Lindsborg – Kansas’ ‘Little Sweden USA’ also an art lover’s haven

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A dala horse statue half designed with American flag and the Swedish flag
Dala horse statues are located throughout Lindsborg as part of the town’s promotion of its Swedish heritage.

The first thing you notice as you approach downtown Lindsborg is the dala horses. Dozens of the Swedish folk symbols are located throughout the central Kansas town. But, as you delve deeper into the town’s backbone, you learn how important art is to the community that hails itself as “Little Sweden USA.”

Disclaimer: Thank you to Visit Lindsborg for hosting our stay and providing complimentary meals, admissions and accommodations. However, all opinions and views are ours.
Disclaimer: Thank you to Visit Lindsborg for hosting our stay and providing complimentary meals, admissions and accommodations. However, all opinions and views are ours.

While its Swedish ancestry and culture are vital to Lindsborg’s sense of community and tourism, its art scene incorporates the dala horses and the Swedish culture into its tapestry. For a town of about 3,500, more than a half-dozen art galleries and studios can be found along the main street. From Small World Gallery – with its handmade jewelry and art, as well as masterful photographs by National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson – to Hands of Time Gallery featuring amazing handcrafted art, including a large clock, Lindsborg’s art scene competes with any city 100 times its size. Lindsborg’s galleries and studios remind me of ones we have seen in mountain communities like Estes Park, Colorado.

A look at the store floor of Small World Gallery with jewelry on tables and pictures on the wall
Small World Gallery features handmade jewelry, art and photos.

Lisa and I had the privilege of meeting Jim and Kathy Richardson after hours at their gallery. The couple decided to move to Lindsborg after visiting and realizing it was the consummate “small town USA.” Lindsborg – which is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2019 – is the kind of town where children can take off early in the day and ride their bikes to the swimming pool without parents having to constantly worry about their safety, Jim said. They knew it was the town to raise their family. With their children grown, it remains the best place to live in the Richardsons’ opinions.

Jim and Kathy Richardson sit at a table and talk
Jim and Kathy Richardson own Small World Gallery.

Jim has been a photographer with National Geographic and its companion magazine The Traveller for 35 years. I enjoy listening to the stories of experienced writers and photographers, the stories they have to share; the history and culture they’ve witnessed.

As we learned more about Lindsborg’s art, we stopped by Courtyard Gallery, which works exclusively with Kansas artists, or ones with a Kansas connection. The gallery is home to impressive art pieces, such as dolls made from wheat shocks and a chess table featuring Swedish characters, such as gnomes. The gallery also has freshly baked goods such as cookies and muffins.

A chess board featuring Swedish characters.
A chess board featuring Swedish characters.

Museums

While Lindsborg is home to several outstanding galleries, I believe it’s rare to find two art museums. Each has its own story to tell. Located on the campus of Bethany College, the Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery shares the story of the former professor and artist. The Swedish-born Sandzen sought to visit the United States for a short time and wanted to earn money as an art teacher. He reached out to Bethany College leadership and offered his services as an art teacher. Unfortunately for him, the post was already filled, but he was told the school needed a language instructor. He took the job and came to Kansas in 1894. He worked hard during his time at the college, and even traveled during the off-months, seeing America and developing his painting style.

Art gallery with open floor and paintings on the far away wall
The Sandzen Gallery features several pieces of work by Birger Sandzen.

Sandzen later became head of the art department, realizing one dream, and continued working on another as an artist. His style changed over the years, going from thick brush strokes to a more detailed style as he created works mainly of landscapes. Sandzen also collected art. Compared with artists like Van Gogh, Sandzen’s art has appeared in major galleries around the United States. Bethany College is home to his collection and displays several of his pieces in the gallery. The museum rotates his work to keep exhibits fresh.

A water fountain outdoors featuring a person on top
The Sandzen Gallery features an outdoor sculpture garden.

His art studio remains intact and is open for visits. You can see some of his work displayed there, as well as his desk and some of his working tools. The former Sandzen house is used to host visiting professors and dignitaries.

Birger Sandzen desk with paint supplies on it
Inside the art studio of Birger Sandzen.

Lester Raymer created all sorts of art inside his Red Barn Studio. The local artist used part of the building as the home to him and his wife, while the rest was his studio, where he was a jack of all trades in creating art – painting, sculpting, woodcarving, printmaking and more.  Raymer also handcrafted toys for his wife as Christmas gifts, from puppets to a detailed copy of Noah’s Ark. Raymer was an artist’s artist.

Handcarved toy soldiers playing drums next to a carousel
Some of the toys Raymer created for his wife.

Then one day in 1991, as he finished a painting of a rooster and signed his work, the 84-year-old stood up and took a few steps before suffering a fatal heart attack. Today, the Red Barn Studio serves as a museum and memorial to his work.

