Meet the Author: Jögge Sundqvist (Part Two)

Jögge Sundqvist and Nina Lindelöf.

(You can read part one here.)

Jögge Sundqvist (woodworker, teacher, performer, musician and author of several books) and Nina Lindelöf married 12 years ago, after having been together for 30 years. How did they meet?

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“Ho, ho! It was rock and roll,” Jögge says. “It was lovely.”

There were a lot of parties during those days. “And I saw this wonderful woman and I was so shy, I didn’t even dare to look at her,” Jögge says. “And she started to raise some interest. It was just right, totally right. And it still is.”

In 1992 they moved to the countryside, to Kasamark, about 20 minutes outside Umeå. At the time Nina had been working as a successful costume designer for Umeå’s local theaters.

“But we wanted out from the city,” Jögge says. “We had a daughter, Hillevi, who was 2-years-old, and we wanted her to grow up in the countryside, close to the forest, free.”

They spent two years before they found an 1824 nearly all-original Västerbottengård, a log house with two squared rooms on each side, an entrance in the middle and a little sleeping chamber beside the entrance. They planned to restore it.

Jögge and Nina’s Västerbotten house. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)

Jögge turned the old barn into a workshop to begin the restoration.

“I didn’t know much about making bigger things, like houses,” he says. “But I was very happy exploring working with logs and the ways of restoring an old house carefully and with respect for tradition.”

A restored baking oven is the main focus of the kitchen. Wooden items such as spoons, ladles and spatulas are natural items in the kitchen inside Jögge and Nina’s Västerbotten house. (photos by Jögge Sundqvist)

They lived in another house on the property during the restoration process. They had a son, Herman, in 1994. After five years, they sold the house they were living in so they could afford to move to the Västerbotten house.

Wille, Jögge’s father, Herman and Hillevi (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)

By now Jögge had quit his job at Umeå Central Station, having been headhunted by the craft society to work as a craft consultant, “which I really appreciated a lot,” he says. In addition to working on his own craft he served as a craft consultant throughout Västerbotten part-time, between 1988 and 1998.

Surolle, a Sour Old Man Who Set Jögge Free
Jögge approached craft and parenting in the same way his father did, never insisting that his children become slöjders.

“Because then, it would never happen,” he says. “My father was just showing me how exciting it was. He was very enthusiastic – you can do this and you can do that. He was just very engaged when I had an idea. So that was my task when I had kids – to encourage them to have fun in creativity.”

Hillevi, his daughter, enjoyed drawing, and Jögge encouraged that. And he did the same with his son, Herman.

Herman planing with a shaving around his head. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)
Herman with his ship, made in the workshop. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)

“We had a wonderful period in our relationship when he was waiting to go to school and he and I had about 45 minutes in my workshop when the rest of the family was already in town,” Jögge says. “And he had a lot of ideas about what to do. And we made wooden ships and figures, whatever he fancied. Because he loved to fantasize and tell stories.”

One of the family’s favorite stories involves Herman when he was about 5 years old.

“I had a customer visiting my workshop and they were pretty upper mid class,” Jögge says. “And I knew that they were probably going to order something pretty expensive so I told my family, ‘I’m going to have a visit and you have to behave, kids.’”

The customers, a couple, came, looked at pictures and were interested in a chair, which Jögge was really happy about. They went back to the house where they found Herman standing in the entrance. The man asked him a question he heard often: “Are you going to be a slöjder, like your father?”

“And then my son, who is very talkable, looked them straight in the eye and said, ‘No. My father cuts in wood but I’m going to cut in flesh when I get old.’ And the guy looked at me like, ‘What kind of crazy kid is this?’ And I looked at my son as I had never heard of anything like this before!’ And then my son finished his sentence. ‘I’m going to be a surgeon when I grow up.’ And he is, he’s becoming a doctor.”

(The couple did, indeed, buy the chair.)

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In many ways Jögge’s parenting style is similar to how he approaches his work. By encouraging a union of self-exploration of tradition and wild creativity, he makes room for good, beautiful and functional objects that are also filled with meaningful whimsy.

