The American Swedish Institute (ASI), Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
Have you ever driven or walked by a place that causes you to immediately stop in your tracks? It invites you to wonder what it is, what lies behind its mysterious walls. Something stirs deep within you, places a spell on you. It is completely magical and entices you to explore what treasures it might hold.
P.C. Cher B 25 June 2021
The Castle! The Magic!
The castle of the American Swedish Institute is that magical place for me. Ever since I first laid eyes on this grand mansion as a college student, this building has always held – and continues to hold – its magical spell on me. Maybe it is the turrets; I LOVE turrets! Maybe it is the southern facing solarium in which I imagine myself curling up with a good book, basking in the sunlight on a cold, winter’s day. Maybe it’s just the allure of a “castle!”
P.C. Cher B 25 June 2021
Once inside the “castle,” my inner child surfaces as I wander in the halls with all those mysterious, carved wooden doors opening to hidden rooms. I climb the curving stairs to yet another floor, another discovery, running my hands on the smooth, rich, carved wood railings. This mansion still fascinates me, after countless visits, over many decades.
Maybe it is the Swedish blood running through my veins…
My Swedish Roots
The current explorations of my neighborhood and my Swedish roots continued this week when I visited the this wondrous place. The Turnblad Mansion (“castle”) – home of today’s American Swedish Institute – is at the opposite socioeconomic spectrum of Swedish immigrants to Minnesota as my recent exploration of the residents of Swede Hollow.
The Turnblads: Swedish Immigrants
Swan and Christina Turnblad both immigrated to Minnesota from Sweden in the late 1800s. While they did not start out in a place like Swede Hollow, their immigrant success story is still notable. With a farming background and a printer by trade, Swan emerged from modest means to become owner of the largest Swedish language newspaper in the U.S., the Svenska Amerikanska Posten.
The Turnblad home – and today’s American Swedish Institute – is located at 2600 Park Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55407, just a few blocks south of downtown Minneapolis. It was once one of 40 mansions on the stretch of Park Avenue known as the Golden Mile.
The Turnblad Mansion
During the five years between 1904 to 1908, the Turnblad’s ornate mansion was completed. From the French Chateauesque style exterior to the finely crafted interior, inspiration for much of the design of the 33 room mansion came from the family’s worldly travels.
The Turnblad family – Swan, his wife Christina, and their daughter Lillian – lived in the home until 1929, when they donated it to the American Institute for Swedish Art, Literature and Science – now known as the American Swedish Institute.
P.C. Cher B 25 June 2021
ASI: American Swedish Institute complex
There are two sections of today’s American Swedish Institute complex: the original historic Turnblad Mansion, former home to the Turnblad family, which was completed in 1908.
Complementary, but in stark contrast to the French Chateauesque style of the mansion, is its new neighbor, the Swedish-inspired, contemporary Nelson Cultural Center. Completed in 2012, just over a century later, the 34,000 square foot addition was named after benefactors Carl and Leslie Nelson.
The Nelson Cultural Center at ASI
The current entry to the museum, with its glass-enclosed reception lobby, is open and welcoming. Embracing environmentally sustainable solutions, it is LEED Gold certified, making it the first museum in Minnesota to earn this distinction.
P.C. Cher B 25 June 2021
The handcrafted detailing of this new addition brings it into the 21st century. The Center also houses Twin Cities outreach for Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota, which uses the space for admission, alumni relations and educational programming.
The Turnblad Mansion: the”Castle” at ASI
The castle has so much to see – and I took so many photos! – but here are just a few to hopefully whet your appetite and desire to visit on your own!
Between the Nelson Center and the Mansion is a large green space with patio seating for dining and events. It is a great wedding venue!
My friend, Michele, and I enjoyed the Solarium, one of my favorite parts of the mansion. (Although I would add greenery!)
The broad, front steps provide a grand entry to the main mansion lobby.
Classic arches, columns and gargoyles welcome visitors to the mansion.
The Interior Grandeur
Main Entry to Mansion
The grand main entry to the mansion sets the stage for its finely crafted interior. The wood balcony and stairs – the 2-story hand-carved fireplace, mantle and clock – the ornate, richly patterned rug – the molded ceilings – the crystal chandeliers – all are a vast feast for our eyes!
Highlighting it all is the wonderful Visby Stained Glass window above the door to the solarium which brings interest, light and color into the otherwise dark interior.
Nooks & Crannies to Discover
The top level of the mansion is filled with intriguing rooms and nooks and crannies that are as fun to explore today as I’m sure they were for the young Turnblad daughter and her playmates.
The stained glass window is a replica of a historic painting by Swedish artist Carl Gustaf Hellqvist (1851-1890). The Battle of Visby was fought on 27 July 1361 and resulted in a Danish victory over the Gutes of Gotland, and island under the governance of Sweden.
