A Bit of Sweden

Just before driving into Lindsborg, a town of 3,200 in the heart of Kansas, you will pass a
large blue sign emblazoned with an eye-catching, stylized orange horse and the greeting:
Valkommen to Lindsborg, Little Sweden, USA. The welcome is nice, but the “Little Sweden”
part is unnecessary. Within minutes of entering this quaint, immaculate town on the Great
Plains, you will see so many evidences of Lindsborg’s ethnicity, there is no doubt. Wide
brick streets are lined with tidy frame houses (and a handful of Victorian mansions) that
feature high-pitched roofs with four or more gables, undeniably Swedish in style. As you
walk from shop to shop on bustling Main Street, you hear Swedish tunes emanating from
strategically placed speakers. Mailboxes bear mostly Swedish names: Anderson, Petersen,
Rolander, Malm and Swenson, among many others. And nearly every house and business
establishment is decorated with a small carved horse similar to the brightly hued steed on
the welcome sign, the dala horse, named for the Dalecarlia region of Sweden. Kathy Malm,
executive director of the Lindsborg Chamber of Commerce, explains that Swedish lumberjacks
began carving dalas for amusement and as fanciful toys for their children on long winter
evenings more than 200 years ago. The highly popular little critters are still being carved
in Sweden, as well as in Lindsborg, and are “practically synonymous with the Old Country,”
she says. The theme continues in a host of annual festivals, among them Midsummer’s Day
(June 21 this year), which celebrates the start of summer and includes a Swedish
smorgasbord and performances by the Swedish Dancers and other folk entertainers. Another is
Svensk Hyllningsfest, held every two years the third weekend in October (this year on
17-19), which features arts and crafts, food and entertainment from Old Sweden. “You’ve
probably noticed the big dalas outside many of our businesses,” Malm says. “They’re called
the ‘Wild Dalas,’ and are our answer to Chicago’s cows, Cincinnati’s pigs and Buffalo’s
buffalos.” The dala street-sculpture project was begun two years ago, and now more than two
dozen of the 4-foot-tall equines decorate the town. Ken Sjogren, co-owner of Hemslojd shop
(pronounced “almost like hemorrhoid,” he says with a grin), designed the fiberglass statues
that are cast in Ohio. Businesses sponsor the dalas, which are painted by Lindsborg
artists. Each has a theme: Herd It Through the Grapevine Dala is festive with purple
grapes, vines and gold ribbons; Yankee Doodle Dala is wrapped in red, white and blue stars
and stripes; and Dalamation is polka-dotted black, like his namesake. “As each horse is
added, it gets a special unveiling, with a skit and a new song to sing it into the herd,”
says Sjogren. “It’s been a great idea, attracting a lot of visitors to town.” Sjogren and
his partner, Ken Swisher, opened their shop 18 years ago. Like many downtown businesses, it
occupies a building dating back more than a century. Hemslojd sells a variety of Swedish
foods and folk arts, but mostly what you see are bright-orange dalas. Sjogren and Swisher
have carved and painted more than 30,000. Dalas were first brought to the United States for
the New York World’s Fair in 1939, Sjogren says. Today they’re Sweden’s most popular folk
craft, he adds. Shirley Malm, owner of The Station, a folk-art studio and gallery nearby,
has painted six of the Wild Dalas. She crafts small horses for Christmas ornaments and also
paints bride’s boxes, candlesticks, magnets, wall panels, greeting cards and other items in
traditional Swedish folk-art style. Lindsborg is home to a dozen galleries, which display a
variety of styles. All have much to offer, but we especially recommend visiting the Birger
Sandzén Memorial Gallery and the Raymer Society for the Arts. Sandzén, a painter who was
born in Sweden, came here in 1894, at age 23, to join the staff of Bethany College. His
work is vibrant and impressionistic, each painting a study of light, the style vaguely
similar to Van Gogh’s. The gallery also exhibits his watercolors, woodcuts and lithographs.
The Raymer Society for the Arts displays the work of the late Lester Raymer, creator of
masks, banners, pottery, sculptures, mosaic wall pieces, cast figurines and planters, metal
work, jewelry, carved and painted furniture and toys, in addition to his lush oil
paintings. Toys he made for his wife each Christmas for 32 years, including a Noah’s Ark
with dozens of tiny animals, are among the exhibits. McPherson County Old Mill Museum
offers a glimpse into Lindsborg’s past. Smoky Valley Roller Mill, where a series of steel
rollers powered by chocolate-colored Smoky Hill River ground wheat into flour, was built in
1898. It operated until 1955, producing nearly 1,500 pounds of flour every 60 minutes.
Visitors can watch its operation once a year, during Millfest (May 7-9, 2004). Next door is
a museum where photographs of early Lindsborg settlers and other exhibits depict pioneer
life on the Great Plains. Outside is a large picnic area, and visitors can stroll along the
river. The museum continues across the road, in a recreated 19th-century village of eight
historic buildings: an 1870 log cabin; West Kentuck School, built in 1903; white clapboard
Bethany Academy, built in 1879; and the 1880 Lindsborg Union Pacific Depot, among others.
Centerpiece of the historic village is the Swedish Pavilion, an exhibit building at the
1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. It had been slated to be torn down, then was brought here
instead, according to Malm. Lindsborg is also home to a host of gift and specialty shops
and more than a dozen fine restaurants. We tried Swedish Crown and give it high marks. We
recommend a visit to this charming, friendly and, above all, Swedish town on the Plains
that has much to offer. Plan to spend at least a day, two if possible. Article by: Pamela
Selbert Photos by: Guy Louis Selbert

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