Peder Strandh traveled from Sweden to share his passion for art with Buena Vista University students for the three-week January term. This is his first trip to the United States.
A "creativist-artist," Strandh has taught art for a number of years in schools and at his studio located in Uppsla, 50 miles north of Stockholm. It was destiny that BVU professor Tim McDaniel, who had the opportunity to teach at Uppsla University in 2007 as a Wythe Award winner, stopped in at Strandh's studio. The two struck up a conversation and McDaniel told Strandh about the unique January interim in Storm Lake and the opportunities it presents to students. Through a series of conversations with his colleagues at BVU, McDaniel helped arrange for Strandh to come to the campus.
His first impression of Iowa - even in its frozen state - was, "what a beautiful landscape. I have fallen in love with Iowa," Strandh said. "The people at BVU have been so nice and have welcomed us." Traveling with him are his wife, Maria, and their 3-month-old daughter Emilia.
Strandh shared that he had no idea what to expect when he arrived to his assigned classroom but has been overwhelmingly surprised. "It has been tremendous," he said, after a week's stay. "It is rare for me to meet students like this - they are so committed. How could I not fall in love with them? This is my pack and they all come from such different backgrounds," he said, pointing to students from Japan, China, Nepal, Mexico, Texas, Michigan and Oregon. I think I have the best students ever."
The course Strandh has outlined for the students is called, Art as Life: Skills of Defining and Overcoming Barriers of the Mind.
While this course is in the visual arts, some of its content can be applicable to other fields of creative expression, Strandh explained. Through interacting with each other the students will obtain a greater understanding of themselves as well as the "advantages and barriers" in the behavioural patterns that are products of our society, results of cultural and/or family structures.
Students have had the opportunity to paint whatever they have wanted to in the class.
"No paintings look alike and I love that. Subconscious things happen to you when you are working with a canvas. Emotions surface, feelings you have been carrying around with you," the visitor said.
Painting allows those expressions to be revealed, just as acting does for the actor and even knitting does for the knitter.
The reward is the finished product and often the result is quite interesting and has taken on a different direction than what it began as. Student Pratiksha Thapa found that the freedom of being able to mix the paint colors together to be refreshing and her prize; the effects of the new colors were truly bringing out the best in her, it was obvious by the passion in her eyes as she stroked on the paint.
"Each artist has their own tone and I have dared them to work with it," Strandh said. "I want to see that passion," and as he looks around at his students, he sees it. That is his greatest gift.
Strandh and his students enjoy a daily "fika rast" or coffee break to divide their day together in the classroom. The break allows them to "bond" and talk of events in their own lives. The fika rast is an important part of the day in Sweden. He is happy to share that part of his culture with the students.
When the students return, they have the opportunity to share, one at a time, their paintings-in-progress with the rest of the class.
"We are invited to someone else's imaginary world and see what they have expressed through their unique facets; seen life through their eyes and emotions," the teacher said adding that painting often is therapeutic.
The J-term classes bring together students who have similar interests. Most take the classes for "fun" rather than applying them to their major. Mason Anfinson created a unique abstract filled with color. He shared that he hasn't taken an art class since he was in seventh grade.
Krista Kent, who is an art major, said she was enjoying having a different instructor.
"It's not as unusual as I thought it would be having someone from a different country," she said, "because art is so universal."
Strandh is also self-trained as a journalist and enjoys writing. He looks forward to sharing with the people in Sweden the splendour he has seen in the midwestern part of the United States. "I want them see it like I have."
Strandh will be a presenter at an ACES program at BVU on Monday, Jan. 12 at 6:30 p.m. in the Estelle Siebens Art Center (room 126) where he will share his passion with art. Check out his website and his own creations at www.pederstrandh.com He has had his own studio since 2005.