A painting of a chicken on an easel
The last painting created by Lester Raymer remains in its place.

Dala horses

Since Lindsborg is known as “Little Sweden USA,” it seems appropriate that the dala horse plays a major role in promoting the town’s culture. A great idea for public art, the dalas have been created with themes as a way to promote local businesses and organizations. From the “Dolla Dala” (which looks like a dollar bill) to another that combines the Swedish and American flags, each dala enhances the community’s Swedish connection.

A dala horse statue with a dollar bill painted on it
“Doola Dala” on display along Lindsborg’s main street.

It makes sense, then, that a local factory creates dalas and other Swedish-related memorabilia and souvenirs. Hemslöjd (Swedish for handicraft) is home to the dala horse factory. The figures are carved from wood during the week by some of the best wood carvers this side of the Missouri River. Then, an artist like Julie Holk works her magic in painting the horse or other creation, such as a door harp. We met Julie, who graduated from Bethany College and specializes in calligraphy, who explained the process involved with making each dala look authentic and beautiful. We enjoyed watching her as she measured each horse to ensure she had space to properly add names or messages and then creating the magic of adding “Valkommen” or a family name on the item. I left with a baseball featuring Lindsborg and Trudell on it.  

Julie Holk paints "Valkommen" on a dala horse figure.
Julie Holk paints “Valkommen” on a dala horse figure.

The dala factory is also Lindsborg’s gift shop, so there were plenty of items to choose from. And we ensured we left with souvenirs for family members. Our youngest daughter recently bought a new house in Tacoma, Washington, so we thought she’d like a tile featuring a gnome (she did).

In addition to creating and displaying dalas, Lindsborg showcases buildings with traditional colors that you may find in Swedish villages, as well as murals highlighting its history and culture. You truly understand residents’ love for their ethnic background when you visit.

A building i painted greyish blue like one in Sweden
Lindsborg downtown buildings feature colors associated with Swedish towns and villages.

History, culture

But, Lindsborg isn’t just about being “Little Sweden.” The town has a history based on the railroad and a walk along the Valkommen Trail helps highlight that history. As you walk along the 2.5-mile-long trail, you can find signs that mention historical events or locations of buildings, such as the evangelical covenant church. Later along the trail, you pass a couple of grain elevators on your way to the old mill. Built in 1898, the Smoky Valley Roller Mill replaced a former mill that had been destroyed by fire. The mill made flour. Today, the Old Mill is part of the Old Mill Museum complex, which also includes Heritage Square, a living history area with older buildings such as a schoolhouse and church. The trail provides an excellent area to walk any time of the day.

A view of the Old Mill from near the river with a small gray shed in front and limestone dencing
The Old Mill is located near a river along the Valkommen Trail.

A few miles outside of town, Coronado Heights Park is a scenic overlook built on top of a small butte overlooking the region. Built in the 1930s as part of the federal government’s Works Progress Administration, which sought to develop public structures as one way of creating jobs and helping the country overcome the Great Depression. The overlook, which resembles a Scottish castle and was made from Kansas limestone, was named after Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, who reached central Kansas in 1541. Coronado Heights is a popular spot for stargazing, short hikes, as well as picnics with a number of picnic tables and grills available.

Coronado Heights is made from limestone and resembles a Scottish castle
Coronado Heights was built more than 80 years ago as part of a Great Depression public works project.

Nearby attractions

Lindsborg is located in an area that also has interesting attractions a short drive from town. About 30 minutes northwest of town in Mushroom Rock State Park, near Brookville. At five acres, it’s the smallest state park in Kansas. Rock formations resemble mushrooms. The park was once part of the trail used by Overland Stagecoach line.

Rock formation resembles a mushroom
Mushroom Rock State Park is the state’s smallest state park.

Located between the state park and Lindsborg is the Kansas Motorcycle Museum in Marquette. The 16-year-old museum features more than 100 vintage motorcycles and other memorabilia and artifacts. It also serves as a memorial to Stan Engdahl, a Kansas businessman and noted motorcycle racer, who won several championships and trophies.

An old motorcycle centered in front of other ones and shirts on a wall
The Kansas Motorcycle Museum in Marquette features more than 100 vintage bikes.

Messiah concert

We were fortunate to be visiting Lindsborg in time to attend Bethany College’s annual Messiah concert. A major community event – it includes a choir featuring local singers, as well as a local orchestra – the concert hosts internationally-known singers who provide the solo portions of the two-hour concert. Among the 2019 soloists was Danielle Rohr, a Kansas native and Bethany graduate.

Four people stand and sing in front of the orchestra and choir
The Messiah Concert attracts people from around the country on Easter weekend.

