Fogelbo: a bird’s nest full of treasures
An interview with Ross Fogelquist, “Mr. Scandinavia,” inside his remarkable home
Ross Fogelquist remembers the use and origin of each collected piece in his historic home, Fogelbo (“bird nest” in Swedish). He’s spent the last 60 years replacing every item in the log cabin, built by one of Oregon’s treasured architects, Henry Steiner, with the equivalent 18th- or 19th-century Scandinavian antique. From an unrecognizable coffee grinder to a rosemaled tape dispenser, entering the house is stepping into a time capsule. Fogelbo is an homage to folk art and Scandinavian craftsmanship and is considered one of the largest private collections of Scandinavian antiques in America. Fogelquist describes Fogelbo as the perfect setting for this collection. The cabin was built in 1938, commissioned by the Oscar Olson family, and stands on what is today Oleson Road in southwest Portland, Ore. The Fogelquists purchased the home in 1952, when Ross was 13 (he was also born in 1938), and he still lives there today, leading quarterly tours of Fogelbo.
Fogelquist’s connection to Sweden is clear. His family has its roots in Dalarna, he served as Honorary Vice Consul to Sweden, was decorated by the King of Sweden in 1985 (Knight of the Royal Order of the Polar Star—Nordstjärneorden), and has been essential in Portland’s New Sweden Cultural Heritage Society and the annual Scandinavian Midsummer Festival, in its 91st year this June! He was one of the founders of Nordic Northwest (formerly the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation) and other local Swedish organizations.
Almost half of his collection comes from Norway, and I spent an afternoon asking about what that country means to him.
Fogelquist began our visit by showing me a historic document, signed by the King of Norway and Sweden, Carl XIV Johan. He pulled the framed page from behind a couch and told me he has had it for over 20 years.
Laila Simon: When did your love of folk art start?
Ross Fogelquist: When I was a little kid, I would go into my Swedish grandfather’s attic. I asked him if I could have a particular item and he would say, “yah, sure, you take any old tings you want to up der,” [Fogelquist has perfected the Swedish accent]. So, I would take it out to the car, this was in the late 1940s early 1950s, and my other relatives would say, “What are you hauling that old junk home for?” Or they would say, “What are you going to do with that old stuff?”
Then, 60 years later, they said, “Well how come you got grandma’s lamp and you got grandfather’s desk and you have this and that?” I was thinking when I was a little kid.
I always had a liking for Scandinavian things, and that’s how it started. I really started collecting when I worked as a German teacher in 1965 when I had some spending money. Of course the house tied in with all of this. This house we bought is more of a Norwegian-style home because they [Henry Steiner & family] used full round logs, they didn’t square them as they did in Sweden and Finland. Fogelbo could easily be in the Norwegian mountains.
LS: What else can you tell me about your personal connection to Norway?
RF: I was in Norway the first time in 1960 and I had just finished going to the University of Vienna for a year. I was in Austria for a year on a foreign study program, and I visited Norway and fell in love with the Norwegian folk art and wood carvings. I already had a liking for that kind of art. Of course, my grandfather had a lot to do with that. As a woodcarver and craftsman, he made those two chairs there. He went to a technical school in Stockholm and learned how to make decorative items from wood. He was born in Mora where the wooden Mora Clocks and the knives are famous. I’ve been back to Norway five or six times, once at Christmas, and that was wonderful. Lots of snow, and I visited a Norwegian family in Oslo.
LS: How did you know the family?
RF: I was a coordinator for the American Scandinavian Student Exchange programs in the Portland/Vancouver area, and I brought a number of Norwegian students here to live with families for a year, so that’s how I got connected with a lot of Norwegians. I had a number of students from other countries, but the Scandinavians were always special, and the Norwegians were even more special. I went back and visited some of those students in Norway, and they took me around, showed me wonderful things like the folk art and the folk museums.
LS: Do you have any favorite things to collect from Norway or favorite items?
RF: I like anything that has rosemaling on it. [We both laugh because as you look around his home it’s an obvious obsession.] Old rosemaling, which of course is very hard to come by, and wood carvings. And textiles! The difference is, rosemaling in Norway is for all painted items in Norway. Dalmaling is the kind of thing that’s from Dalarna, from where my grandfather is from, but other sections of Sweden had different kinds of painting from different regions, but in Norway it was all rosemaling.
LS: Do you ever get caught in the Swedish Norwegian rivalry?
RF: Not really. We kind of poke fun at each other!
LS: Where does your collection come from?
RF: Everybody knows, friends, if they see anything Norwegian to call me from estate sales. So I picked up some things that friends have tipped me off, Scandinavian items. And I’ve been buying a lot from eBay now, I’m a bad boy. It’s been hard to acquire antiques because of the laws around that.
Anything over 100 years old, you’re not supposed to take it out. I don’t know what it covers and Sweden’s the same way, but Norway has been very strict for 30 years.
The country didn’t want to lose its heritage because people love those things and they were flying out of the country.
LS: What sort of people come to Fogelbo?
RF: Unless you have some European roots, you don’t know what you’re looking at. Some people walk in and walk out—no response. Many people are like, “Oh my god!” but Scandinavians particularly like my home and collection. Everyone is welcome at Fogelbo!
Fogelquist continues to lead the tours of the historic home, offered quarterly through Nordic Northwest. Fogelbo is trusted to the organization and the property will eventually be preserved as a museum. Learn more at www.nordicnorthwest.org/fogelbo.
Laila Simon is a Portlander with deep roots in Norway. She writes and translates poetry, spends her days working at a Nordic nonprofit, and looks for her next travel opportunity. Previously published in St. Olaf’s The Quarry, Silver Birch Press, and on the Rain Taxi: Review of Books website.
This article originally appeared in the August 9, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.