While researching Skane province of Sweden where Hoganas is located, I kept seeing pictures of tall wooden scaffolded towers on a rocky beach. Off and on for thirty years scaffolded towers have appeared in my art, so I was immediately curious. At first I thought it was just some random Google issue but finally learned it is a work of art on the same peninsula as Hoganas, named “Nimis”. It is not only work of art but the micronation of Ladonia. One of its national anthems is the sound of a stone being dropped in water. It has a “Minister of Art and Jump”. Well, obviously I wanted to find it.
We followed the directions we had and walked into the Kullaberg nature preserve and started looking for yellow N’s on trees. It is a deep forest dropping sharply into the sea. We stopped seeing N’s pretty quickly but thought they would come back. They didn’t. We walked and walked. For a long time. Finally we came upon a local man walking with his dog. He spoke no English but wanted to help. He took us on a shortcut, off the trail along the side of the leafy muddy rocky steep slope, at his speed. This was challenging and no fun at all. At one point I slipped and slid down a ways and sat there on my extensive muddy backside panting and said “the nice man can go now, thank you” as I flashed back on many unpleasantly competitive hiking experiences of youth summer camps. But he didn’t. He was determined to help. At times even he was on his hands and knees. His dog was having a great time. At long last we came to pretty much the first clearing, about 50 yards from where we’d started. Kent ventured down the muddy rocky steep slope towards the cliff where, somewhere, was the path down. Our friend managed to communicate that it was too steep for his dog so he didn’t go there himself. We decided that even if we were at the right place & found it we didn’t know how to get back up. Thus ended my quest. Unlike thousands of yearly visitors, I failed to enter Ladonia. I saw the sky above the trees over Ladonia and heard the waves.
As we walked through the foxglove-lined meadow on the way out we met a young blue-dreadlocked man with a backpack and little family “Nimis? Nimis?” He asked “yes!” We replied. He beamed and raised his fists in triumph and cried “yes!”. So I will be satisfied that he probably got there in my place.
But we did not fail at having an adventure. Getting lost in a Swedish forest is not the worst way to spend a morning.
We were the first car to arrive at the ferry in Frederikshavn, and were second on the ferry itself. In a quick three hours we were in Sweden, on our way to Hoganas.
My first impression was ugly industrial, then Wisconsin. Dairy farms that had sold the sides of their huge red barns for billboards. Minnesota Public Radio. A short drive later we were in Hoganas. A short drive for me, because I immediately fell asleep. A long boring grind of a drive for Kent.
Hoganas is in Skane county, a region famous for its ceramics since the Middle Ages. (One reason ceramics is studied is because it developed in every region with access to clay, water, and fuel.) Driving through town to our lodging we saw sign after sign advertising “Keramics”. Our hotel is, from what I can tell, a retreat center of sorts. Not exactly in the country, but right on the coast. We could see the water from our room but the powerful wind made beach-walking a struggle. We did it anyway, briefly.
My little video of the town of Molle, near Hoganas.
Contrary to my initial sleepy impression, Sweden is very beautiful. Kent asked me how many times I was going to say “luminous”. The Hoganas Museum is small but exhibits something I have never seen elsewhere: a thorough exploration of Scandinavian art pottery. I learned more from this one exhibit than from so many other pottery exhibits over the years. I felt completely ignorant and equally happy. Such remarkable work by artists I’ve never heard of.
Hoganas is also home to a popular outlet mall featuring fine dishes and commercial pottery. In the center of this is the Hoganas Keramisk Center– an extensive museum-like display of the history of ceramics in the region, including industrial plumbing. It includes an exhibition space for contemporary ceramic art, and a large..very large sales area including 45 high quality regional potters. FORTY FIVE. There are apparently at least fifteen others not included. Such variety and creativity and quality.
The most interesting part is, right beside this sales area is a spotless glassed-in classroom space with two wheels and a separate glaze room. Ceramics is taught to kids right in the center of a large commercial shopping mall that emphasizes shopping for dishes. Kids can learn clay surrounded by amazing examples and historical pieces. That’s s pretty literal answer to my question of “how are these traditions passed on?” Studio pottery is not treated like a precious thing separate from commerce. Can you imagine a fashion design class in the mall? A furniture making class in the middle of Mathis Brothers Furniture? This is how the connection is made. Pretty simple actually.
Our week at Tolne was filled with hospitality, learning, day trips, unexpected pleasures, nature, clay, and the day-to-day life of a happy, brave, entrepreneurial young family making a life through their art. off to Sweden!
Tolne Gjaestgivergaard is centrally located in northern Jutland. It is less than an hour’s drive to either coast as well as to the northern tip. One coast is wild with big choppy waves
while the other (at least on our visit) was more peaceful and full of fishing boats.
