Exquisite Creatures, exquisite world

Currently showing at OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) is this fantastic exhibit we all owe it to ourselves to see. It is the work of Christopher Marley, showcasing the immense beauty of the other creatures in the world around us. You can follow him on Instagram @phermone_christophermarley .

Blue stair 2

‘Exquisite Creatures’ – don’t miss it!

As an avid gardener, plant lover, skier, etc., I already profess to being an avid Biophiliac. Whether in wild or curated form, Nature is my escape. It soothes me, it distracts me, it chases the demons out of my head, and restores my sanity and ability to deal with life. But of course landscapes and plants are only part of the Great Existential Mystery. This exhibits lifts the animals onto center stage. It is a gorgeous, gorgeous exhibit. I took some pictures, but if you are within a day trip of Portland, Oregon, I highly recommend you go see it for yourself if you haven’t already. The whole thing is just drippingly stunning and delicious! You have until February 17 (which is great, because it gives me a chance to return. I tried my best, but am sure I missed half of it. Give yourself time…)

Blue butterflies circle

One of the first works you see as you enter. That iridescence is spellbinding. So very beautiful!

Bird green

My first reaction to seeing the headless bird was – well, not that. I was so fascinated by the flawless form and the amazing coloration that I almost forgot what it was, beyond perfection personified. The second I realized, I have to say I was kind of relieved the head was missing. Nothing wrong with heads, but omitting it also somehow omitted the expression of death.

Parrots whole

See what I mean? Further along in the exhibit were these parrots displayed, heads intact. They too were beautiful, but more than anything else, they were a reminder for the urgency of protecting and conserving the thousands of species that are on the brink of extinction in our overheating, overpopulated world.

Parrot death certificate

Each animal used in these artworks come from various sources after they have died. I’m not sure what this label says, but I think it gives you the details of from where and when it came.

Insect mosaic 2

There were stunning jewel-like mosaics of insects, showing a baffling range of diversity. Each insect is a work of art—which is the main point of the exhibit. Christopher Marley wants you to truly *see* our fellow co-inhabitants of this planet. It is a humbling proposition, to view their incredible variation, and knowing that so many are being crushed under the boot of ever-encroaching humanity. It’s sobering indeed.

Beetle color study 3

Color is a main component of this exhibit, and variation within each specie. Seeing them side by side like this is quite mind blowing…  A long time ago, I learned that iridescence is a result of so called structural color, which “…is manifested in its inherent physical surface geometries rather than as a separately applied layer of pigment…”(Linked to an old post of mine, but halfway down it explains the phenomenon of iridescence, if you’re interested.)

Color study 1

When you see them like this, it can be hard to unhinge your eyes from the pattern, and focus your appreciation the individual components. I was astounded how well preserved all these marvelous insects were. Each one was perfectly intact.

Mamba tail

The reptiles were just sumptuous in their mounted elegance. This is the tail of a Mamba – I think. Those who know me know that I have a totally irrational fear of snakes. It has gotten better over the years (I have worked hard on it), but these snakes were fantastic!

Whip snake 2

The wreath of Whip snakes was incredibly slick…

Turtle spiral

… as was this spiral made up of turtle shells of varying sizes. Just fabulous!

Horned insect wreath

The smooth color gradation of this wreath of stag beetles (I think) is lovely!

Beetle gemstone mandala full

I love how color intensity and pattern definition draws your eye into the center of this beetle mandala. They look good enough to eat!

Bird beetle butterfly mandala

This composite bird/stag beetle/butterfly/etc. mandala was one of my favorites. There’s that headless bird again, with the rack of a stag beetle added for effect. Such a fantastic creature! I must mention how incredible impressed I am by the kind of skill that must have gone into the preservation of all these different species. I’m flabbergasted – not a fiber was out of place – anywhere! Absolutely glorious work!

Bird beetle butterfly mandala detail

Better detail here!

Bird butterfly mandala

Here is another favorite. Actually, I had about fifty favorites, so that word really doesn’t mean much in this setting. It’s as impossible to choose as naming a favorite plant. Maybe a favorite genus, but that’s as far as I’ll commit.

Bird butterfly egg mandala detail

Here is a closer detail. That tiny, purple beetle between the wings is a nice touch, and I appreciate the use of eggs.

