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Arland Fiske: Carl Milles – Swedish artistic genius

My first encounter with the work of Carl Milles (1875-1955) was when I moved to St. Louis in 1961.

I used to travel a great deal by railroad in those days. Out in front of the old St. Louis train depot is a large set of sculptures titled “Meeting of the Waters.” Milles completed the set in 1940.

It is a grandiose display of 14 bronze sculptures with water spouting and spraying. The fountains symbolize the coming together of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers just north of the city. Whenever I visit the hometown of Cardinal baseball, I like to take another look at this famous work of art. It’s located on Market Street about a half-mile west of Busch Memorial Stadium and the famed Gateway Arch. Today the old train depot has been converted into a classy shopping mall, but Milles’ work of art stands as grand as ever.

One of the questions that goes through my mind when I read of people who turn out to be winners is about their early years of life. How did they get started on the road to success?

Milles was born near Uppsala, Sweden. It’s an historic and cultural area of the country. At age 17, he became apprenticed to a cabinetmaker in Stockholm and attended a technical school. Four years later Milles took off for Paris to study art under the famous Auguste Rodin, well known in the school of Impressionism. He remained in Paris for eight years.

Milles became so engrossed in his study of sculpturing that he got a lung inflammation from breathing stone dust. It bothered him for the rest of his life. By 1908 he was well enough to return to Sweden. He and settled in the suburb of Lidingo in Stockholm, where he built a studio called Millesgarten.

In 1920 Milles became a professor at the Swedish Royal Academy. It wasn’t long, however, before he found this too confining, and he returned to his studio. In 1931, he was invited to be the head of the department of sculpture at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Milles moved to the United States and became an American citizen. He turned over the management of his beloved Millesgarten to a private institution. During the winters of 1950-1955, he was at the American Academy in Rome. He died at the age of 80 in Sweden.

Two famous teachers left their mark on Milles: Rodin, the impressionist from Paris, and German sculpture-theorist Adolf von Hildebrand, who helped him to blend classical art forms (Greek and Roman) with the Nordic goblins and trolls.

Milles, however, developed his own special style. He had a flair for charming decorative effects. Among his well-known works are “Europa and the Bull” in Halmstad, Sweden. He did a sculpture of Sten Sture, a popular Swedish patriot. The “Folkunga Fountain” in Linkoping, Sweden, pictures a rider on a wild steed. There are 20 of his sculptures in Stockholm alone. That’s how highly the Swedes think of him.

I am not an artist, nor am I a student of art. But I’ve learned a lot from artists, and my appreciation of them grows with the years. If you go to St. Louis, be sure to see the “Meeting of the Waters” and remember Carl Milles, Sweden’s artistic genius. Better still, go to Stockholm and see Millesgarten. The Swedes will love you just for asking to visit their favorite sculptor’s art treasures.

Next week: Raul Wallenberg – “Righteous Gentile.”

ARLAND FISKE, a retired Lutheran minister, formerly of Laporte, lives in Texas. He is the author of 10 books on Scandinavian themes, including “Sermons and Songs,” published in 2012.

Laurie Swenson
Laurie Swenson is a reporter/copy editor for the Bemidji Pioneer. She has been with the Pioneer since 2004.