Bed and breakfast

During our visit, we were hosted at the Seasons of the Fox bed and breakfast inn. The B&B is named after one of the owners, Mike Fox. He and Sue opened the B&B in 2002. They named each of the four upstairs bedrooms after the seasons, and each room is decorated as such. We stayed in the Winter room, which had pictures and accessories such as snowmen and Christmas decorations. The room provided a great view of the neighborhood.

Bedroom with queen bed and wood trim around the room
We enjoyed staying in the Winter Room at the Seasons of the Fox bed and breakfast.

When you stay at Seasons of the Fox, be prepared for some great food, as well as stories with each course of breakfast. Mike likes to share a bit of history and culture about Sue’s creations. Growing up in California, Mike likes to mix a little Mexican flavor into the entrees, such as Sue’s coddled eggs (similar to poached eggs) which can include freshly sliced jalapenos. Other breakfast items include fresh sausage and egg bake. Each breakfast includes dessert, such as a dessert pie with lingonberry sauce over it. Delicious!

Egg dish with seven types of vegetables
Breakfast at the Seasons of the Fox.

The couple enjoys sharing appeteasers with guests. Featuring fresh vegetables and dip, it’s an excellent way to unwind after a day of running around.

Mike and Sue created a picnic basket one night for us to take for our visit to Coronado Heights. The basket was perfect and included fresh vegetables, chicken strips and tabbouleh (a Mediterranean dish featuring bulgur wheat). The whole meal was filling and impressive.

Dish with chicken strips and bulgar wheat and vegetables dish
Our picnic dinner at Coronado Heights.

Local dining

In addition to enjoying breakfast and our picnic from Seasons of the Fox, we enjoyed excellent meals around town. Our first evening in Lindsborg, we ate at Ol Stuga. A bar and grill, you’ll find all kinds of people there at different times of the night. At the end of the business day, it’s a nice spot for people to unwind and enjoy Happy Hour. You’ll find all sorts of people enjoying dinner, such as the Brent Nelson sandwich.

Sandwich with sausage and cheese on hoagie bun
The Brent Nelson.

Named as a finalist on Good Morning America’s search for the best sandwich in America, the Brent Nelson features a split polish sausage served on a hoagie bun with barbecue sauce, onions (or not, if you’re me) and topped with cheddar and hot pepper cheese. It’s one of the best sandwiches I’ve enjoyed. It took its name from a customer who wasn’t sure what he wanted one day and the cook told him to “trust me” and he used all of Brent’s favorites to create the sandwich. From that on, when he ordered, Brent asked for his sandwich, and a legend was born. Ol Stuga’s menu also features other sandwiches.

Blacksmith Coffee Shop sign in front of the building
Blacksmith Coffee Shop.

We like to visit local coffeehouses when we travel and we were able to check off that and lunch when we visited the Blacksmith Coffee Shop and Roastery. I ordered my usual vanilla latte as a coffee, but tried a unique sandwich – the Kalkonsmorgas. It’s an open-face ham sandwich with melted cheese and topped with homemade coleslaw. I added a cup of soup. Lisa went with a ham and cheese panini.  Blacksmith Coffee is a micro-roaster and is located inside a former Blacksmith building.

Sandwich with ham on top of melted cheese on bread and coleslaw on top
The Kalkonsmorgas sandwich at Blacksmith Coffee Shop.

We enjoyed dinner in a repurposed schoolhouse in nearby Assaria. The small town is home to one of the best restaurants we’ve dined in. Opened in 2008, Renaissance Cafe – once named one of the top 100 restaurants in America by Open Table – favors a northern Italian menu. Located in a former school building almost a century old, the upscale restaurant attracts people from all around the region.

A tree with purple leaves in front of a brick schoolhouse
The Renaissance Cafe is located in an old school at Assaria.

Sunday is the perfect day for brunch, and Farley’s in Lindsborg lives up to that billing. While the menu may change weekly, if you have the option to try the crab cakes, go for it. You will not regret it. I enjoyed an entrée that featured chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes.

Chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes with white gravy
Chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes made a great brunch option.

As we were heading out of Lindsborg on Monday morning, we wanted to grab a coffee for the road, so we stopped at The White Peacock a couple of blocks away from Blacksmith. What are the odds that a town the size of Lindsborg would have two outstanding coffeehouses blocks from one another? And the funny thing is, as we waited for our lattes to be made, we struck up a conversation with a couple of people sitting nearby. Turns out, the woman works at the Red Barn Studio and the gentleman was an artist. And our visit to Lindsborg came full circle.

Coffee in a plastic cup in front of a book shelf.
Enjoying a coffee at The White Peacock coffeehouse in Lindsborg.

Located about an hour north of Wichita, off of Interstate 35, Lindsborg needs to be on every traveler’s map. The town is amazing, and the townspeople are sincerely among the nicest you’ll meet anywhere.