We were shown a short film before entering the exhibit, where the artist explained his work. Apparently, he was crazy about reptiles growing up, and asked us viewers to try to find out which animals we were most drawn to. My ever-evolving list includes beetles and butterflies, octopus, birds, lizards, and crustaceans.

Octopus mandala

The octopuses are crazy cool!

Octopus with insect

I feel like a broken record, but damn –  they are fantastic! This one is holding some sort of  insect.

Octopus with insect detail

Curiosity is related to intelligence, and Octopuses are highly intelligent animals. Good thing they don’t have thumbs, or us dumb humans would be in trouble…

Purple glittery dragon flies 3

The Dragonflies are pretty awesome, too. I love how their shadows becomes part of the pattern.

Crabs galore

Can you believe the variety in crabs? Such amazing creatures!

Two headed snake 2

This poor fella lived out his life with two heads. I managed to cut his head off in the IG post, so will add it here instead. Such a fascinating mutation, I didn’t want you to miss it.

Sand dollars 2

This Sand dollar display was all the more interesting because of the cut-out rectangle in the center. It added dimensional depth.

Chameleon walk 1

The receding sizes of these Chameleons create the illusion that they are climbing downward. Clever…

Lizard green black

I’ve always loved lizards. All the animals so artfully displayed looked so alive and vibrant, it was as if they would be able to dart, slither, or flutter out of view at any moment. Below is a striking study in monochrome with snake, feathers and fish.

Butterfly mandala red orange yellow white

I’ll finish with a few more mandalas. This is another one of my fifty or so favorites.

Beetle mandala red green blueButterfly black green mandala kaleidoscopeLizard mandalaButterfly black white mandala

You can see why it’s hard to choose a favorite, right? You really need to take some time out and go see this—I promise, you won’t regret it! It’s a glorious display of what marvels still dwell on this planet we call home, but it is also a call for action. With the Australian continent on fire, and the reported “billions of animals” perished in the bushfires, for as gorgeous as this is, it should help lighting a much needed fire under our own asses. The insect apocalypse is already here, and our bird populations are rapidly declining  –  and not only because birds need insects to sustain themselves. Homo sapiens is the only specie I know of that is steadily and alarmingly increasing. (Well, maybe certain types of toxic algae, too… ) Anyway, you get the point. Beauty is everywhere we look, around the world… until it isn’t. Exquisite Creatures is great inspiration to protect our exquisite home, and a celebration of the glorious biological diversity that we are all a part of. Peace out!


PS. One thing that made me giggle a little…. Most displays had signage, listing the Latin and common names, geographical detail, etc., of all these fabulous creatures. That is, until I came to a section of carefully mounted pitcher plants, or Sarracenias (you know the insect eating kinds). Some of them were quite unusual, and it would have been nice to learn what they were. But, they were all listed as ‘Sarracenia sp.’


I get it—we all have our favorites, and honestly—I know very little zoological Latin, and maybe they ran out of time. But, by comparison, I thought it was kind of cute. 🙂

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Wednesday Vignette – looking up

Now that winter is here, except for the occasional ski day, I don’t normally move around as much as I do during the warmer months. I decided I should change that. According to a book I read on neuroplasticity (The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge, MD), the absolute best way to stay sharp and keep your brain in shape, is to walk 3 miles per day at a brisk clip. (He talks about it here at about 8 minutes in*) So, yesterday, I measured out how much a mile was, and timed myself. Turns out, it takes me about 50 minutes to walk 3 miles, so this morning, I set my timer to 25 minutes, and took off. Time will tell if it keeps me out of the Alzheimers ward, but I do hope it will also do good things for the rest of me.

I always forget how nice it is to meander through your neighborhood on foot. You see things in a whole new way, and have time to notice things you don’t when whizzing by in a car. And, I think I said “good morning” to at least 5 people, including a mail carrier busy at work. Walking is a nice, neighborly experience, it turns out. I like that.



