In early 2003, the Society began negotiations with the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, Sweden to arrange for the loan of two early portraits by noted Swedish-American artist, Gustavus Hesselius (1682-1755): the Reverend Eric Björk (1668-1740), first pastor of Holy Trinity (Old Swedes) Church in Wilmington, and his wife Christina Stalcop Björk (1685-1720). The portraits, both dating to circa 1712-14 and the first portraits painted by Hesselius in the United States, had been in the possession of the Nordic Museum since 1887. Both portraits had recently undergone extensive conservation as part of a project financed by the Swedish Colonial Society, America’s oldest organization dedicated to Swedish-American history.
The portraits traveled to Wilmington to be exhibited as part of the 365th Jubilee to celebrate the founding of the New Sweden colony in 1638. The newly-restored paintings were the main attraction at a November 8th reception at the Delaware History Museum that hosted Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden. The portraits represent an important early link to Delaware’s Swedish past. The Reverend Eric Björk emigrated from Sweden in 1697 to establish a pastorate at Fort Christina and oversaw the building of Holy Trinity (Old Swedes) Church at the site. He served as the first Pastor until he was recalled to Sweden in 1714. Old Swedes is the oldest Swedish Church in the United States and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1966. The portraits of Eric and Christina Björk remain on loan to the Society and those interested in exploring Delaware’s early Swedish past can see them on display in our Research Library.