Campaign to save Minnesota ‘masterpiece of design, color and Scandinavian art’

They belonged to identical twins Arvid Swenson and Aaron Swenson, who towered in front of her. Their love for Norwegian art had drawn them to her booth like ‘bees for honey’, Jenson laughed.

“Hello guys,” she said.

“They couldn’t even look at me and smile. They had to look away,” Jenson said, remembering their first, shy encounter.

It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship and the beginning of what Jenson now calls “the best years of my life.”

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The twins from rural Flom, Minnesota, became regular visitors to her home in Milan.

The Swenson brothers are independent carpenters and woodworkers. Like Jenson, Aaron Swenson is a gold medalist at the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum in Decorah, Iowa. He is known for his Scandinavian woodworking, while Jenson is of course known for her Norwegian rosemaling.

During continuous visits, the Jenson brothers transformed the once unremarkable home in Milan into the Trestuen Garden Gallery. The brothers started building a studio for their hard-working artist friend after learning that one day she was essentially locked in the finished building she had been using.

“One day I slammed the door and the whole thing went ‘ugh.’ I couldn’t even get out, I had to call Delores Thompson to throw her body against the door so I could get out,” Jenson said, laughing at the memory.

The brothers cut conifers from her yard and made beams in her house. Trestuen is Swedish for ‘tree room’. Their craftsmanship and hand-carved woodwork shaped the design room by room, and Jenson painted each in Norwegian rosemaling and Swedish dalamalning. More than 50 years of her art make this house a work of art in its own right, and the same can be said for the brothers’ woodworking crafts.

“Everything is built around the love of nature,” said Ron Porep, director of the Milan Village Arts School.

The Milan Village Arts School is now early in a campaign to buy the Jenson family home. The goal is to preserve and preserve the house as it was always intended. Jenson and her husband had bought the house in the 1960s and raised four children.

Jenson, now 86, has lived in an assisted living facility in Appleton for the past few years. She occasionally makes house calls. “Wow, it’s hard to leave it behind,” she said. “Every time I go back, it’s hard to leave.” She said she is hopeful the campaign will make it.

The Milan Village Arts School started renting the house in March 2020, or two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic started. Porep said the goal was to rent out rooms in the house to students and faculty who participate in the Milan Village Arts School programs, while also keeping the house available for art exhibitions, tours and events. COVID interrupted those plans, but not the mission.

The Milan Village Arts School raised $45,000 towards the final purchase of the house. The goal is to potentially raise as much as $400,000, with the intention of setting aside an endowment to fund ongoing operations and maintenance.

It may seem like an ambitious undertaking for a relatively small folk art school, but a worthy one, according to Porep. “Until you see it and walk through the house, you don’t realize how special the house is.”

He still can’t walk around the house without discovering something he hadn’t seen before. The Milan Village Arts School describes the house as a ‘masterpiece of design, color and Scandinavian art’. It includes a gallery, a painting studio, a master bedroom, a Swedish bedroom, a Norwegian bedroom, a library and a Swedish-inspired kitchen. The house is surrounded by gardens that reflect Jenson’s passion for gardening and nature.

Porep and the Milan Village Arts School are optimistic about achieving the goal of preserving the Trestuen Garden Gallery. That optimism is reinforced every time he gets the chance to lead someone through it. Invariably, he said, they are ‘amazed’.

For information on how you can support the campaign, visit givemn.org/organization/Milan-Village-Arts-School.

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