The Sacramento Valley Museum in Williams has unveiled its newest exhibit: the Otto “Jack” Liljegren collection of hand-carved caricatures.
It has been 54 years since the Sacramento Bee put Liljegren’s talent and the small community of Arbuckle on the map with a two-page spread about a beloved man who loved to while away the hours whittling.
Liljegren completed hundreds of pieces of art over the years, using a jackknife to peel away the layers of pinewood to create colorful characters, villages, animals, and birds.
“Jack’s family was from Sweden, so they all have a little Swedish tinge,” Marilyn Ornbaun, a member of the museum’s Board of Directors, said about the new display.
Liljegren was born in 1889. His family moved to College City from Minnesota. He graduated from Pierce Joint Union High School, and, in addition to farming, he was the school district’s bus driver for 24 years.
“He was also a gardener at Pierce,” Ornbaun said. “The grounds were beautiful, and he helped each year to mount the Santa Sled on the roof for Christmas.”
Liljegren had always enjoyed woodworking, and was known to have made small wooden desks and other gifts for Pierce High School students.
But it wasn’t until he had a heart attack in 1957 that he decided to take his doctor’s advice to “take it easy,” he told Bee Reporter Melvin Gagnon in 1964.
As a relaxing hobby, Liljegren started carving small figurines like dogs and birds, and around 1963 started carving humans, particularly sportsmen in activities such as fishing or hunting.
Helen Young, in her Arbuckle-College City book, wrote Liljegren’s inspiration for his characters came from Swedish carvings shown him by a friend. His collection includes a stagecoach, complete with horses and a driver, old timers sitting on park benches, a lumberjack chopping wood, and other people and critters. He was also a self-taught painter.
In addition to his carvings, the Liljegren exhibit at the museum includes an original oil painting.
Liljegren died in 1992. His wife, Gladys (Keefer) Liljegren died in 2005. The couple is buried in the College City Cemetery.
Although Liljegren was known to attend art shows, he didn’t typically sell his work. Other than carvings he gave away as gifts to friends and family, his extensive collection remained intact since his death 26 years ago.
It was always his intent for the collection to be on display at the Sacramento Valley Museum, where people could enjoy his handiwork for generations to come.
“He was just so talented,” Ornbaun said. “It’s a wonderful addition to the museum.”
The Sacramento Valley Museum The Museum is open 10 AM to 4 PM Friday through Sunday, or by appointment. ■