One of the main things that thrilled me was looking up. I mean, really – who needs Christmas decorations when you have THIS? I also saw lots of gardens. Some where you could tell a gardener lived, and some, not so much. I noticed multiple perfect empty spots along the way, for some kind of plant, or other. Which led to this fun idea, where I was imagining myself as a guerilla gardener, sneaking out late at night and planting something in chosen spots. Not in a mean way, like this guy I met, who, in taking revenge on a scumbag landlord planted 8 Kudzu plants around the house when he moved out. YIKES! No, I’m talking about paying forward some of the bounty we gardeners possess, either by some form of propagation, division, or simply by our desire to switch things around. Anyway, I’m dreaming… You know that most people probably wouldn’t even notice, and – if they did –  they most likely wouldn’t remember to water. Still, it would be fun, wouldn’t it? I mean, you just might make somebody’s day…

* Funny, as I listened to the video, I realized it is 3 kilometers – not 3 miles! Oh well, I’ll just tell myself that that last mile is for my waistline, and not for my head. LOL!

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Glimpses from the garden – July 2018

I’m all out of space on Flutter & Hum, so this Bloom Day contribution will come to you from The Creative Flux – the blog I started a few years before I went off the deep end into my plant- and garden obsession. I suppose I could bite the bullet and upgrade to the next level, but frankly – unless WordPress and Blogger work out their kinks – I don’t really feel like it. Blogging is a social activity, and if I’m going to keep having problems commenting on anything and everything Blogger, it’s not all that fun anymore. So, since a lot of folks read the Bloom Day posts, I will post the question here: Do any of you have issues interacting with one or the other, or is it just me? Would love some input… thanks!

As for the garden, it feels like I’m constantly watering. It’s been a very dry early summer with frequent desiccating winds. Today we will hit 100F. It was nice earlier in the day when I was out snapping pictures, but now it’s hot, hot, hot, so I’m laying low and staying inside.

The earlier part of the month was adorned by these lovely Canadian lilies; Lilium canadense coccineum. I just love them!

The Hot Cocoa roses are through their first flush and working on the second. Love how they go from orange to a smokey pink as they age.

The little butter yellow buttons of Santolina ‘Lemon Queen’ looking good with the stripy leaves of Acorus variegatus in my hellstrip.

They are next to a stand of Leucanthemum ‘Real Galaxy’.

Zooming out a bit here. Crappy shot, but you get the idea. There are some grasses in there as well as a Yucca gloriosa.

A bee coming in for a landing on Verbena bonariensis.

Love the dark stems and purple, pin-pricked flowers of Trachelium caeruleum.

The tag for this Lysimachia atropurpurea explicitly stated that it’s not invasive. Let’s hope that’s true…

From my shady morning coffee spot, I look out at this; Schefflera taiwanense.

Not really hardy here, but don’t you just love those leaves? Westringia, or Coastal Rosemary.

Iris confusa and Sciadopitys verticillata looking good together.

Trying to curb the growth of Salix babylonica by growing it in a large pot and pruning it when needed. Wish me luck – those leaves are so darn cool, it’s worth having!

Senecio greyii (or Brachyglottis), Yucca rostrata, and Callistemon viridiflora combo on the west side – the only real sun I have, if only briefly.

The flowers of Acanthus spinosus have such marvelous texture!

Gladiolus nana ‘Atom makes me happy!

Not exactly sure which one this is, but it is a Fuchsia magellanica. It has sailed through even the worst winters, and blooms its heart out until the first hard frost.

I’ve been on a Fuchsia kick lately, exploring primarily the single ones with white sepals. This is Carmel Blue, which has almost the largest blooms I’ve come across.

I’ll be damned if I can tell them all apart, but this is some kind of Sarracenia flower. Love these!

Abutilons are almost as floriferous as Fuchsias, it seems.

I’m a big fan of the Clematis viticellas – this one is ‘Royal Velours’, snaking itself up a Snowbell tree.

Here is another recent viticella love… ‘Prince Charles’. The flowers are crazy abundant, and small. Only about 3″ across.

This super fragrant rose came with the house, and these flowers are above the gutters of said house – it’s huge! It’s rangy and rather misshapen, but good lord – I don’t have the heart to take it out! That FRAGRANCE……

Forgot the name of this lily. I thought it would be white, but instead it opened this lovely soft yellow, which works great against the stripes of Miscanthus zebrinus.

Forgot the name of this one too, but I like it. Some kind of spider day lily.

This was sold to me as Hemerocallis citrina a long, long time ago, but I really doubt that is truly what it is, as it doesn’t have a fragrance – at least not to my nose.

