Archive for June, 2009

Due to family vacations and other responsiblities, most Scandinavian groups in my area take the summer off from meetings and activities. That is with the exception that many of us get together to celebrate Midsommer.

Midsommer Day is historically celebrated on June 24th, which generally happens during a workday. Therefore, some celebrations start the weekend before with small groups getting together for a barbeque, a midsummer dance or a late night bonfire.

Geneva, Illinois once had a large population of Swedish immigrants and celebrates its heritage with one of the biggest gathering which it calls “Midsommar Festival and Swedish Days“. The festival is a typical festival with carnival rides, a parade, music, outdoor merchant tents and “of course” many food booths sponsored by local restaurants and civic groups. A few of the churches have Swedish style breakfasts or lunches that benefit the churches mission work, otherwise, I don’t see many Swedish or Scandinavian heritage displays or exhibitions.

The greatest exception to the dearth of Scandinavian exhibitions is the Rosemaling exhibit put on the by the Illinois Norsk Rosemalers Association. This year the exhibit, as reported earlier, was held at the Geneva Historical Society building.

If you have not been to the exhibit or have not seen American style of Rosemaling at its finest this is a must see showing. Here are a few of pictures of the show.

The Rosemaling Show - View 1

The Rosemaling Show - View 1

The Rosemaling Show - View 2

The Rosemaling Show - View 2

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Ruth Haller - Oval Box

Award winner Ruth Haller - Oval Box

This year the first few days of the Geneva celebration felt like late July and August not Late June. Temperatures rose to 95 or 98 (95 degree Fahrenheit = 35 degree Celsius) with high humidity. These temps push people in-doors and I think many more people did see the exhibit.

The new location was considerably smaller than the old exhibition location, and is a little harder to find. However, the advantages of being part of the historical society outweighs the small venue. With a little planning, including the building of portable walls for plate/platters, using small tables in the entryway and developing additional display stations geared to the new space, the location will be very nice for years to come.


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After having been available only as a high priced import, we can now offer this beautiful, hardbound “encyclopedia” about the Vikings, their society and politics, as well as the Viking roots of the Norwegian nation, at an unbeatable price. Order directly from our website. Click HERE to purchase.

Viking NorwayAbout the book:
Born out of years of research into one of the most exciting times in North European history by one of Norway’s foremost experts in the field, Viking Norway is the first book of its kind. Not only does it re-examine the outbreak of the viking age, but it also gives the reader a broad introduction to the subject. Read about Leif Ericsson’s discovery of America, “Vikings” at the 1893 Chicago World Fair, Viking martial arts, the ancient norse political (Thing) system – learn about the viking ship – the revolutionary innovation that enabled the vikings to traverse the great oceans, explore, trade and establish themselves as successful, feared and sought after warriros all across the known world.


For further information and ordering, please write to info@sagapublishers.com

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Previously, I noted that I’ve taken some classes in rosemaling and in particular I studied the Telemark style. Rosemaling is a Norwegian art form that came out of the painting and carving performed in the “upper class” styles of the Baroque and Rococo period. These Baroque and Rococo period styles transformed as they moved from the cities of Norway to the more rural fjord valleys of the eastern, southern and western Norway and as the practitioners injected their own local values into the art form. The rosemaling we see practiced in the US today shows additional transformation from that which was practiced in Norway in the early and mid 1800’s. For additional historical information see this article on the Illinois Norsk Rosemalers’ Association (“INRA”) website.

The INRA website identifies seven rosemaling styles and other groups and individuals identify additional styles. One style, called Viksdalen, is rarely discussed and does not have a wide following outside of the Sunnfjord region of western Norway. I had read a little about this style several years ago when my wife added a book to my library titled “Rosemaling – fra hele Norge” edited by Bjørg Oseid Kleivi. I love the book because it written in the actual words of the artists, and contains pictures of their work. The book, as suggested by the title, is written in Norwegian but does have an English summary at the end.

