Although Stuart Allen Carlson lived only 42 years, from 1938 to 1980, he created hundreds of paintings, prints and drawings. Many of them are on display now through Sunday, November 27, in the exhibit, "Sacred & Secular," in the first-floor gallery at the Swedish American Museum.
Born in Chicago of Swedish parents, Carlson studied and taught art while picturing human figures and plant forms in an abstract way that he described as "faceted.” Many of his segmented pieces appear as being viewed through prisms. His tabletop diptychs and triptychs are free-standing rather than hanging on walls.
Possessed with unconventional spirituality through his close ties to the Swedish Covenant Church, Carlson used art as an exercise for exploring his faith. When he died, a brilliant painting of an angel in flight was on an easel near his bed. It was displayed during his memorial service.
Carlson's father, David, who was born in Småland, immigrated in 1915 and became a tool and die maker in the Chicago area. His mother, the daughter of immigrants in Duluth, Minnesota, studied fashion drawing and apparently encouraged her son’s interest in art and design.
Raised in the Lincoln Square neighborhood, Carlson was only 10 when he earned a scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He studied commercial art at Lane Technical High School, and by the age of 25 had earned both a bachelor's and a master’s degree at the Art Institute.
After a brief stint as a medical illustrator for Swedish Covenant Hospital, Carlson began his career as an art teacher in Colorado and Kentucky. During summers, he taught low-income pre-college students in the Roosevelt University Upward Bound program.
From 1971 until his death, Carlson was an assistant professor at North Park College. In addition to teaching a wide variety of art subjects, he was the department coordinator and supervisor of a field experience program that matched students with internships.
Stuart Allen Carlson’s artwork has been exhibited widely in Illinois, Colorado and Kentucky. Exhibitions have been seen here at the Art Institute, North Park, Garrett Theological Seminary and the Jane Addams Park Gallery. An exhibit at Trinity College had been planned at the time of his death.
Some of the pieces in the exhibit are from the Swedish American Museum’s permanent collection. Others are on loan from former students. Although Carlson created hundreds of pieces of art, the locations of only about 25 are currently known.
The Swedish American Museum - which celebrates 40 years this year with the Ruby Gala Event on Nov. 5 - will conduct two programs related to the Allen Carlson exhibit on Friday, October 28: A Start with Art event from 9 a.m. to noon, and Family Night crafts and activities from 4 to 6 p.m.

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