Gotta love this oddball; Impatiens niamniamensis ‘Congo Cockatoo’ – tons of red and yellow little shrimp like flowers. Not hardy so I suppose one can call it a very cool annual. 🙂

To finish off, Agapanthus ‘Storm Cloud’ is about to open. Let’s hope the weather gods see this as a plea for some rain. Not too much of a storm, please – just a pleasant, gentle drizzle would work just fine, thank you!

To see the glory of other summer gardens across our overheating globe, head over to Carol at May Dreams Gardens.


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Wednesday Vignette – now what?


I suddenly found myself maxed out of space at Flutter & Hum, so this week’s Vignette is offered to you from the still available territory of The Creative Flux – until I can figure out what to do. This shot is from the fabulous, glazed in “no-man’s land” in between Cleveland Museum of Art’s old building, and the new addition. Every month, they open that space up to the public, and throw one hell of a party with music, dancing, and drinking. The galleries stay open, too. I enjoyed all of it, but was particularly impressed with the combination of material textures and party lighting. Stunning, don’t you think?

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My house is me…

When you raise kids, you end up reading a bunch of kids’ books. While a few are inane, forgettable drivel, most serve you well, and do the trick for the time being. Still another few rise above the many, and teach wonderful lessons that you hope will make a lasting impression on your kiddos, that will help shape their world view, and define how they eventually live their lives. One such story was “The Big Orange Splot” by Daniel Manus Pinkwater. You can hear it read here. (It takes about six minutes.)

The gist of the story is to let your home reflect your dreams and personality. As you can imagine – from the perspective of someone who helps others shape their environments – being asked by clients to help them reflect their dream is a wonderful honor! Color is such a personal thing – the wrong choice can be devastating. Exteriors especially so – they make the personal public.

Last fall, I was approached by a lovely, vivacious couple who embraced the rich, bold hues of the American Southwest. They were hoping to capture the feel of some of those colors, but didn’t want their home to look like a Portland clown house. When I left a couple of hours later, we had figured it out. It took me until this past week to go back and photograph it, but I’m so glad I finally did!


The welcome mat pretty much sums it up – this is a bright, cheerful place!


I would love to replace the shaped Camellia shrubs with something different that would complement the new colors. I think something from Xera’s bag of tricks would be lovely!


The color of the new growth on the rose was just perfect against the dark teal wall – it matches the red trim beautifully. (The photos don’t quite do the color justice – the blue draws a little more toward green than actually shows up in the photographs.)


I can just see a few colorful pots with sun-loving Agaves sitting atop the pebble-covered drain…


I hope they will enjoy their happy, bright home for many years to come! 🙂




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On Scandinavian painting traditions – aspirations, light, and mindset…. Part 1


Perfect image borrowed from Jörgen Larsson of jlfoto.com – thank you!

Although we have effectively turned the corner, with both the winter solstice and 2016 behind us, it doesn’t yet feel as if the light is coming back. At least not to me. But – you have to trust me on this – the experience of this from the vantage point of Oregon, is nothing compared to spending deep winter in Scandinavia! The most obvious adverse effect of spending the cold months in the Land of the Midnight Sun, is that the sun mostly is absent. It seems almost perpetually dark – it’s dark when you get up, it’s dark when you get to work, and although you may see a glimpse of daylight at lunch,  you can be pretty certain it’s dark again when you get to go home.

Utsikt över Bysjön, Åtvidaberg

Even midday, the sun never rises far above the horizon this time of year. Photo from a walk near Bysjön, Åtvidaberg, Sweden, in early February 2016, around 11:15 am. Other than a few shreds of blue sky and some yellow reeds along the shore, this is pretty much a study spanning the monochrome gray scale.

Out of this cold and rather dreary existence grew a mythology which differs from every other by offering no hope whatsoever, of an afterlife. As the great life giver, the elusive sun became an obvious target of worship, as the Norsemen stoically endured their allotted time on Earth. Modern Scandinavians know that the common winter depression caused by light deprivation can be treated by exposure to ultra-violet rays. Before the advent of modern technology however, people resorted to paint as a medium to chase away the ghosts of darkness, and bring light and warmth into their lives during the long, bitterly cold and dark winter months. And that, my friends, is the topic of this post. It seems appropriate, since I’m currently more or less housebound due to severe winter weather (and very grateful for electric lights, mind you.)

A modern day copy of what a viking long house is thought to have looked like. Isn't it interesting how much it resembles and upside down ship?