It is surrounded by beautiful farms and barns, stocky ponies, pheasant, hawks, and some sort of giant bunny I startled while walking in the woods.
The woods are deep and so dense there is little undergrowth but ferns. I am pretty sure there are gnomes. Trolls at the very least. And the flowers! Foxglove, poppies, bachelors button, gentian (kind of a yellow wisteria-like large shrub) all growing wild.
Massive roses grow wild and every little garden is full.
I wasn’t there to paint, but it would make a perfect location for a plein air retreat. Northern light, great meals, enough space for group sessions, the train stops at the front door. And the Skagen museum not far away. So many possibilities.
The day after we went to Skagen was the English volunteer worker Anna’s day off. I saw her leave on a bicycle but didn’t know where she had gone until Sara (from Italy) said she as worried about her. We asked why, and she said “Anna went to Skagen!” Soon after, she walked in, hungry but just as cheerful as ever after her fifty mile round trip. She wisely caught the train for the last ten miles, but still. It was an unexpected privilege to meet these bright, brave, independent young women.
The main reason I went to Tolne was to give myself a good foundation for beginning a school ceramics program. This day Janne and I continued talking about projects, clay bodies, and glazes. She showed me projects they do with schools in the area, a South African way of making a slab, and made some objects I copied later. It was a very productive morning. I also continued to practice on the wheel.
After lunch Kent and I took Sara and Shiori, two of the volunteer workers, north to the resort town of Skagen. Skagen was the center of a group of Danish painters known as the Skagen Impressionists. They hung out at the Brodum’s Inn there, and worked from life indoors and out. There is a very good museum across the street from their favorite Inn, and it is currently being much enlarged. Fortunately we were able to see a pretty good sampling of their work, including my favorite: Summer Evening of Skagen’s Southern Beach by Peder Severin Kroyer.
I have had a small reproduction of this painting in my classroom as long as I have been teaching, but never thought of finding where it was painted or where it was housed until I re-discovered it while planning this fellowship experience. It was great to see it in person and learn about Peder and his friends.
After the museum we followed the traffic to Grenen, the beach the leads to the very tip of Denmark, with the North Sea on one side and the Baltic in the other. After parking there is s very nice walk out to the point. I love the giant, mostly single wild roses that grow along the beaches.
We decided to go back in to Skagen, which was having a big music festival. The narrow old streets were packed with people, bands scattered out on corners, big stages, and parking lots. Skagen is the country’s biggest fishing port and the festival spread out onto the piers among the ships and boats of all sizes. Another beautiful day in Denmark.
My time here at Tolne starts with studio & lesson time in the morning, a little day trip after lunch, and three beautiful delicious meals with interesting people.In addition to wood and soda-ash kilns, visitors to Tolne Gjaestgivergaard can also take a course in building pizza ovens. It was a beautiful clear warm evening to sit out on the back patio below the garden and watch Gregory and guests take turns cooking pizzas. First the oven is heated by torch, then the bottom is mopped out with water to cool the floor. Instead of a fancy peel, a thin board and sharpened flat stick are all the tools required. It was delicious, and we shared pizza after pizza, with plenty of good conversation.
The lady at the rental car office in Frederikshavn was confused when we told her where we were going, “Tolne? It is only five houses?” But off we went, winding through the beautiful farmland of northern Denmark. When we found Tolne Gjaestgivergaard our host Gregory Hamilton Miller was out watering flowers, an early indication of his non-stop activity, either gardening or cooking of dealing with guests or doing construction work, or playing with his daughter. In Tolne GGG, Gregory and his wife Janne Hieck have created a truly unique guest house and ceramic center. I found it after weeks of researching possible places to center my fellowship plan of researching ceramics education in Denmark. It seemed like a good fit and I believe it is. When we arrived they were finishing up the construction of an Anagama kiln, and Kent fell in to help with a visiting artist from Sweden and volunteers from Japan, Italy and England, (including Anna who just wrote about us in her journal so it is only fair I mention her…more on her later!)
I, on the other hand took my very first lesson on the wheel with Janne Heick.
This is a lively place with a garden, dog, cats, chickens, a continual stream of international guests, friends and volunteer workers in an old whitewashed building at a rural train stop, filled with books, ceramics and pure light streaming through large windows. This first night there were ten countries represented at supper. I really can not describe it all at once, but fortunately we are here for several days!
I couldn’t shake the feeling that Oslo didn’t look like I’d pictured it in my mind. Then the last day we planned to visit the Viking Ship Museum.
To get there we first walked in a new direction to find the boat. We arrived at the harbor in front of City Hall.
