One of our favorite annual sojourns is the American Swedish Institute in South Minneapolis at Christmas time. While the Turnblad Mansion is always a treat for the art and history buff in us, it’s especially wonderful when its halls are decked for the holidays.
A little history of the American Swedish Institute
The American Swedish Institute is primarily housed in the home built by Swan and Lillian Turnblad on Park Avenue in Minneapolis between 1904 and 1908. Swan had made a fortune as publisher of a Swedish language newspaper, the Svenska Amerikanska Posten, for the substantial Swedish immigrant population. The Turnblad Mansion is one of only eight remaining structures built during Park Avenue’s heyday from 1885 to 1921.
The Mansion displays the work of master craftsmen on the stone exterior stone and in the woodwork and decorative plaster throughout the interior. The Mansion has 33 rooms and each has a distinct style. One of the spectacular features, along with the carved wood, are the 11 tile stoves imported from Sweden. There is also a painted glass Visby window at the top of the Grand Hall stairway.
The Turnblads only lived in the residence for a short time. Their main residence was in an apartment above the newspaper offices in downtown Minneapolis. In 1929, the Mansion was donated to become what is now the American Swedish Institute.
The Institute is not just a museum, but also a learning center for Swedish culture. The Institute has a learning center in the new Nelson Cultural Center annex to the mansion that offers ongoing classes in everything Sweden – from the language, to the culture, to handcrafts, to cooking.
The annex also features the Fika Café, where you can get authentic Nordic foods including elk sausage, herring on rye bread, and my personal favorite item of distinctly Swedish cuisine, sweet cardamom rolls. Come hungry.
Finally, there is a gift shop that features plenty of mementos of Scandinavia. Hundreds of books, hand crafts, and beautiful items of exemplary Swedish design populate the shelves. And, socks. You can’t go wrong with fun socks.
Holidays at the American Swedish Institute
This year, the main holiday exhibit is “From Our House to Yours”, a table set on the mansion’s third level with 20 different holiday place settings from the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, of course, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. Also featured are two displays representing the Sami culture of northern Scandinavia, and the Hmong, who, while certainly not Scandinavian, are intimately connected with Minnesota.
Also, of particular delight this year is an exhibit of early 20th Century Christmas magazine covers from the Nordic countries on the lower level. And, continuing the Hmong theme, some Hmong holiday costumes in the Artist’s Studio on the third level.
And, at this time of year, you can count on the gift shop being full of fun, hand made Santas and his elves from Scandinavia.
Opening hours and admission
The Institute is currently open the following times: Wednesdays 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. (December 1, 2021 – January 9, 2022 only); Thursdays 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.; and Friday, Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Admission for adults is $12; children and students are $6, and Seniors are $8. If you become a member, admission is free, and you’ll get a discount on classes and in the gift shops.
More info from MNTrips
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