“My father was a trained furniture maker and that is much more precise and exact,” Jögge says. “But I was much more drawn to the older craft, to the axe, to the knife, to rougher surfaces. So when I decided to run my own business I knew I had to choose what path to take and I didn’t know where I was going.”

Jewelry box. Ash, birch. Artist linseed oil paint. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)
Box. Ash, birch. Artist linseed oil paint. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)
Book cover box. Ash, birch. Artist linseed oil paint. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)
Mirror top. Basswood. Artist linseed oil paint. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)
Armchair. Larch, hawthorn, birch. Artist linseed oil paint. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)
Chair. Pine, birch, glass. Artist linseed oil paint. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)
Box. Ash, birch. Artist linseed oil paint. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)
Spoons and ladles. Hook-grown birch. Artist linseed oil paint and raw linseed oil. (photo by Jostein Skeidsvoll)
Armchair. Pine, birch. Artist linseed oil paint. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)

“I like colors. I like rough surfaces. I like carved surfaces. I like tradition. I like the way untrained peasants in the past had a special relationship to the material, how they picked the crooked and bent material in the woods and put it in the design so it was a special design, which I will say was the slöjd design of how things looked based on their traditional knowledge on how to use the knife and the axe and the materials and the joints that had worked for years and years and years. I wanted to go on that path. But I wasn’t sure if that was right,” he says.

When Jögge began pursing owning his own craft business full-time, he created thousands of designs and was sketching all the time. One afternoon he made a stool with a heart-like shaped seat, and three naturally bent legs, almost like they were dancing. He carved quotes and sayings on the top of it, such as “U better dance,” by Prince, and “Rock on!” He painted it bright red and the whole thing had a very traditional rock ‘n’ roll feel to it.

Kiss stool. Pine, birch. Artist linseed oil paint. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)

Jögge had the stool on the floor of his workshop when Hillevi came home from school that day. He was eyeing it critically, as usual, still unsure of his path. Hillevi had never seen anything like it.

“Who made this one?” she asked.

“At the time, I was really deep into thinking about my grandfather and the craft and my father and what the expression of traditional craft is,” Jögge says. “So I said to her – it just came out of me – ‘Oh, an old guy up in the mountains made this.’ And she asked me, ‘What’s his name?’ ‘Yeah, his name is Olle Olsson,’ which is a very common name in Sweden. ‘He’s a sour, grumpy old guy, Olle Olsson.’ And then she asked, ‘This Olle Olsson, what sort of animals does he have?’ Because we had a goat by then, and we had a rabbit and a cat but she wanted horses and everything else and we said no. ‘Olle Olsson, yeah, he has all of them. He has goats and sheep and horses and everything.’ And she loved naming things, so she asked me, ‘What kinds of names do they have?’ She was 9 years old by then so I finally had to tell her, ‘I’m just playing with you, I’m having fun.’ She just looked at me and said, ‘OK.’ And she ran to the house.”

Jögge continued working and about 40 minutes later Hillevi returned with drawings, “wonderful drawings,” Jögge says. Under them was a nickname, “Sur Olle,” “the Sour Olle.” She drew Olle’s girlfriend, who she named Agnes Södergran, and all of Olle’s animals, naming them too.

“And then I said to myself, I probably need a guy like that,” Jögge says. “I need someone to talk with. ‘Is this good or is this bad?’ An alter ego. So I started playing around with this guy. ‘What do you think about this stool?’ ‘No, it could be a little thinner there. The legs are splaying out too much, you have to tighten them.’ So in one way he was kind of telling me the truth but I was actually telling myself the truth. And what I realized afterwards was I was lifting off the pressure of being a very good, fine furniture maker. I was accepting that I had another path that I wanted to go, more rough, more material based, more traditional based. It became totally clear. That was the reason I needed this guy to help me. Today I think of it all as a way to approach a manner, an artistic vision that was unique and personal.”

