch? Or does it even matter? Have a look.
The Nordic Heritage Museum is at 3014 N. W. 67th St. Information: www.n o rd i c m u s e u m . o rg / exhibitions. aspx#badart
She is known simply as Helmi. And the Frye Art Museum continues with its Helmi Juvonen exhibit, “Dispatches to You (R. S. V. P.),” through Feb. 10.
It’s a modest display at the rear of the museum — barely a whisper, in fact, which somehow seems fitting.
The daughter of Finnish immigrants born in Butte, Mont., in 1903, Juvonen enrolled at Cornish College of the Arts on a scholarship in 1929. She immersed herself in history, myths and Native Americans ways. Native Americans, in fact, would allow her to witness rites where no other whites were allowed.
Manic depression led to more than 25 years of institutionalization, until she died in 1985.
Juvonen was in love with artist Mark Tobey, whom she wanted to marry, even though he was gay; she thought Picasso could be best man. Poor Tobey was, at times, stalked, but he forbore.
Not long before he died in 2004, artist/memoirist/paleobotanist Wesley Wehr put together a booklet of her letters to Morris Graves, “Even in the Rain, It Is a Pleasant Walk,” published by the Nordic Heritage Museum.
“Dear Morris,” she wrote on April 23, 1978, from her confinement, “all the world is so pretty now — daffodils + hyacinths + spring flowering bushes — I go for a walk daily to see all the wonders of Spring time — I know you are gardening — we enjoyed the big thunderstorm for we seldom have them….”
The letters are angelic.
Juvonen was a rare female artist during the era of the so-called Northwest mystics. Wehr curated a retrospective of her work at the Frye in 1976.
Besides her artwork on display, there are postcards and letters — the creative, courageous leave-behinds of unrequited love.
The Fry Art Museum is at 704 Terry Ave. Information: www.fryemuseum.org