NEW SWEDEN, Maine — A half-hour DVD capturing the history of Maine’s Swedish Colony through the area’s Swedish speakers has attracted the attention of a foreign institute that is showing the piece in two special exhibitions.
Three years ago, Brenda and Alan Jepson, owners of Crown of Maine Productions of Madawaska Lake, produced “Old Maine Swedish Farms,” which featured six residents of the Maine Swedish Colony recounting their stories of growing up on area farms. Brenda Jepson, the film’s producer-director, said that her primary motivation for making the DVD was to preserve what was left of the Swedish language before it was lost forever.
Introduced in English, the interviews are conducted in Swedish by Dan Olson, a Scandinavian scholar from the Maine Swedish Colony. According to its website, Maine Swedish Colony is a historical designation for the region in Aroostook County that is loosely defined by the towns of New Sweden, Stockholm, Woodland, Connor, Perham, Westmanland, Madawaska Lake and Caribou.
Subtitles for the interviews are provided in English, while the numerous dialects spoken by the last of the Swedish speakers are featured on the soundtrack.
Historic photos, provided by storytellers from the farms where they grew up, illuminate the Maine Swedish farms’ way of life.
The DVD is sold in area stores and on the Crown of Maine Productions website. Brenda Jepson said Tuesday that she was surprised when she received a phone call from a representative of the Swedish Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, asking permission to show the film in two special exhibitions.
“I was shocked when she contacted us,” Jepson said of the request from Anna Maria Bernitz, project manager for art, design and fashion at the Swedish Institute. “It just came out of the blue.”
According to Jepson, Bernitz said she was curating a small exhibition titled “United Stockholms of America — Swedes that Stayed,” for display at the House of Sweden in Washington, D.C.
Bernitz found “Old Maine Swedish Farms” on YouTube and said she had “fallen in love” with Aroostook County after watching it. She asked to show the film in the exhibition, which opened in April and will reopen and continue until Dec. 8 after a summer break.
During the summer of 2014, the exhibition will be shown at Stockholm’s Stadsmuseum, or Stockholm City Museum, in Sweden.
“United Stockholms of America” is an exhibition that tells the story of the migration of 1.2 million Swedes who left their homes for a better future in the United States. There are hundreds of locations with Swedish names in the United States, and eight of them are named Stockholm. The exhibition gives a historical background of the different Stockholms in the United States.
Today, the U.S. is home to more than 4 million Swedish Americans.
Jepson said Tuesday that she connected with Bernitz, who she speculated may have been attracted to the Swedish culture and traditions that are still alive in The County, such as the Midsommar Festival, the traditional fete held each spring to mark the end of winter and the beginning of summer. The event includes the tradition of residents gathering flowers to decorate the maypole and later dance around it. In towns such as New Sweden and Stockholm, she said, Swedish flags can be seen flying almost as often as American flags, and signs bid visitors “valkommen,” or “welcome” in Swedish.
Jepson also was pleased to receive payment to have the work shown and was excited when Bernitz said that Swedish television might be interested in broadcasting “Old Maine Swedish Farms.” Bernitz encouraged them to submit the show for broadcast in Sweden and said she would provide contacts to assist.
“We are hoping that we can make that happen,” Jepson said Tuesday. “But we are happy for the opportunity to be included in the exhibit.”
The DVD may be purchased at www.crownofmaineproductions.com and is available in stores throughout The County.