Olle Olsson, Sur Olle, engaged to Agnes Södergran. (illustration by Hillevi)

“I used to describe the traditional wall as a very thick wall because in my world, I had so many influences there. And because it’s so thick, it can be hard to jump through. But surolle helped me saw a little hole in that big wall by telling me, ‘You just have to have fun. You have to follow your path. You have to do your own thing here. You can’t be afraid of not doing the right thing. You have to do what you think is right.’”

In 1998, Jögge started his own professional craft business.

“I needed a name for my businesses and it was totally clear it had to be surolle,” he says.

A Never-ending Exploration
Today, Jögge’s business stands on many legs. He teaches classes. He gives lectures about craft and slöjd – what it is, the meaning of it. And then he has a show called “Rhythm and Slöjd.”

Rhythm and Slöjd performance, drilling the hole with an T-auger for a shrink box in rhythm to the Chemical Brothers.

“It’s a storytelling performance about 45 minutes long where I make a shrink box live on stage from the very beginning, the trunk of a tree, until it works. During the time I’m making it I’m telling a lot of stories from the craft field. The first five minutes it’s kind of heavy rock music on stage. I then do everything in rhythm. I saw it off in rhythm. I shave it on the shaving horse in rhythm. I drill the hole in rhythm. I carve in rhythm. It is all done very precisely and exactly in rhythm. So that is special.”

Beginning in 2004, Jögge has performed this show more than 30 times, at schools and for adults, at Plymouth CRAFT and Spoonfest, in Sweden, the United States, Japan and Great Britain.

“But my favorite thing to do is make objects,” he says. “That’s the main reason I’m working.” He recently expanded his shop. And lately, he’s been enjoying working on public commissions for the Swedish Arts Council: theaters, Umeå Airport, Umeå University Library, a nature trail, the Church of Sweden, Västerbotten County Council, the Nordic Museum, schools and more.

“Stairway to heaven” ladder in crooked-grown birch. Raw linseed oil. (photo by Jostein Skeidsvoll)
Littefox. Ash and crooked-grown birch. Public commission to Umeå City Library. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)
Västanå Theatre entrance. Pine, basswood. Artist oil color. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)
Amelia Earhart bench with back. Pine, crooked-grown birch, basswood. Public commission to Umeå Airport. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)

“They pay pretty well and they’re a little bigger and so I kind of like that,” he says. “I would say right now I’m finally where I want to be.” His private commission waiting list is currently four to five deep. Clients simply ask for a cupboard, say, and he suggests designs, creates drawings and says how much it will cost. And clients almost always agree.

Jögge’s chip-carving knife, made in collaboration with Kay Embretsen. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)

Jögge is carving the design on some chip-carving knives the whole time he talks. He’s partnered with Swedish knife maker Kay Embretsen, who makes his own Damascus steel. A local store is selling a kit that contains one of Jögge’s books, a chip-carving knife designed and made by Jögge in partnership with Kay, and basswood blanks.

The beginning of the pandemic was “a total disaster,” Jögge says, as all his classes and lectures were canceled. But, he had just signed a contract for a new book a few months prior.

“The book was my pandemic babe,” he says. “My wife was working from home and I was working from here, just writing the book and making all the objects. I finally had all that time to make an object and realize, ‘This is not good enough – you have to make a new one – this pattern could be even better – you have to rewrite this one more time.’ You know that thing, as a writer, you have to really give it some time? I was able to give it some time, and even some more time in between that.”

Jögge’s newest book, forthcoming in English from Lost Art Press. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)

The book contains 16 projects and Jögge made six or seven objects for each project just so he could pick the best ones as featured examples.

“I’m so happy because if I had so much other work at the same time, I doubt the book would have been so good because I wouldn’t have been able to go so deeply into each of the tasks, so to say. You know how it is it – the older you get, you have to have the right feeling for the design, especially the objects you’ve never made before. It has to take some time before you can really decide, ‘Was this good enough?’ So I was happy for the isolation that it actually was. Socially, it was a disaster.”

