Karl Swan Norberg
My first inclination was to only include the name, address, and phone number for my new gallery in this space. Then I would populate this site with examples of my art and see what happens. I would also look to include other artists who I felt were talented and lacked a forum for their art.
What I realized is that without the context of my back story my art had no meaning, and my potential representation of other artists had no vision.
I was born in Rockford, Illinois in 1956 and I am 100% of Swedish heritage. At the age of fourteen I went to work in a legendary flower shop in Rockford, Flowers By Connie. I worked with extremely talented people which gave me an education in flower arranging, greenhouse plantings, selling Lalique and Waterford crystal and other fine gifts, painting and decorating, and developing a sense of style. I also learned the value of hard work – delivering flower arrangements, sweeping, mopping, taking phone orders, and performing any task that needed to be done. This work continued throughout my teens and early twenties.
During the 60’s and 70’s I was also able to observe, and participate in, the events at the legendary Sneed Gallery in Rockford. The Sneed Gallery was successfully promoting, and selling, famous New York artists in the heartland of the Midwest, defying all expectations. My uncle, Robert Hillman, was an enthusiastic patron of the Sneed Gallery, which evolved into a partnership with Pat Sneed – The Sneed Hillman Gallery. I was fortunate to be able to help out at the gallery, hanging paintings, picking up artists at the airport, and hanging out at the very successful opening nights.
I watched in awe as the gallery promoted and sold artists such as John Opper, Cleve Gray, Roy Moyer, Ian Hornak, Alexander Liberman, John Day, as well local artists from the Greater Chicago area. It was while hanging paintings for one of the galleries shows I first heard Bobby Short singing Cole Porter songs on the stereo. I was mesmerized! I continued to follow wonderful cabaret singers as well as Rock & Roll, enthusiastically following local musical and Hall of Fame legends, Cheap Trick, also all Rockford natives.
Flowers By Connie also had a Tea Room, which served an elegant lunch in a room full of artistic displays. The Tea Room experience piqued my interest in culinary endeavors and in college I started working in restaurants as a busboy and then as a waiter. I worked as a waiter in a coffee shop and worked my way up to cooking tableside in elegant restaurants, wearing a tuxedo every night. I learned about fine food, fine wine, and fine cocktails.
My college years were focused on art, literature, and partying. After three years I decided that I wanted to focus on the culinary arts and was accepted by the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. On weekends I worked as a busboy and waiter at the famous Quilted Giraffe restaurant in New Paltz, New York. Eventually the Quilted Giraffe moved to Manhattan and became one of the most famous, exclusive, and expensive restaurants in the United States.
Upon graduation from the C. I. A. in 1980, I moved to Portland, Maine where I had earlier met my wife of now forty years. Bowing to my Swedish proclivities I opened one of the first tanning salons in the United States. The salon, named Svenska, was located in the Old Port of Portland, Maine. Svenska evolved into a full-service hair salon in its second location.
In 1982 I opened The Swan Dive Restaurant in the Portland Performing Arts Center. The Performing Arts Center was the new home to The Portland Stage Company and The Ram Island Dance Company. The Swan Dive opened to critical acclaim and won numerous awards for culinary excellence. The Swan Dive was also featured in Interior Design and Restaurant Hospitality magazines and was named the best designed restaurant in the United States.
The Swan Dive incorporated lighting and music which complemented the theme of the play or dance being performed next door. A piano player was perched on a platform in the air, completing the musical circle of the Cole Porter and Gershwin music I fell in love with at my Uncle’s art gallery years earlier, all in a restaurant that invoked the cabaret charms of New York City.
In 1985 I sold the Swan Dive and entered my wife’s successful real estate development business as a novice. I learned through her how to develop affordable housing and repurpose historic buildings and was able to follow her lead as she grew her company in a dozen states, primarily in Maine and Pennsylvania. I learned how to apply for loans and manage properties. I watched as she converted historic buildings in Maine, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, into multi use projects with a creative approach to housing in these areas. I drove through numerous small towns looking for development sites, attended planning board meetings, and watched as the projects were built from the ground up.
In the 90’s and early 2000’s I started a company in Chicago which developed, constructed, and sold, numerous beautiful brick and limestone homes and condos in the northside neighborhoods of Chicago. I was also able to work on various large multi-use projects in Chicago.
In and around 2008 the bottom fell out of the real estate business, and coupled with internal family issues, the financial and personal structure that had been solid for decades began to crumble. It was through this adversity that a hidden resolve began to emerge for my wife and I, and we gradually have worked our way back to enjoying life and its rewards.
We currently live in Bar Harbor, Maine with an idyllic view of Frenchman’s Bay. Our current projects include milling our own wood off our land and looking for community serving development opportunities in and around Mount Desert Island.
I have been painting again for several years now but the Pandemic offered an opportunity to use the confinement to focus on producing art on a regular basis. The art that I am working on incorporates the multi-faceted interests and pursuits of my life. The art reflects all of the highs and lows I have experienced.
My vision for the Karl Swan Gallery is to not only promote my own work but to also look for other artists from Maine & Beyond, who are currently not represented, to join me in this endeavor.
To submit your work for consideration please email your inquiries and submissions to email@example.com. Please include any relevant information such as your CV, website, artist statement, and images. I look forward to hearing from you!
Karl Swan Norberg