There it was! This was the view I’d had in my mind. It was here all along, I was just a few blocks off. I’m so glad I found it, but why? It isn’t like I was dissatisfied with the city, so I’m not sure why I was pleased it fell in line with my preconceived notions. We took a boat to the museum, but still had to walk a few blocks through a very beautiful neighborhood. The houses were built with a variety of styles, modern and traditional, but almost without exception were white with shiny black tiled roofs. Street after street of black and white houses and green landscaping. It was remarkably crisp and clean.
The museum itself was also black and white. It is really a rather small place but designed perfectly for its purpose. There are three rooms each containing a ship, and one other containing sleds found in the burial mounds. Each of the two main ship rooms include small balconies you can climb up to for a better view.
Along the exterior walls and one smaller room are displays of the astonishingly intricate carvings, metal works, and textiles from the excavations. There were also loom fragments and weaving tools , strips of woven hold ribbon, and small squares of wood for card or tablet weaving. If you aren’t familiar with this ancient technique, here is a good video.
Later that day we caught the Stena Line to Denmark. This was also a suprising experience and not what I pictured, maybe because when I thought of it I thought of the views and ship, not the amazingly diverse crowd of passengers and their many ways of passing time while on board. Norwegian families bursting into song at dinner was fun to see.
We had a cabin in the very bottom of the ship, under two levels of cars. Steerage, basically. After watching the first couple of hours of the Oslo Fjord go by we had a very nice supper, went out to look at the moon, heard some very earnestly performed American country music, and got a surprisingly good night’s sleep, waking up in beautiful Denmark.
The Viegland Sculpture garden is the #1 site in Oslo according to some travel websites. I wanted to see it mostly because our dear friend told us it was her daddy’s favorite work. The son of a sharecropper, he became a successful chemist and lived many years in Europe. From what I have heard and observed over the years, he and his wife raised their big happy family to be lifelong learners and to make travel an organic part of their lives. I did not know him, but I’m pretty sure he would have been appalled by the difficulty I had finding the most popular park in Oslo. First I got two parks confused, but Kent asked some workers who kindly explained we were on the complete opposite side of town. Then my second attempt involved mistaking one word that starts with Frogner with an entirely different word that starts with Frogner. This error resulted in a pretty long train ride (although a nice woman at supper tonight told me it wasn’t a train but a tram). We went up and up and up. The valley dropped away below for an aerial view of the city and Oslofjord. Then a lake, and very beautiful houses, including some interesting traditional sod & grass-roofed ones. In the distance we could see the old ski jump. At the end of the line we got out, looked around and quickly got back on. Eventually we found the enormous park, set in a busy commercial area. Families and children were everywhere. “Epic” is a word used so often and poorly t has lost much of its power, but if it were still a meaningful word it would apply. The sculptures and the design of the park itself are epic. There are over 200 sculptures, almost entirely of humans at different stages of life, all arranged symmetrically in a formal garden design around a central raised platform topped by a carved obelisk of figures, and a huge black fountain. The corners of the platform hold massive figures, reminding me of both Bernini’s Fiumi Fountain and the Albert Memorial. But this was different, it wasn’t a celebration of one man, or of human figures representing great rivers. This piece, the largest permanent public display of sculpture made by one person, is a tribute to human life itself. It offers no advice, no instructions, but over 200 big strong active humans, young and old, in metal and stone.
I started my Fund For Teachers fellowship experience by crying in public, and I don’t care who knows it. It’s been a long time since a painting made me cry like that. Tear up maybe, choke up, sure, wet-face can’t speak crying? Not since the early 80’s, at Philbrook, at an exhibit from the Museum of fine Arts, Boston. After a couple galleries of big dark French academy works, so studied and posed and serious, I came upon a small Degas Racehorses at Longchamp and the thought of this guy at the races taking a little panel from his coat pocket and painting such a perfectly alive, luminous, fluid, beautiful thing just killed me. So I was sniffling and wiping my eyes when I came upon a fellow weeper, a guy with long black hair & big glasses & he was sobbing in front of Van Gogh’s Houses in Auvers. So, like the row of four babies we were seated among on the flight over a couple of days ago, I started crying too!
Yesterday’s public sobbing was at the Munch Museum’s brilliant exhibit examining the remarkable parallels between the lives and art of local hero Edvard Munch and Vincent Van Gogh. The exhibit included great examples of their predecessors and influences as well. But the very first room had without warning, The Potato Eaters, and equally without warning I couldn’t stop myself from starting to cry. I would have never expected that but there you have it. His first masterpiece, as a nobody, already painting in a way nobody ever had, with a sensitivity for the poor never before seen in art in the same way. And now I will never see that painting in the same way either.