Sights and sounds of Sweden

The ASI Spelmanslag played before an overflow house of more than 200. Many of the fiddlers wore folk costumes from South Central Sweden, where their music comes from. Photo by Margie O'Loughlin

The American Swedish Institute is a gathering place for all people with interests linked to the country of Sweden. On a recent weekend, the museum was packed with visitors who came to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Scandinavian country.

One of the many issues the museum explores is Swedish migration, and on Sunday, Feb. 28, the ASI Spelmanslag (which means fiddling team) performed in commemoration of their 30th anniversary.

The group traces its origins to Ivares Johnson, a young man who emigrated from Sweden to Minnesota in 1924. He brought with him the traditional fiddle tunes he had grown up with, and was able to pass them on to his children and grandchildren.

One of his grandchildren, Paul Dahlin, preserved his grandfather’s musical legacy by organizing the ASI Spelmanslag in 1985. He stepped down as artistic director in 2005, but remains active in the group along with several family members.

Current artistic director Mary Hegge said the teams (also known as lags) exist all over Sweden.

“Our lag has about 30 members — some are Swedish and some are not,” she said. “Our ages range from 20 to more than 80 years old. We play everything by ear, because that’s how it’s always been done.”

There aren’t auditions, just two requirements: you have to genuinely want to play this style of music and have to be nice. “Seriously nice, because we spend quite a lot of time together,” she said.

The ASI Spelmanslag provided the sounds of South Central Sweden. In the galleries below, the large scale water colors of Lars Lerin drew the viewer into the sights of Sweden and beyond.

One of Lerin’s paintings. Photo by Margie O’Loughlin

On exhibit through May 22, the “Watercolor Worlds of Lars Lerin” provides a look into the mind and meditations of a formidable painter. Born in Munkfors, Sweden in 1954, Lerin lets the land and scenery of the far North shine in his compositions.

He is considered one of Scandinavia’s leading watercolor artists. Lerin’s 30 years of painting have given him a deep understanding of the pigments he uses. He works on massive sheets of paper and reveals hidden worlds as he adds layers of paint, washes out colors, and uses his own scrawling handwriting to create an effect which is both impressionistic and precisely rendered at times.

Many of Lerin’s paintings have a sense of foreboding, with their heavy skies and stormy seas. In the short film that’s shown on the second floor of the Turnblad Mansion (the original museum building), he described his work.

“I’m not about photographically reproducing what I’ve seen,” he said. “It’s rather a matter of what I’ve seen or felt.”

The exhibit embraces warmth and sadness, light and dark, hope and melancholy. It shows the work of a watercolor master, and also reveals his human struggle to understand a world where we are drawn together by our commonalities — and separated by our differences.