Fruity artworks in Sweden’s big apple

Christine Demsteader discovers that for one village in southern Sweden the humble apple is more than a healthy snack: a push to support Swedish farmers led a local artist to turn apples into an art form.

The year 1987 was crunch time for the Swedish apple. The combined forces of the then- EEC and the USA posed a threat to apple farmers’ livelihoods. But local producers in southern Sweden decided to bite back. And their fight proved so fruitful they even made it into the record books.

The sleepy fishing town of Kivik in Skåne hosts the annual apple market from 28-30 September. More than a few stalls and traders, this event celebrates the campaign to spread the word about the goodness of the Swedish apple.

Twenty years ago, calls were made to break down barriers in the fruit trade. The EEC and US demanded that Sweden’s embargo on fruit imports during the country’s high produce season, should be scrapped.

Farmers feared the foreign fruit invasion would hit their pockets hard. Meanwhile, producers voiced concern about the quality of imports, due to the use of certain pesticides abroad, which were banned in Sweden.

The bid to save the Swedish apple began and a healthy mass media campaign kicked off around the country to increase consumer awareness. A Swedish apple a day would keep the foreign crop at bay.

Hardcore activists hailed from Skåne, the region where around 80 percent of all Swedish apples are grown.

The ban was successfully lifted but the crusade continued. Bringing the Swedish apples to the people, the first market dedicated to the fruit opened in October 1988 in Kivik. For a town of 2,000, the onslaught of apples proved a quirky hit with tourists and pulled in around 6,000 visitors.

“They couldn’t stop the ban from happening,” says market organiser Anna Bjurnemark. “But the campaign was about making consumers more interested in Swedish apples and that’s why people showed their support.”

“Today, it’s important to talk about the climate,” Bjurnemark adds. “You don’t have to transport fruit all over the world and we have good, well produced, home-grown fruit here in Sweden.”

Now in its 20th year, the annual festival has grown in size and stature and the survival of the Swedish apple has, for the most part, been secured in its wake.

“At one time, you would find several hundred varieties,” Bjurnemark says. “Nowadays, there are around 15 different types in Sweden; the most popular being Aroma, Gravensteiner and Ingrid-Marie.”

HM Queen Silvia will officially open the event this year where over 20,000 people are expected to sample the delights of the Swedish apple from around 100 producers on show.

You can also try your hand at cider-making and such is the carnival atmosphere, a number of staple Swedish artists are performing on stage to support the cause.

But the eye-catching showpiece of the weekend is the traditional apple painting, a custom which dates back to the first market. Artist Helge Lundström had been working with apple sculpture since the late 60s but his 1987 creation wowed the crowds.

In 1998, his painting of Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the world largest apple artwork ever. Then again, no one is quite sure whether anyone else has ever tried using apples as palette and canvas before.

Lundström’s daughter Emma Karp has now taken the helm as apple artist in residence. This year marks her seventh painting.

And it’s quite a feat; 104 square metres, 35,000 apples of 7 varieties, a team of 9 artists and five days to complete it.

“Working with natural material that grows here, in the region I live, is something quite special,” Karp says.

“When you see it for real it’s a sensational experience,” she adds. “When the sun is shining on the apples they have a special depth you can’t see from just a picture and it smells wonderful too. Many people come especially for the painting alone – that’s what brings them back.”

The logistics of keeping the huge design under wraps are not easy. But a big screen hides the painting, which is a closely guarded secret, until it is ceremoniously unveiled. “With the market in its 20th jubilee year, there will be some reminders of time gone by and a look back to my father’s work,” Karp says.

And when the weekend festivities subside, the apple painting stands tall and is exhibited for another month, before the rot sets in.

Yet, apples are not the only fruit for art. Or even vegetables for that matter. For the rest of the year, Karp works as gardener and landscape artist, using her terrain as a workshop. She is currently considering extending her repertoire and venturing into pumpkin and root vegetable painting in the near future.

Indeed, the Skåne region is a hotbed when it comes to paying homage to their fruit and vegetables. With Pear Day in Båstad and the Asparagus Festival in Skillinge, the southern Swedes are keen to show that when it comes to greens, they really know their onions.

For more information on the apple market and apple painting: