Bottle house and minerals inspired art


New art show combines fascination with minerals and lifelong focus on Minneapolis.

“I had never seen so many beautiful things,” Lauri Svedberg gushes, flipping the pages of a gem and mineral guide.

The Northeast painter picked up the book on a trip to Arizona last winter, a souvenir of the spectacular rock formations she encountered in the deserts outside Tucson, Ariz.

“I mean who knew some of this stuff existed? Look at that!” she says, pointing to the page. “That came out of the ground. It looks like asparagus!”

The geologic wonders inspired Svedberg’s upcoming show, “Mineral-apolis,” a collection of paintings that combine her new fascination with a lifelong one, Minneapolis.

The show opens with a reception Saturday, Oct. 20, 7-10 p.m. at Artistic Indulgence, 302 E. Hennepin Ave., and runs through Nov. 17.

It’s the former high school art teacher’s first solo show and first major exhibition since city zoning rules forced her home gallery, FUNKtional Art, to close last year.

The show features paintings of rare minerals and Minneapolis landmarks, and a handful that combine the two into surrealistic scenes. The IDS and Foshay towers jut from a gem of quartz. A snow-covered Third Avenue Bridge crosses a pile of pink crystal. The Weisman Art Museum sits camouflaged by shards of purple spires.

Visual artist Faith Farrell, a Northeaster known most recently for turning meat into art and winning a national SPAM recipe contest, said the combination is something only Svedberg could pull off.

“If someone told me they were going to do a show on minerals and Minneapolis, I’d be like, (laugh) good luck,” Farrell said. “But with Lauri, she can make that work.”

It started with a two-week stay at a cottage called Anna’s Bottle House, near Saguaro National Park. The cottage is made entirely of colored glass bottles, bonded with cement.

“It’s like a fairy cottage. It reminded me of something out of the Hobbit,” Svedberg said. “The light coming in from all these glass bottles was astounding.”

Svedberg fell in love with the house, and all the gems and minerals that surrounded it. Between hiking and reading, she started painting tributes to the minerals while staying at the Bottle House.

“The whole Southwest if full of amazing rocks. I’m not a geologist, but just from a visual standpoint they’re amazing,” she said.

Svedberg visited shops and museums and bought or collected as many sparkling rocks as she could afford and fit into her car for the drive back. She was absorbed with their unlikely shapes and colors.

However, even on a winter escape from Minnesota, home was on her mind. Among the paintings she started at the Bottle House is the snow-covered Third Avenue Bridge and mineral mashup.

Svedberg calls the Twin Cities an “umbrella” source, from which other ideas flow. The skylines, bridges and other landmarks make frequent appearances in her work.

Svedberg has felt a pull toward the city since she was a child growing up in Cannon Falls, Minn. Among her childhood memories is riding the streetcar downtown to Daytons department store (now Macy’s), where her grandfather worked.

As a high school student, she and her friends would take the bus to the city to hang out at music shops and other hippie hangouts. She eventually enrolled at the University, majoring in studio arts and English and earning a teaching degree.

After a few years teaching art in rural Minnesota and Montana, she settled in Northeast and took a job teaching art at St. Francis High School. Svedberg taught there until 2003, when rheumatoid arthritis forced her to retire early.

“I couldn’t choose,” Svedberg said of the theme of the show. The minerals amazed her, “but I’m also in love with the Twin Cities.”

Besides combining the themes into one, Svedberg also incorporated a bit of the Southwest into her well-known home on the corner of Tyler Street and 34th Avenue. She thought about building a miniature Bottle House in her backyard, but instead used the minerals she brought back to make a door frame between her foyer and kitchen.

It’s the latest addition to a house that has become a neighborhood landmark and was once featured on the Home and Garden Television network for its unusual design.

“It’s just been kind of organic,” Svedberg said about the house’s evolution.

The break from teaching freed up time and energy for Svedberg to pursue more of her own work. But much of those resources were spent promoting other people’s art through her home gallery, which she operated from 1998 to 2006.

Jon Erikson, a sculptor who displayed work there, said he thinks the gallery’s closing may have been a blessing for Svedberg’s own art.

“To put it at a semi-mystical level, it was the universe saying, let this go, it’s time for you to do your own now,” Erikson said.

The volume and quality of Svedberg’s work is astounding, Erikson said. She is a master of her medium, he said.

“I’m honored to call her a colleague, mentor and friend. She is an art goddess, and she’s earned that through a lot of hard work and her talent,” Erikson said.

Farrell, who was a partner in the gallery, credits Svedberg as a major inspiration.

“She infuses her life with her art,” Farrell said. “She extends it into everything. She lives it.”

Svedberg has a knack for solving puzzles, whether they involve piecing together words or shapes, Farrell said. The title of the show is an example, but so are some of the paintings, where landmarks fit seamlessly into mineral formations.

“I think her puzzle abilities come through in her paintings,” Farrell said. “It’s sort of like a visual puzzle she created, and then she makes it work.”

Judith Westergard, another Northeast painter, said she sees an honest fascination with other people in Svedberg’s personality, and that interest shows in her art despite what can seem like a lack of human subjects.

“I don’t think you can do a good cityscape without understanding the people who live in that place,” she said. “She understands the people who live in Minneapolis.”

Mineral-apolis—like Minneap-olis—is about blending cultures, Westergard said. And like what goes on in the city, the show is a blending of cultures that works despite its challenges.

“The minerals are flashy and mystical. Minneapolis is not a mystical city, and yet by superimposing the mystical aspects of the minerals over the cityscape, it gives you a different view of the city.”