Interesting stairways connect the many levels of the mansion. Michele and I, appropriately masked, had a fun photo op with a huge, ornate mirror at the foot of one of these sets of stairs.
The Ceramic Tile Stoves
Decorative Tile Stoves
The mansion includes 11 decorative ceramic tile stoves imported from Sweden.
This is just a sampler; I had a difficult time selecting which ones to share as each one is exquisite in its own way.
Special Exhibits at ASI
ASI has special exhibits that I have always loved and never been disappointed. There are currently two that were exceptionally well done and are included with the price of museum admission. Both are currently open through 11 July 2021.
The current major exhibit, Papier, s on the juncture of art and fashion is one of the most unique and inspirational ones I’ve ever seen! Not only is it on display in the Osher Gallery, just inside the entrance, but also in rooms throughout the mansion.
The smaller, but impressive exhibit, is Lace Re-imaged. It not only adorns the entrance halls but also the wrought-iron fence by the sidewalk on Park Avenue side.
P.C. Michele H 25 June 2021
Art & Fashion at ASI
The creations were also displayed in the rooms throughout the museum – FUN!
In a juncture between art and fashion, two renowned Swedish artists meet in a mutual affection for the handmade and paper. The exhibition Papier, unites Bea Szenfeld’s spectacular sculptural paper-fashions with Stina Wirsén’s evocative illustrations. Open at American Swedish Institute through 11 July 2021.
Papier – Bea Szenfeld and Stina Wirsén
It is not to difficult to imagine that she has designed outfits for Lady Gaga!
Lace Re-imagined at ASI
Amy Sands, MN based artist, integrates traditional lace making, digital methods of printmaking and translates into Lazar engraving on acrylics and vinyl.
Lace Re-imaged is open through 11 July 2021.
Amy Sands is recipient of the MN State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant.
ASI: The Visit & The Vision
I have enjoyed visits to the ASI for many years, both the familiarity of the old mansion and the ever-changing and informative special exhibits. They fully embrace their vision to be a leading museum and cultural center of international reputation. While Scandinavian in focus, they invite all people to gather to connect their pasts to their shared future, to understand their heritage in relation to others, and to discover their role as neighbors and global citizens. Vibrant, ongoing ties to Sweden illuminate and inspire all these endeavors. (asimn.org)
The Nelson Cultural Center also greets the visitor with the ASI Museum Store, the Fika Cafe and the modern Osher Gallery (see above) for traveling and locally originated exhibitions, all open to the visitor.
ASI: The Fika Cafe
Be sure to include the Fika Cafe for at least a cup of coffee and a sweet treat. I had a meringue cookie that reminded me of my Swedish grandmother’s divinity candy. Lunch includes Swedish fare such as Swedish meatballs as well as other delicious options and baked goods. Priced a bit on the high side (but reasonable), the generous portions of food are delicious. There is typically a “fish catch of the day” on the menu. You can dine in or on the outdoor patio, weather permitting.
ASI also houses space for art and crafts, storage for the ASI collections, and flexible and unique event spaces. Larson Hall has lecture seating for 300 or 200 for dinner. A vibrant arts and cultural organization, it engages locally and connects globally. A gathering place for all people to share experiences around themes of culture, migration, the environment and the arts, it is informed by enduring ties to Sweden. The Wall Street Journal called ASI “[a] model of how a small institution can draw visitors through exciting programming.” (asimn.org)
ASI Celebrates Christmas
The celebration of Santa Lucia Day on 13 December is a highlight of the year at the American Swedish Institute. Read about this holiday in my December 2020 blog: Homage to Sweden: Saints, Ancestors and Artists.
ASI: Admission and Getting There
Admission: Reasonable and well worth the cost. Special discounts are available for different categories (i.e. seniors, students, military, etc). Check the ASI website for details. (asimn.org)
Driving? Parking is FREE on a small surface lot just to the south of the ASI complex. Pay attention to one-way streets. Public transportation is available by bus. Check the Metro Transit website for updated instructions, routes, etc. Bicycles: Swedes love bikes and so does the ASI which provides FREE bike racks located near the entrance. Local streets have designated bike lanes; ASI is just 3 blocks north of the Midtown Greenway Park Ave exit. Nice Ride rental bicycles have a hub behind the mansion. Check the ASI website for details and links. (asimn.org)
Traveler Tip: for anyone who would like to visit the ASI but is concerned about their safety in the area, at the time of this posting (6/20/21), I can attest that it is a very safe area to visit. Parking in the ASI lot is as safe as in any public parking spot, anywhere. Please don’t let the current concerns of Minneapolis/St. Paul safety issues deter you from a visit to the ASI!
- Information from website of (asimn.org) and onsite resources during my visit to the American Swedish Institute, 20 May 2021.
- Photos taken by Cher B, from ASI website asimn.org, and Google Images – 20 May 2021