Splendour in the glass

Are Swedish artists hiding their light under a bush? Neil Roland has to go deep into the forest to find the country's top craftsmen

In this country of paradoxes, Swedes regard blending in as a true virtue, yet they like nothing more than to stand out. Ironically for a place which prides itself on being utterly straightforward, things are rarely what they seem.

A good example of this paradox can be found in the south-eastern province of Smaland. This vast terrain has known such sadness, intensity of emotion and creativity, it is somehow appropriate that its raw charms are veiled in a cloak of forest. Hidden among a necklace of lakes and swaths of birch and pine lurk Sweden's glass factories.

Fifteen glassworks are based here, the main players being the world-renowned Kosta Boda and Orrefors factories (once rivals, but now owned by the same company). Together with independents such as Linshammar, Bergdala (blue-rimmed tableware), Johanfors and the evocatively named Pukeberg, all provide daily glass-blowing demonstrations, a mesmerising sight as glass plugs are fished from their molten lakes at 1,100C, the glowing tangerine gobs rolled and shaped into recognisable forms.

Swedes may be charged with being reticent, often shy and modest beyond the call of duty, but when they do decide to promote something, the marketing is ferocious. A handful of glass designers at Kosta Boda and Orrefors are lauded with the most absurd hyperbole and tourist office staff sigh– as only Swedes can sigh – about their rare talents.

To find some truly innovative glass art, however, you should visit the tiny studios that receive none of this kind of promotion. Seek out the Transjo studio, just behind the Kosta factory. Wilke Adolfsson trained at Orrefors (the factory) but now creates special glass from a tiny studio in Brinkleden at Orrefors (the village). Take a look, too, at Gullaskruv, run by glass designers from Uruguay.

The towns of Vaxjo (pronounced Vah-quer) and Kalmar are the best places from which to explore the area. Vaxjo is home to the Swedish Glass Museum, which shows 500 years of glass heritage, though Sweden became renowned for its glassware only in the late 1800s. Among its permanent collection is the superb work of Richard Rackham, a British master who lectures at Vaxjo university and has a studio on the west coast.

Smaland cuisine is a product of poverty, but also a joy. Try a spicy sausage called isterband, traditionally served with potatoes in dill sauce, and potato pancakes with lingonberry sauce. The local dessert is a rich curd cheesecake with cloudberry sauce. For a painless encounter with the tourist trap, join a hyttsil evening. For centuries, local peasants and glass workers ate herrings, sausages and potatoes baked in the cooling embers of the glass furnaces at the end of each day. Almost all the glassworks maintain this tradition, on different days of the week.

Smaland is more familiar to Americans than to Britons. In the 1870s, a sixth of the entire Swedish population, faced with starvation due to agricultural reforms, emigrated to the States. By 1910, Chicago had more Swedes than Gothenburg. You can find out about their horrendous journeys, via Hull and Liverpool, at the House of Emigrants museum in Vaxjo. Of the 1,500 who died on the Titanic, several hundred were Smaland emigrants.

It is only about an hour's drive to the city of Kalmar, a modest treasure on Smaland's Baltic coast. Domestic tourists come here only to cross a 6km bridge leading to the island of Oland, one of Sweden's best-loved holiday destinations, yet it is a splendid goal in itself. Kalmar's New Town was built in the late 17th century after a devastating fire; the Old Town, which dates back to the beginning of the same century, is a tiny maze of cobbled lanes flanked by egg yolk-yellow and wisteria-blue cottages. Kullzenska Café is the most atmospheric in town. It's an early-18th-century house, which until fairly recently was home to three siblings who left its interior of eight interconnecting rooms exactly as it had been for 150 years. Old Indian carpets, elaborate ceiling-high glazed stoves, glinting chandeliers and hand-painted walls all look down on a mishmash of ancient couches and tables, where locals eat the gooiest cakes in town.

One final paradox has created a unique visual feast and a cemetery very different from any other. During the 1950s 100 or so cars were abandoned in the forest a couple of kilometres from Ryd in southern Smaland. The trees grew around them, and the cars began to sink into the peaty bog. Now Europe's only car cemetery is recognised as an area of historical significance. A ghostly traffic jam, and a photographer's dream.

Scandinavian Airlines (0845-607 2772; www.scandinavian.net) offers return flights to Vaxjo cost from £228 and to Kalmar from £230. Swedish Travel and Tourism Council (00800 30803080; www.visit-sweden.com

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own