Despite its popular nickname, Minnesota holds records for more than just lakes. It boasts the largest shopping mall in the United States, the world's tallest family and the biggest collection of kakelugnar — Swedish tile stoves — in North America.
The collection can be found at the American Swedish Institute (ASI), an early 1900s mansion-turned-museum in Minneapolis. Eleven stoves adorn the mansion's three floors, with one in nearly every room. At the turn of the 20th century, kakelugnar served a similar purpose to fireplaces; they burned wood or charcoal to create radiant heat through their ceramic tiles. But these stoves, although fully functional, were never used by the home's original owners, says Inga Theissen, ASI's collections manager. They were installed simply for decoration.
Each floor-to-ceiling stove is an impressive centerpiece embellished with careful craftsmanship. Details range from whimsical, brightly colored flowers to forest green fleurs-de-lis, and no two stoves are exactly the same in terms of style or aesthetic. "It was thought that a lot of them are meant to match the decorations in the room," Theissen says.
She describes the collection as "of the era with a personal twist," reflecting design styles that were popular in Sweden at the time. But a few flaunt more traditional iconography from Scandinavian culture and lore. One stove is heavily ornamented with acanthus leaves, which could reflect the region's ties to nature. Another features a pictorial scene of Thor in his goat-led chariot and small statues of gnomes, referencing common motifs in Scandinavian mythology.
To Theissen, the collection represents an important part of the Swedish American experience.
"When you are an immigrant, and you leave, you always take a piece of where you came from to your new place," she says. "In a place like Minnesota, where we have so many Swedish American immigrants, it makes sense that it's here."
The American Swedish Institute
2600 Park Av., Mpls., asimn.org. Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed., Fri.-Sun; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thu.