A modern day copy of what a viking long house is thought to have looked like, located in Böda Ekopark. Isn’t it interesting how much it resembles an upside down ship? Photo borrowed from Sveaskog’s website.

The Scandinavian tradition of decorating with paint stems back to the days of the Vikings – at least. Painted decor remained popular until the late 19th century, when gas and eventually electric lighting became common. We know that Vikings painted textile wall hangings and wove tapestries that in addition to providing cheer, also masked the underlying construction, and reduced drafts. They also adorned their furniture which, for the most part, was builtin. It wasn’t until the 17th century that freestanding furniture became the norm. Plenty of painted surfaces remain to be admired in churches, castles and manor houses. As for the abodes of the common, however, anything older than 400 years is anything but.

Around 1,000 AD – at the end of the Viking era , Sweden started becoming christianized. As the frequency of Viking raids tapered off, the first documented friendly, cultural  connection with the rest of Europe happened in 1152, when a Cardinal from Rome visited this relative outpost of civilization. The subsequent formal inclusion into the Catholic church obviously had an effect on the painted motifs. Mind you, the switchover was not a whole-hearted adaptation. For a long, long time, church decor manifested a parallel faith with an abundance of pagan symbols, interspersed with the Biblical scenes. I wrote more about mystical symbolism here, if you’re interested, but for the purpose of the spiritual arts seen in churches; let’s just say that rings were a common, if not ever present, symbol of the all-important sun.

Although the ribs of the dome are structural, they have been incorporated into and recede into the ornamentation - a magnificent sun cross that spans the entire ceiling. This is in Härkeberga Church, Sweden, and was painted by one of the foremost in his field - Albertus Pictor in the 1400's. Photo from Jocasta Innes book

Although the ribs of the dome are structural, they have been incorporated into and recede into the ornamentation – a magnificent sun cross that spans the entire ceiling. This is in Härkeberga Church, Sweden, and was painted by one of the foremost in his field – Albertus Pictor in the 1400’s. Photo from Jocasta Innes’ book ” Scandinavian Painted Decor”.

Church paintings were also meant to educate and enchant – a large scale Biblia Pauperum – an illustration based, block printed bible to convey the message to the illiterate masses. The images in Biblia Pauperum were heavily relied upon for inspiration for church paintings. Although several are known by name, the most famous – and one of the most prolific – of the medieval church painters that covered the Swedish countryside in polychrome, was a German man named Albertus Pictor (1440 – 1507). Walls and ceilings were coated in painted, storytelling vignettes and stenciled ornamentation. While his assistants carried out the repetitive work with templates and stencils, Albertus created scenes depicting motley groups of local figures dressed in their finest, crowned virgins, devils, fantastic fantasy creatures, and haloed saints, acting out tales from the Bible and from heaven, purgatory, and hell.


Image from the dome of Härkeberga church, painted by Albertus Pictor. Photo gratefully pilfered from Lennart Waara.


Jonah and the whale by Albertus Pictor in Härkeberga church. Photo borrowed from Lars-Olof Albertsson.


‘Death playing chess’ from Täby church. Photo by Håkan Svensson.

Elaborate illustrations of the Last Judgement were popular, where major donors and church patrons could be seen ascending to heaven, surrounded by angels and other members of the congregation. Similarly, the Damned were vividly illustrated with ghastly, hideously contorted faces, as they were dragged down to Hell where, no doubt, unthinkable torments would befall them.

Södra Råda church, 1494.

Södra Råda church, 1494. Photo from Wikipedia.

Occasionally, there were disputes over compensation. Proof of any such indiscretions exist to this day. Woe he who withheld payment – he would soon find his portrait not as part of the Ascension, but instead among the Damned.


You’d do best to stay on the painter’s good side! From Bromma church. Photo by Jinge off Bilderblogg.se.

Photo by Lennart Waara.

According to records, Albertus and his team completed one medium-sized church per year. Härkeberga church, by Albertus Pictor. Photo by Lennart Waara.

The medieval period of chromatic exuberance was relatively short-lived in Sweden. Around 1523 (which coincides with Gustav Vasa finally gathering the warring factions of the country under one crown) the Reformation reached Sweden. As a gesture of puritan revolt against ornamentation, many colorful  church interiors were soon whitewashed over, to adhere to the new Lutheran aesthetic. From that time on, color in churches was mainly confined to the ceilings.

