This family portrait, taken about 1916 of the prominent Thorell family of Chestnut Hill, includes, from left, Ruth Thorell (Marge’s aunt), the oldest, born in Oslo; Marge’s father seated beside her , Marge’s grandmother Hanna, seated, holding Edna; Marge’s grandfather , Algot, standing; in front of him, Carl, the eldest son and Marge’s godfather; and Astrid (far right, born in Oslo). The other siblings were born in Philadelphia.

by Len Lear

It is no exaggeration to say that the Thorell family has been one of the most highly respected and accomplished families in Chestnut Hill for generations. Marge Thorell, for example, is a professor who has taught writing at Penn, Temple and Drexel; Vice President/Group Director at Digitas Health, a digital pharmaceutical advertising agency; and the author of “Swedes of the Delaware Valley” and her most recent book, “Karin Bergöö Larsson and the Emergence of Swedish Design,” published Oct. 31, 2018, by McFarland Publishing. Her next project will be a biography of Ida Bauer, the woman named Dora by Freud in his famous case study, “Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria.” (When I queried Thorell, “May I ask how old you are?” she answered, “No.”)

Marge attended Our Mother of Consolation School and lived on East Meade Street until she was married at 23. “My mother raised a great deal of money for the Philadelphia Archdiocese and was involved in a number of activities at Our Mother of Consolation Church,” she said. “My father, who converted from the Lutheran religion of his childhood, became a Catholic when he married my mother, Peg McCarron, was also active in the church.

“Both of my parents worked tirelessly for the Catholic church. My father also worked for Sears and Roebuck for years, then decided to open his own store on Germantown Avenue, a kitchen cookware shop. At one time he had three stores — the one in Chestnut Hill, one in Exton Mall and a small shop in Blue Bell.”

Marge’s brother, Algot F . Thorell, Jr, is currently Vice Chairman of Spring Garden Lending. Prior to that position, Al was a founder and Chairman of Valley Green Bank. Among many other positions, he was President and founder of the Chestnut Hill National Bank and Executive Director of the Chestnut Hill Business Association. He has also been an officer, director or trustee of many non-profit corporate boards in Northwest Philadelphia and was a President of the Board of the Philadelphia Cricket Club.

“My brother Rick owned a candy shop in Glenside and now has various real estate enterprises in that area. My sister lives in Winston Salem, NC, and is a docent for the Reynolda House Museum of American Art. Our sister Missy, the youngest, was killed by a 16-year-old boy in a drunk driving car accident, leaving behind a 3-year-old daughter and a husband.”

Marge’s own immediate family is very entrepreneurial. Her daughter, Meg, is the CEO of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP), working with low-income, vulnerable populations. Her husband is an author and academic, most recently a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. One son, Jack, has his own business, which he operates with his wife, Bettina, Work Horse Installations, a full-service modular furniture installations business. Her other son, Christopher is a therapist and writer in Brooklyn, and her husband, Klaus Krippendorff, is an emeritus profession at Penn, whose area of expertise is contact analysis and design communication.

The subject of Marge’s recent book, Karin Bergöö Larsson, is not a name familiar to the general public, but she was Identified as “the first designer of what would become known as Swedish Modern” by the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Larsson (1859–1928) was a mother of eight and wife to Sweden’s beloved painter, Carl Larsson. Herself a well-regarded artist, she gave up painting when she married, at the request of her husband.

Taking up needles and cloth, Karin then turned a somewhat ugly cottage — Lilla Hyttnäs in the tiny village of Sundborn, Sweden — into a designer showcase. Inspired by the Swedish countryside, she filled the home with handcrafted wall hangings, bed coverings, tablecloths, pillow covers and even furniture of her own design. His paintings of their home made her interior designs famous, and her influence continues to inform the concepts of retail giant IKEA.

While researching the book, Thorell said, “I visited the home Larsson maintained with her husband, as well as her childhood home in Hallsberg. I met with her family and with others who had written about her, and I studied the art world of Sweden during her lifetime. I immersed myself in her art, her world, her husband’s world and her family’s world. I visited Sweden perhaps a dozen times with my family and by myself, visiting places that impacted her life. And because I am Swedish on my father’s side, the story of Karin resonated with me.

“My father’s family comes from Karlanda parish in Värmland, which is not too far from where Karin grew up. I researched my family’s Swedish roots along side of studying Karin’s roots. My great-grandfather left Sweden to find work in Oslo when Norway was still a Swedish territory. He met my great-grandmother there. They had three children, one of whom was my grandmother, Hanna Olsen, who married my grandfather, Algot Thorell. Two siblings of my father were also born there before they came to the U.S. My father, also Algot, was born in Philadelphia.

“I think this total immersion is the only way to write about a specific subject so as I was getting more and more immersed in my family’s Swedish origins, I began to study Karin’s life.”

TO BE CONTINUED

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