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Collections Spotlight: John Blomquist

Unveiling the Legacy: The Artistic Journey of Swedish John Blomquist and the Lost History of East Clallam Bay, WA
August 18, 2023 By Darby Johnson

The power of art not only captivates our senses but also has the potential to preserve history and provide a glimpse into the past. The story of John Blomquist, a Swedish immigrant and artist, is one such tale. Through handwritten accounts, oral history, and the tireless efforts of Blomquist’s daughter Edith and granddaughter Mathilda, a remarkable collection of Blomquist’s work was donated to the American Swedish Institute during the 1970-1990s.  

John Blomquist spent a significant portion of his life in Minnesota during the late 1800s when first immigrating to the United States, like most Swedish immigrants at the time. However, it was his brother Andrew who persuaded him to venture westward to Washington, to seek the supposed better opportunities promised at the time. Blomquist naturally used his artistic talent to document his journey through sketches, photographs, and paintings, forming a visual narrative of his experiences. These artworks not only provide a window into his family’s journey but also offer invaluable historical insights. 

Among Blomquist’s collection is a rare sketch of East Clallam Bay, Washington—a region that was once home to the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. This sketch, depicting coastal scenes with labeled “Indian Houses,” holds immense historical significance for the community. It offers us a unique glimpse into the region before the displacement of the Native American community by the U.S. Coast Guard—an event that forever altered the landscape. The sketch has become an invaluable resource for local community advocates striving to shed light on the land’s original use and their plans of restoration to the lighthouse.  

A recent research inquiry into ASI’s extensive library and archives brought attention to this remarkable collection, demonstrating the reason why materials like Blomquists’ are preserved for future generations. ASI remains a vital repository, safeguarding items related to Nordic immigration, Minnesota’s history, and more.  

Blomquist’s artistic journey, unintentionally woven with the lost history of East Clallam Bay, serves as a testament to the power of art in preserving and uncovering the past. The dedication of Mathilda and Edith, combined with the work of East Clallam Bay community members and donations to the ASI, ensures that this story didn’t remain unknown.