Swedish Kakelugnar at the American Swedish Institute

by Marilyn Smith

One of the great treasures of the American Swedish Institute is its collection of 19th Century Kakelugnar—the Swedish word for a glazed tile (kakel) stove (ugn).  The stoves were purchased by Swan J. Turnblad and his wife Christina, for the mansion they built on Park Avenue in Minneapolis from 1904 to 1908. Ordered from Swedish catalogs, the kakelugnar were shipped to the United States and assembled in the mansion, where they remain today.

One of the kakelugnar is located in the mansion’s lower level lounge area.  It was manufactured by B.H. Lundgrens Kakelfabrik in Sweden at the turn of the century, and is one of two that has a scene on its chimney. Done in ceramic relief, the overall imagery on the Kakelugn is Nordic/Celtic and includes an almost exact replica of an 1872 painting by Mårton Eskil Winge entitled, “Thor Slaying the Giants”. In Norse mythology the god Thor drives a goat-drawn carriage across the sky, defeating a wicked band of giants as he wields his hammer that evokes lightning and thunder.

Belief in Thor and other Nordic gods ultimately waned, but oddly the goats remain popular in Swedish culture and folklore. Today, goats are used as holiday decorations and Christmas ornaments, and Tomtar—mischievous brownie-like characters, or mischievous elf-like characters.  Brownie would be preferred. Tomtar are definitely not trolls or troll like.

The tomtar on the kakelugn at the American Swedish Institute are dressed in Viking tunics, belts and boots, and complement the other Nordic/Celtic designs, which include knot-work designs, key patterns, step patterns and spirals, as well as well as zoomorphic designs.

Beyond the imagery described above, one mystery remains about the decor of this kakelugn: To date, no one has been able to determine the significance of the two bats that hover in the upper corners near Thor. What do they represent?

For more information about visiting the American Swedish Institute to see the tile stoves, visit

Kakelugn is located in the mansion’s lower level lounge area of the American Swedish Institue

Handmade Tile Association
34 Thirteenth Avenue NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413

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