THESIS ABSTRACT 2005
From “Grace” to “Modern”: Swedish Early Modernist Interiors in the United States
On October 13, 1937, Marshall Field’s ran an advertisement that announced proudly, “Skål! to this New Home Furnishing Trend: Swedish Modern.” The American taste for light-colored furniture had coalesced in the guise of a new, Nordic decorative manner. Yet, perhaps unknown to the average American consumer, the Swedish modern displayed in the department stores was based upon an aesthetic which was not merely fashion, but a socially-minded product with a lengthy history.
The Scandinavian countries were especially impacted by the ideals of the Arts and Crafts Movement, characterized by the prominence of National Romantic styles and an increasing concern to preserve traditional crafts. In Sweden, this concern was made manifest with the formation of the Svenska Slöjdföreningen (SSF) in 1845.
The organization originally focused on the preservation of the native craft tradition, although it did not exclude newer crafts. It became integral in the development of the modernist aesthetic in Sweden through exhibitions, publications, and educational programs. Frequently, these programs were undertaken as a part of a broader governmental plan. Indeed, Sweden is notable for the manner in which modernism flourished there, consciously promoted by the government as a solution to the problems of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.
Modernism was introduced to most Americans through exhibitions in museums and department stores. In this setting, the modernist aesthetic, by and large, was not presented to the Americans as a solution to social problems. At least initially, the modern movement was distorted in the United States, as objects which otherwise would have been designed to be functional and affordable became objects designed as high fashion and desirable to the elite.
The 1933-34 A Century of Progress fair, marked the advent of modern design for the masses in the United States. The home furnishings industry became interested in producing and marketing objects that were affordable, up-to-date and fashionable. Yet, promoters of the modernist aesthetic were consistently plagued by complaints about its avant-garde, or bizarre, nature. By the late 1930s, the industry seemed to have found the solution—a modern aesthetic which was affordable, amenable to mass production, yet elegant and not extreme. They had discovered Swedish modern.
This thesis examines the development and nature of the early modernist interior, both in Sweden and in the United States. Further, it addresses the arrival of Swedish modern in the United States and the manner in which it was interpreted and adapted to American tastes.
Kristin Twedt-Mottier received her BA in Art History, with a minor in Scandinavian Studies, from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She has also studied photography and video at the collegiate level. In addition to historic preservation-related volunteer work in the Twin Cities, she has completed an internship with the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association.
Thesis Advisor: Rolf Achilles, Adjunct Associate Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism; Historic Preservation
Inger Lena Gaasemyr