Influences

comments: 152

Seamstress
Seamstress

Thank you for all of your kind comments yesterday, and for just indulging me, in general. Talking about your process is sort of like telling someone about the dream you had the night before: You're sloshing through, explaining as much to yourself as to anyone else, trying to put your finger on exactly what it was for a moment, in case there's something there you might need to know. . . .

As I've been scoping out the house for locations—almost all of the photos for this book, like my first one, will be taken here in our house, with our own paint colors and furniture (with all its nicks and scuffs), with our own stuff propping shots, with our own beds and chairs and cups and pup in the background—I've been noticing how much the paintings of Swedish artist Carl Larsson have influenced our home, and my sense of the spaces I try to create.

BritasLittleNap
Brita's Little Nap

I first encountered the work of Carl Larsson (1853-1919) when I was a freshman at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, the small liberal arts college that both Andy (and his mom, his dad, his sister, his aunt, his grandparents, his great-aunts and uncles, and maybe other relatives I don't even know about) and I went to and where we met, almost twenty years ago now (egads).

(I should pause here to say how much we love like LOVE loveour school, and what a special, awesome place it is in too many ways to count, if you're looking for a great school to go to or to send someone to.)

Tucked into the hills on the east bank of the Mississippi River, Augustana was founded in 1860 by Swedish settlers, and its Scandinavian heritage is keenly felt in every aspect of place, from philosophy to decor. I was raised in an Italian-Catholic family, but my father was a Scandiaphilehe maintained a lifelong interest in Norse legend and culture (our dogs were named Odin and Loki), and his childhood best friend (my godfather) was a Swede, and it was my dad's idea that I go to school at Augustana. I just wanted to go to a small, pretty school in a small town. But people said it was a good school, and when I visited it seemed very nice, and it was very pretty, so off I went. One day, early on, in the bookstore I found a postcard:

FlowerWindow
Flower Window

Though I had never heard of the artist, I thought it was such a sweet painting, and for years I had Flower Window hanging on my bulletin board. (Years later I realized that if anyone has seen one of Carl Larsson paintings, there's a good chance it's this one!) At Augustana, I wrote my senior thesis on the painters Arthur Rackham and John William Waterhouse, and in that I explored how the domestic detailsthe calicos and cups and saucersin those artists' paintings contributed to the realism part of the magical-realism they evoke. I was always interested in this notion. I need to look for that paper and see if I still have it. It was a year-long research project that I really loved writing.

There was a big bay window filled with geraniums at the south end of the hall on the first floor of Old Main, and that's where the English Department was. I worked as a student assistant for all four of my years there. I loved the department secretary, Joan Robinson, light as a bird, full of nervous, flitting energy and a million belly laughs. She had been there for many years, and was older than my own mother, but we hit it off fantastically, and my friendship with her and many of the English department faculty was a huge part of my happiness at school. Grinning, twinkly eyed Dr. Tweet (who looked like a character in one of the folk tales he loved, and who once, when he was cleaning out the garage, gave me the best three-speed bicycle I have ever, ever had) held court most afternoons on the sofa outside the departmenthe had a huge fan club of students and professors alikeand he tended the ancient geranium collection, and taught me that the plants liked to dry out and then be given a nice, long drink. I see now that he was probably conjuring Larsson's painting. It was always warm there. It was always quiet, and friendly, and filled with laughter, and learning. When I think of some of my happiest times, I think of that bright corner, and those flowers, and those friends, and how my life changed then.

LisbethReading
Lisbeth Reading

Though the years, and especially now that I am so far from that time and that place, I see that Larsson's paintings have heavily influenced the kind of home I have tried to createthose delicate, clean colors; the many blues and greens, always punctuated by red; the windows; the tiny details that seem to matter; the people and pets given space to linger; the warmth and calmall those things so vital in Larsson's paintings seem to guide my vision of homemaking.

LazyCorner
Lazy Corner

PapasBedroom
Papa's Bedroom

Bridesmaid
Bridesmaid

Ingrid
Ingrid W.

LisbethWithYellowTulip
Lisbeth with Yellow Tulip

Crayfishing
Crayfishing

By his own account, Larsson had an atrocious childhood, filled with poverty, neglect, and hardship. At age 30, he married artist (and skilled needlewoman) Karin Bergoo, and five years later her father gave the couple a small house, Lilla Hyttnas (Little Furnace), in the country. I love this description of how the house came to be the Larssons. Carl and Karin would have eight children of their own, and go on to lovingly design, add on to, and decorate the house for the next several decades, making it one of the best-loved artist's homes in the world. In hundreds of watercolors, Larsson documented the everyday domestic activities of his family and homelife against the backdrop of Lilla Hyttnas, and in those happy images it's clear that the house is both his canvas and his muse. I love this ideathat place, and space, can change your lifeand I know it is true for me, as well.

InTheGarden
In the Garden

I didn't really realize I was doing it, but when I looked at all of the photos from the shoot, I could see that in some way I'd been channeling, and pulled out my Larsson books to look. Sure enough. I see it, and am pleased. All those influences surface, like watching a photo in the developing tray: I come from places, and people. I see them there.

152 comments

i love carl larsson and can see similarities to your aesthetic! when you have time, you must see the scandinavian movie 'everlasting moments'. you will love it!

Amazing pictures! Thank-you for introducing me to him.


When viewing photos of your home I've often thought, with a sigh, "Carl Larsson. Her home, it's colors and contents and charm remind me of Carl Larsson's." Which, in my opinion, is a lovely, lovely ideal.

Thank you for introducing me to Carl Larsson and his work! I love it! Now I must find out more about him, and see more of his pictures. Beautiful. :)

What a lovely post. I can't wait to see your new book!

What a wonderful surprise you've given us today. Thank you.

Oh, I love love love this post. And I am so happy to learn about this artist. I knew nothing about him.

I often feel out of sync with the world because I find such beauty with in the home and from it's windows. I don't need to go outside my space to find it..and I live in an apartment - imagine how I would never leave if I had a a big beautiful house. :-)

I just recently discovered your blog and subscribed to the feed. This particular post feels to me like a breath of fresh air, so full of beauty and warmth. Thank you so much for sharing your memories of Augustana, Larsson's imagery, and more. It is all such an inspiration...! :)

Here's a little something I ran across recently that I think you might enjoy -- http://www.tonykahn.com/Hi_Tony/Scrapbook/Entries/2008/12/10_Entry_1_1.html

Your writing just draws me in Alicia! It flows so naturally and your feelings really come through. It is always a highlight of my day to read a new post of yours. Thanks!

Such an interesting and educational post. I love your photos because they evoke the same feeling when one looks upon them as you feel looking at all the paintings featured in this one.

Someday, perhaps those of us who blog will make our children happy because we took the joy of everyday life and everyday beauty and posted photos and wrote about them! (I must remember to start printing off my blog entries!)

I was wondering if anyone is still at Augustana who taught you, and if they were aware that you're now a published author?! That would be so rewarding to know that a student had gone on to produce such art as you have done!

I have a print of the geranium picture in my hallway. I love his work and Karin's beautiful embroidery and furniture design.

I love this!And I lvoe your mentoning of domestic things in waterhouses paintings. I am going to an exhibition of women portraits of him this month. So you added another layer to my looking..

I used to work for a lady who had Carl Larsson prints all over her house...I always loved their clean lines and colours and his view of domesticity...thanks for reminding me!!

What a beautifully written piece. It makes me look forward even more to the book. Cheers!

Susan, Tsawwassen, BC says: March 11, 2009 at 12:59 PM

This was so enjoyable to read while I ate my lunch here at work. Thank you for sharing your memories and insights and inspirations. I so enjoy your blog. As I unpack my lunch each day you are the first one I invite to join me and hear what you have to say and/or see what you've been up to.

I've loved his work since my Aunt started sending notecards with his work on them when I was young.
There is a book you might be interested in, which I almost bought when it came out... I thumbed through it at the book store and think the only reason I hesitated to get it was cost...
It focuses on their work and style and how it revolutionized interior design in their native country.

http://www.amazon.com/Carl-Karin-Larsson-Creators-Swedish/dp/0821224816

Wow! I had never before seen those paintings...beautiful. Thank you for that mini-art/life lession! There is such a simplicity to his paintings...they make you just want to crawl into them and take a rest yourself! Something to appreciate in these busy lives we lead nowadays...refreshing!

Yummy, yummy, yummy. I would like to summer there...

Wow, the depth in those is really amazing!

Oh I love Carl Larsson! I have several of his prints and they make me so happy.
I grew up on a dairy farm in a Scandinavian community in Wisconsin... in fact I was a Larson.
Thank you for sharing his history and paintings... some that I had never seen before.
Thanks Alicia.

I too have always loved Carl Larsson's work. Maybe it's my Swedish ancestry coming through! I have a Larsson calendar on my fridge to enjoy all year. Thank you for sharing all these wonderful pictures and your wonderful prose!

Alicia- I love your blog. Your writing really touches me in lots of different ways. In the very early 1900's, my grandmother Anna Christina Larson (was it Larsson originally??-who knows?)came over from Sweden, by herself, when she was only 16 years old. We know so little of her life in Sweden and I wish we knew more. My oldest sister found Carl Larsson's work years ago and I've loved it for a long time. Have you ever learned Swedish Weaving? When I was in Home Ec classes, back in the 1960's (I'm old!), we called it Huck Toweling. Go to Nordic Needle's website and check out all the great things they have to offer - Swedish Weaving, Hardanger Embroidery. All fun stuff. I haven't thought of Swedish Weaving for years, but just might have to order some materials to get started again. Thank you for your beatiful thoughts and words - I look forward to your updates.

Loved browsing through the Carl Larsson works. "Flower Window" reminded me of a dining room window in a house I lived in when I was a young, single "hippie" girl. The window was full of plants and flowers on the window seat and hanging above. Those were some of my more creative years and a time when I read and read wonderful books. Great memory, inspiring blog!

What gorgeous paintings - thanks so much for sharing, and for inspiring me to think about my own influences.

This is beautiful. Thank you.

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About Alicia Paulson

About

My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com

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Photography

Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.