This is what it could have looked like post-Reformation, after the illustrations on the walls had been whitewashed over. From Gökhems kyrka. Photo from Wikipedia.

This is what it might have looked like post-Reformation, after the wall illustrations had been whitewashed over. This is from Gökhem church outside Falköping, Västergötland. It is very likely that the ceiling appeared far more colorful when it was new. The mineral-based pigments often oxidized over time, which dramatically changed and muted their appearance.  Photo from Wikipedia.

Fads moved slowly in the Middle Ages, and fashions of all types took their time reaching the northern parts of Europe from the continental mainland. Despite the emergence of the Lübeck-based Hanseatic League , and the intense Germanic influence that followed, stylistic expression up north was usually quite a few years behind the rest of Europe. As trade relations flourished, and fortunes were amassed, the cultural interactions increased. By the mid-17th century, the folky naiveness of the nordic painters were rapidly falling out of favor, and the craftsmen were under pressure to imitate the greater realism and exaggerated, elongated forms of Italian Mannerism. It had been all the rage in post High Renaissance Italy, and in turn led to the dramatic and rather bombastic heroism of the Baroque period.

'Madonna and child' by Italian mannerist artist Parmigianino, from 1535-40.

‘Madonna and child’ by Italian artist Parmigianino, from 1535-40 is pretty much the epitome of Mannerist art. Note the long, languid forms, and unnaturally long necks and limbs. Photo from Wikipedia.

Samples from this somewhat transitional period shows that the Swedish church painters had obvious difficulty with the task at hand. Just like resourceful school-kids will enlarge the typeface and increase the spacing in an attempt to conceal any lack of substance in their writing assignment, the creative painters of this era would incorporate thunderous, rolling clouds to cover up weak or difficult spots like hands and feet.

Note the very long feet... Painting from Njutånger church.

Note the very long feet…  Painting from Njutånger church.

Another illustration from Njutånger church. The feet of the saint are covered up with large, rolling waves.

Another illustration from Njutånger church. The feet of the saint are covered up with large, rolling waves.

During the 1600’s, resulting in no small part from the brisk trading and international diplomacy, the Swedish court started frequenting the other courts of Europe more, and pressure to adopt the continental style increased. In order to fend off foreign competition, many craftsmen ventured south to be educated in the latest fashions and develop techniques in faux-painting, emulating wood graining, marbeling, plaster work, and grisaille. Inhabited by the powerful statesman Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie, Läckö Castle was the most influential Swedish house of the 17th century, and became instrumental in popularizing the newly imported heroic style. Riddarsalen (the Hall of Chivalry) was painted to resemble heavily applied plaster work – blue-gray grisaille on a deep red background, with trompe l’oeil mouldings and swirling Acanthus leaves (which, by the way would not survive a Swedish winter). To top it all off, a swarm of carved and painted cherubs were installed to dangle from the artfully coffered ceiling, to further emphasize the magnificient three-dimensional effect. The execution and effect of this painted ceiling was hugely influential. A few decades later, just about every home above peasant level had some kind of reiteration of it. Within a century, the style had become vernacularized.

Riddarsalen (Hall of Chivalry) at Läckö Castle. Note the wooden floor and the suspended cherubs, which added additional three-dimensionality to the painted coffered ceiling.

Riddarsalen (Hall of Chivalry) at Läckö Castle. Note the wooden floor and the suspended cherubs, which added additional three-dimensionality to the painted coffered ceiling. The herringbone pattern on the floor is significant in Scandinavian symbolism. You may read more about that here if you like.

Another simpler, but equally eye-thwarting decorative trompe l’oeil concept was used on a grander scale in this chamber at Nyborg Slot, Denmark (the Nyborg Castle). I think the three-dimensionality of its walls would have made M.C. Escher proud. This same pattern has since been emulated in marble flooring. Can you imagine the sensory effects of walking across that floor? I think it might make me dizzy…


Rather dizzying, don't you agree?

Rather dizzying, don’t you agree?

While many of the textures found in the vernacular painted decor of northern Europe represent quaint attempts to be like their southern counterparts, the Scandinavian condition presented several traits that eventually set its painting traditions apart:

  1. Light

    Photo from ‘Scandinavian Painted Decor’.

