Växjö is an epicenter of historical relevance for anyone seeking their Swedish roots, since many families were forced by economic deprivation to emigrate from this area.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it’s estimated by the Swedish Genealogical Society that 1.3 million Swedes abandoned the impossibly rocky, nonproductive soil of Småland (home of Ikea and Orrefors glass) for America, Canada, Australia, and other countries in Europe.
Therefore, Växjö is a major center for descendants of Swedish immigrants to visit, but it’s an extraordinarily beautiful area that has much to offer culturally and artistically to everyone, especially if you’re willing to leave the larger cities and explore the backroads. This will require a car and either someone who knows the area, or a sense of adventure and an ordbok (a dictionary).
Mormorshuset (Grandmother’s House) is just one of the many small artist’s workshops in Småland. Few of these workshops are well-known; most do not have a website, but can be discovered during a daytrip from Växjö to Kalmar, a coastal town popular with tourists.
If Mormorshuset were in the U.S., it would be swarming with appreciative visitors all day, every day, but here it’s open mostly upon request, or from the hours of 4-6 p.m., Friday and Saturday, if the owners are home.
The wife and husband team have taken over the old house, originally built in 1908 by locally-renowned arts and crafts teacher and architect, Gunnar Ell. The house is on Kronoberg county’s list of historically and culturally significant dwellings:
Little Gunnarbo was designed and built between 1907-08 by drawing and crafts teacher Gunnar Ell. The building is a typical example of Art Nouveau ‘villa architecture’. The building plan is almost square, and is built on a high stone base and has a Falun red facade with white woodwork. Gunnar Ell designed the interior, its templated floral ornament, glazed doors and the open fireplace cast parts, furniture and fixtures.
Inside the garden is a courtyard house, decorated as a studio, which is contemporary with the main house. The villa’s exterior and interior, including paintings and furniture are very well preserved. Gunnar Ells’ daughter, Aage Faith-Ell, renowned textile artist, lived in the house until 1998. Little Gunnarbo was declared a historic building in 1988.
One of the current owners is a multimedia artist who has opened her atelier in the small out-building behind the main house. This is where she shows her multimedia paintings and needlework, and sells the products of local artists, including woodworkers and furniture builders.
The artist/owner is fascinating to look at. Each of her fingernails is painted a different primary color, her short, black hair pulled back in dark red-tipped pigtails. When I was there, she was wearing a melange of grungy old black paint-smeared garments tucked into rubber boots. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t let me take her picture, so I photographed the atelier and the landscaped and decorated grounds instead.
Mormorshuset is located at Kungsvägen 54, Växjö, Kronoberg county, Sweden (or, Sverige, if you’re being really precise). Oppetider: Friday and Saturday 4-6 p.m. but usually only in the summer or warmer months (from May-August and the occasional September.)
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