Jögge’s hope for the future is simple: To still be able to do woodwork as a way to earn a living, “as long as my body tells me it can,” he says. “I had some problems with my hips and I’ve been having problems with my shoulders and elbows. So I have to exercise. I have to go to the gym and do my work there. That’s the only worry I have in the future is not being able to work.”

Nina is a physical therapist who teaches as a lecturer at a local university, so her expertise in this matter helps. Together they enjoy spending time with their grandchild, Lova, who is 3 years old.

Jögge’s grandchild, Lova. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)

“The thing that strikes me about having a grandchild – and having children – is that humans are always exploring,” Jögge says. “They want to know about the world. It’s so natural for them. She’s always thinking and raising questions, ‘Why is this?’ ‘Why is that?’ And that’s the fun part in craft – you always have to explore. And then you have to learn to control your body and the tool. And you have to know the material. And you have to find out how people did it in the early days, how they solved problems, and that’s a never-ending story. You can always find new and interesting ways of making things and exploring the world. And that’s what I’m doing. And, of course, it’s a discovery of yourself too, also in an artistic way. You’re exploring what skills you have and what you want to express but also what skills you don’t have and what you need to learn and in a way, what kind of beauty you want to show.”

The Language of Hands
“If you find something you like, and it’s fun, and you’re good at it, then you should keep going on that track,” Jögge says. “That is what I see in good, old traditional craft.”

Jögge uses objects made by slöjders from the 1700s as an example. “They wanted to make objects that were nice to use and functional. And they had to be strong and decent. But they also had to have beautiful designs about them. So every time you work with them, everything from a spoon to whatever, you would say, ‘Oh, how nice! This is good work, this is something.’ And maybe you give thought to the one who made it. A way of passing love to the next generation is to make things that they can use for their children and think about the knowledge in the past that was used in the making, and that they had fun in the making and that they also wanted it to have quality. Because for them, it was about quality in the objects and quality in life. Those two things have to go together.”

“The four walls” box. Made using shrink-box techniques. Aspen, birch. 128 piercings. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)
Ladle. Crooked birch. Artist oil paint and raw linseed oil. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)
Spoon. Crooked birch. Artist oil paint and raw linseed oil. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)
Backrest on chair in crooked birch. Artist oil paint and raw linseed oil. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)
Six-leaf rosettes on the back of a mobile stand. (photo by Jögge Sundqvist)

This is why Jögge eschews production work.

“If you just make stools and you make thousands of them, after a while, it’s not love,” he says. “It’s just making money. So this is my path: To always put feeling in an object. Because when I feel, I’m satisfied. I don’t know if I’m satisfied all the time with the money I get from it,” he adds, laughing. “That’s the business part. That’s the surviving part. But for me, the main reason is that I want to hand it over and say, ‘Yeah. I’m really happy about this. It has strength. It has function. It has beauty. All the joints are perfectly done and the material choices are well done and it’s something that you can use for more than 100 years and it will be in your family as a treasured object and I’m happy. That’s my goal.”

When thinking about his life Jögge thinks a lot about driving forces: Why has it been so important for him to express himself by working wood traditionally? He recognizes that he’s drawn to its organic existence.

“People were living in a self-sufficient society where they really had to learn all the skills with the knife and the axe and the material they had. And they were trained to do that from 4 years old. So when they were in their 20s, they were professionals I would say, almost, everyone. And some of them wanted to express themselves really well. And they were really good. And you can tell by going to the archives in museums and looking at the stuff. Once in a while you will see something that a person did and it is really, really good.”

And Jögge isn’t just talking about wood here. He’s also heavily influenced by textiles, and the patterns in textiles, especially. When he sees work that someone has poured their heart into, he feels something.

“I can tell I have a friend there, a colleague there,” he says. “We are companions, we understand each other. I don’t know their names but we are still friends. It’s kind of a relief to think about that. A connection of sorts, to generations back. The language of hands.”

— Kara Gebhart Uhl


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