    For one thing the delicate, luminous quality of the light. As Jocasta Innes so eloquently put it in her book ‘Scandinavian Painted Decor’; “…entering low and aslant, it gives the simplest object a luminous, sculptural presence, and creates a lyrical chiaroscuro…”. It lent a softness to colors – a subtle, less harsh tonality than in the sunny south, that has been famously captured by artists such as the Skagen painters . Floors were rarely painted, but left bare to reflect the light. So were window sills and ceilings, too, in order to preserve and maximize this precious amenity. (Except, as you already know, in churches and other larger spaces aimed at creating impressions of power and reverence, such as castles and manor houses.)




Photo from ‘Scandinavian Painted Decor’.

2. Another factor was the near absence of access to the materials used on the European mainland, and the cost-prohibitively long distances due to Sweden’s geographic isolation, should the idea of importing them come up. While their southern European counterparts had the luxury of using the real thing, Scandinavia’s indigenous materials were primarily pine, spruce, oak, and birch, along with granite and gneiss – not marble and mahogany. Scandinavia only has one naturally occurring marble, and precious hardwoods are pretty much non-existent. To the ever pragmatic Swedes, it made more practical and economic sense to use indigenous materials, and utilize faux-painting to imitate the rather garish, contemporary southern opulence. The armies of skilled painters that roamed the Swedish towns and countryside in order to accomplish this, held a unique status in society. They were popular with both nobility, merchants and farmers, and enjoyed prestige and power beyond that of most other trades.


3. As mentioned above, the bare, scrubbed fir floor boards, were a notable use of local abundance. You will find that those wide, magnificent, fir boards bear witness to the richness of the original forests that used to cover the land. I wrote more about the prevalence of wood here. From the most stately of castles and manor houses, down to your average farm kitchen, those  floors are an essential component of the clean, blonde aesthetic Sweden is known for. They beautifully reflect the sparse, slanted, blue winter light, and the soft, worn, well-treaded wood serves as a foil for the artistic flair evident on walls and furniture.



Photo from 'The Swedish Room'.

Photo from ‘The Swedish Room’.

4. The same fatalistic, and rather austere temperament demonstrated in the Norse myths is displayed in Sweden’s comparatively muted decor. Swedes never did quite adopt the full flourish and extravagant opulence of the baroque and rococo aesthetic. Lines remained straighter, flourishes more restrained, and colors more muted. The most prominent color on the interior was a pearly gray. Others were mild pastels in chalky, matte textures. As we shall soon see, the 18th century eventually brings all these aspects together into a golden era of design.




The move from the rustling armory and mobilizing armies of the 1600’s into the considerably lighter, more carefree existence of the Age of Enlightment, seems a good place to stop, for now. More to come soon, on – among other things – the Gustavian era.


Historien om Sverige – Från islossning till kungarike by Herman Lindquist

Scandinavian Painted Decor by Jocasta Innes

Så målade man by Karin Fridell Anter and Henrik Wannfors

The Swedish Room by Lars Sjöberg, Ursula Sjöberg. Photography by Ingalill Snitt

Dalmålningarna och deras förlagor by Svante Svärdström

The Internet. A big Thank You to all I borrowed photos from. I tried to give credit where I could.

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Wednesday Vignette – orange is the new cat

The color orange has gotten kind of a bad rep during the past year, or so. I confess I still like it – a lot- as long as it is kept at a safe distance from old, sexist dirtbags whose name shall not be named. Over the past few months, the kitchen I helped my mother design in February, has been built. By now, it is nearly finished, so it was time to think about further embellishments than hardware and other more stationary components. When she visited us in Portland this week, we found the perfect curtain fabric.

Designed by someone with the iconic last name of Aalto, we found this fabric at IKEA of all places. At a whopping $4.99/yard!

Designed by someone with the iconic last name of Aalto, we found this fabric at IKEA of all places. At a whopping $4.99/yard! Fell in love – so much fun! And, who doesn’t love a bargain? We bought just enough for a simple panel over the window.

I think you will agree – the cat curtain will provide a fun accent, and a perfect color echo for the tempered glass backsplash we used.  Joining in with the Wednesday Vignette meme over at Flutter & Hum. 🙂


Some low-voltage lighting in the ceiling (yet to be installed when this photo was taken) will bring the overhead light up to par with that of the counter. Full post on the final finished result will follow . A sneak peek at the “before” is below. The corner in this photo is where the fridge was before.



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