Edited on 24 Jan 2013: to correct the generation of the benefactor.
I was on the Internet before it was the Internet, and have seen various trends come and go. But I still can be completely surprised and thrilled at the connections that it enables. I hear about these dear experiences from time to time, but one happened to me recently. In this post, I give an account of what happened and write a bit about my grandmother.
The goal of this site is a next generation publishing system — and we are well on our way with that. The infrastructure is complex, designed to support highly structured essays that appear in successive incomplete drafts.
Because we needed a mechanism to keep collaborators advised on progress, we added a blog area. And as long as we were doing that, I added a personal blog zone because — as I wrote in an early post — knowing some personal details of my trusted sources helps me understand and trust them better. I think it therefore a good idea to share some facets of my life outside of the projects.
I started out with a post about my Grandfather, a Swedish-American glass artist. This was a tricky piece, placed midway among the Kutachi and FilmsFolded topics, but pretty personal. His wife, Alma Andersson Goranson was pretty interesting as well.
That grandfather story mentioned that he was an absolute genius in dynamic sculpting of light, how I was one of the few people who knew and how it affects my approach to these projects. A woman in a retirement community in Ohio stumbled across that post. She had been close friends with my Grandmother, and had a glass perfume bottle that Adolph had made and Alma had given her. She was hoping to find a home for it where it would be appreciated. She wrote to me out of the blue asking if I could provide that home.
She subsequently sent me the bottle, an enormous gift — passed from one admiring soul to another. An enormous gift.
I'll post photos when I return to the US.
Among other shifts it has caused is the desire to write a bit about my Grandmother.
Alma Andersson was one of many children in a poor Swedish household who had a well-to-do spinster aunt in the US. This aunt wrote her sister to “send one of her daughters” to the US to be cared for as a surrogate daughter.
The story as repeated to me implied that Alma was not the logical choice, but doggedly arranged to be the one to go on the adventure. How she did this must have been interesting, and the late omission of this part of the story makes the possibilities tantalizing.
So, as a lone teen girl — and not speaking English at all — she made the steerage voyage to Minnesota. (I have the trunk she used in my livingroom.) She quickly discovered that the aunt wanted not a daughter but an indentured maid! Within only a couple months, she married my Grandfather, and the missing details here are also notable.
Apparently, being a glass artisan whose talent peaked in the Depression made for hard choices. They went through some tough times in establishing a business that eventually moved to Ohio where I knew them.
Adolph set up a business around 1911 in the Minneapolis area, a very ambitious business considering the country's growing economic disaster, the relative unsophisticated populace and the young new wife. This was an artisan factory that blew and cut glass of the finest order, selling it directly from a storefront. To pull this off, he trained the artisans and did much of the work himself. Soon, three sons added to the economic burden, and then the full-on depression, but somehow they made it.
Knowing them late in life, it still was easy for me to imagine how it must have been, with her as the force that made it possible for her husband to be an artist. They risked everything more than once with her encouragement. Even after some serious failures, Adolph was able to maintain a modest business that employed a few master craftsmen supported by a base of cheaper decorative dinnerware. This quality alone — to risk all for her husband’s vision — earns her a place in my heaven.
It would have been in the 1920s when the glass perfume bottle would have been made, when he still had the ability to mix, blow and cut glass. Later, to save the business, he combined with a more successful low quality shop in Bowling Green Ohio, where they were living when I knew them. The finer work apparent in the bottle could not have been done then.
Alma ran a very disciplined and parsimonious household, even to the extent each day of selecting the clothes to send her men out in each day. often clothes she made. She herself was a master craftswoman in what would have been called the home arts; as a child she would have been as severely apprenticed in these thesearts as her future husband was in his.
I was never close to her; men were not meant to be companions to her kind. Instead, my sister was the focus of her affection through lessons in needlecraft and lacemaking. As it happens, that sister has become one of the world’s top academics in home and folk arts, and I presume this relationship with her Grandmother opened that world for her.
Alma was also a dedicated Lutheran, both in worship and charity work. It seems to have given her the ability to cope with the loss of her youngest boy during the War (WWII), then her husband, then her second son (my Dad) to a military-related accident and finally her own long lethal disease. She had a few dear women friends and was generous to them; it is this that brings us up to date.
It would have been central to my Grandmother’s soul to have given away the best one she had, and this is the item that travelled from the unsold stock in Minnesota, to her dressing table — where it likely held never used toilet water — to her friend, and now home to me. The bottle is an amber glass, which I know to be more difficult and rewarding than greens and blues. (My mother has the lesser blue one that was kept by Alma.)
So here are several remarkable stories. The story of an artist in a medium nearly no one knows exists. The story of the woman who made his world, an artist of a higher order. The story of the friend who found me through what must have been a masterpiece of detectivework. The fact that such a thing is even possible is the mindblowing quality of the internet I started with. There is only one soul on the entire planet that would have valued the glasswork as much as she, and she found me.
Alma followed the usual homecraft tradition that practical objects should be decorated, and her preference was the common one among her Swedish cohort — exemplified by Carl and Karin Larsson. This decorative arts notion is different than the way I live.
My home and as much in it as I could manufacture is a synthesis of simple Shaker-like objects and spaces and pure art, meaning art whose purpose is direct personal expression rather than decoration.
In this, I am more my Grandfather’s heir than my Grandmother.