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Originally published Friday, January 3, 2014 at 5:06 AM

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‘Kingdom of Glass’ on view at Nordic Heritage Museum

Contemporary Swedish glass art takes some highly unusual shapes — a glass postcard, a glass suitcase and more — in “Pull, Twist, Blow: Transforming the Kingdom of Glass,” on show at the Nordic Heritage Museum through April 27, 2014.

Seattle Times arts writer

Exhibition review

‘Pull, Twist, Blow: Transforming the Kingdom of Glass’

10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, noon-4 p.m. Sundays through April 27, 2014. Nordic Heritage Museum, 3014 N.W. 67th St., Seattle; $4-$6 (206-789-5707 or

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Glass as vessel? Glass as sculpture?

That’s nothing out of the ordinary.

But a glass postcard? A glass mustache? Glass as suitcase, comb or clothes hanger?

Those are a little more unusual.

“Pull, Twist, Blow: Transforming the Kingdom of Glass” at the Nordic Heritage Museum offers all those novelties and more. It’s a survey of the contemporary Swedish glass-art scene that also includes a look back at Sweden’s glassmaking history.

Since 1742, the Swedish glass industry has been centered in Småland, a forested region in southern Sweden known as the “Kingdom of Glass” or “Kingdom of Crystal.”

Glassmaking has undergone cycles of boom and bust over the years, with the latest bust coming in late 2012 when Orrefors Glassworks, a major manufacturer, suddenly closed its doors. Glass artists affiliated with Orrefors had to strike out on their own — and “Pull, Twist, Blow” shows where some of them went.

The result is a diverse if uneven show that sounds notes of humor, street-art swagger, gender confusion, poetic reverie and more. The artists themselves are given high-profile treatment in huge photographs that accompany their work.

Karl Magnus Nilsson, for instance, is shown holding a huge glass mustache up to his face. The mustache itself, alas, is not included in the show. But the two pieces of his that are on display are highlights.

“Just a little bit further” depicts a pale, ambulatory mountain range (two pairs of human legs stick out from underneath it) while “My selves” is a liquid-filled jar containing five small hollow-eyed glass heads. Impeccably crafted, both pieces tap into mindsets that are instantly familiar: a jumbled, divided sense of identity in “My selves”; a feeling of pushing forward under a hefty burden in “Just a little bit further.”

Matilda Kästel, in both her photos and her art, is even more provocative. “Hide” shows half a prone human body (most likely female) in white glass, flattened to the floor, with crystal debris strewn over it. It’s life-size and inert, as though sleeping — or, more likely, dead.

“Views of Coercion” is a giant, translucent glass millstone with brass chains looped through it. An accompanying photograph shows Kästel in a white ballet tutu with the heavy millstone hanging from her neck. The most striking photo of Kästel, however, is a glamour shot of her in profile in an open-neck shirt revealing ... copious chest hair.

There’s some serious messing with gender dynamics going on here.

Annika Jarring’s work — with its glass combs, glass suitcase and glass coat hanger — is more playful, intent on finding unexpected forms for her chosen material. Ingalena Klenell’s enormous glass “postcards,” hanging from the ceiling, lean toward the melancholic, portraying memories of rowboat outings that have bits missing from them. The glass that holds the rowboat images seems to be disintegrating in front of you.

Graffiti-art influences the glass vessels of Fredrik Nielsen and Peter Hermansson (one title, “Eat the Rich,” says it all). Several artists — Ludvig Löfgren, Åsa Jungnelius, Helena Kågebrand — take a multimedia approach, mixing glass with an eclectic and sometimes tawdry array of materials, with mixed results.

One poignant “extra” in “Pull, Twist, Blow” is that each artist has chosen work by their mentors to stand alongside theirs. Two names occur repeatedly: Bertil Vallien and Erik Höglund. Their work ranges from a water glass holding a set of glass false teeth (Höglund) to glass canoes that show a marked Northwest Coast Art influence (some of these folks have spent time at Pilchuck).

Still, it’s the youngsters — especially Nilsson, Kästel and Jarring — who stand out.

Michael Upchurch:

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