Viksdalen Sample 1

Viksdalen sample on the inside of a tray

The Viksdalen style of Sunnfjord (a region in Sogn og Fjordane) is championed by the Eldal family, and is unique in the rosemaling form because it takes (as my mind and eyes see it) a lot from the art of chip carving and is more subtle than other styles. I am by no means an expert in rosemaling or a studied critic of the rosemaling art form, but again my eyes tell me it is a little more “masculine” than other styles, yet retains the “S” scrolls, floral motifs and reflects nature in its designs.

Viksdalen Sample 2

Viksdalen sample on the side of a Flat Bread Basket

Last summer, while visiting a very good friend, her family and others in Naustdal, a community in Sunnfjord, I was given the opportunity to visit with the locally known Eldal family at their art studio. The studio is located at Viksdalen in Gaular community Sunnfjord which is not very far from Naustdal and Førde. Alvhild and Einar Eldal have a very nice studio in the cellar of a building in their well run café on Einar’s family farm. While neither Einar or Alvhild speak very much English (the staff/family in the café do speak English), as artists they do not need to say much to give, even the casual visitor, a grand tour of their work. Alvhild is the rosemaler and Einar is the wood craftsman. All of the boxes and bowls that Alvhild paints are made by Einar from wood he gathers from his own farm. Some of Alvhild’s work can also trace it’s roots back to the iron age where the symbols used on the objects provided a form of “protection” to the perishable items they contained. Both artists in their always smiling faces gladly showed us how they created their art and even allowed us a chance to try our hands at the craft.

Alvhild Eldal

Alvhild Eldal

Alvhild Eldal

Einar Eldal

For a sample of Viksdalen and an article in Norwegian about Alvhild and Einar see the NRK website. Also if you happen to go to the Sunnfjord area a great resource for works done in this style is the Sunnfjord Museum in Førde on the waters of the Førdefjord.

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Steve Johnson was recently named the Interim Executive Director at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa. It was Steve who turned me on to the (at the time) new book called Astri, My Astri by Deb Nelson Gourley. The bi-lingual book (Norwegian/English) recounts, in 16 short stories, her quest to learn about her Norwegian genealogy. This journey started with the discovery of a old truck destined for a garbage fire that had the name Astri and the year 1812 artistically written on the outside. Steve knew that the book would reinvigorate my quest for knowledge of my families past. If you have not read the book please give it a try I think you will like it.

As always, I’m very interested in hearing how you got started (your catalyst) in collecting information about Norway or your Norwegian heritage. Like any traveling vacation, the journey can be more fun than the destination.

Steve’s new position and his recommendation to add “Astri” to my book collection caused me to think about rosemaling. Rosemaling is a Norwegian art form that drew my interest when I came across a few pieces of work while going through my father estate after he passed away. At the time I found them, I knew very little (actually nothing) about the art form. So I contacted the museum and they invited me to Decorah for a tour of their collection. The items I had were not well preserved and had fallen on hard times, however the Vesterheim collection gave me a chance to see how my pieces would have looked had they been preserved.

The people at Vesterheim also connected me to the Illinois Norsk Rosemalers’ Association, a group of rosemalers that offers artistic support and classes in the art of rosemaling. Rosemaling has multiple styles. I studied the Telemark style with Lorraine Straw and have created a few pieces of my own. My works are not “Gold Medal” quality, however these pieces have given me a chance to be an artist and create a few unique conversation pieces for my home.

Welcome to my home

Welcome to my home

My wife has fallen in love with rosemaling and has purchased over the years some good examples of the art form. If you live in the Chicago area an upcoming event at the Geneva Swedish Days festival will give you a great chance to see the finest examples of Rosemaling. If you are interest in purchasing a few items, bring your check book, many of the items will be for sale.

The Annual Norwegian Rosemaling Show & Sale June 24 – 27, 2009
Geneva History Center
113 S 3rd St
Geneva, IL 60134

Next up, I’ll take you to a place in Norway that I visited last year that produces fine wooden pieces that are Rosemaled in a style many people have not seen here in the US.

Ken Nordan, Contributing Editor

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The current economic uncertainty (with so many, including myself, looking for work) has caused me to think about my grandparents and the reasons they came to America. My grandparents as well as the millions of other people during the period of mass emigration (in Norway and other countries) battled uncertainty in their future to venture across oceans to settle in America.

My grandmother grew up in the town of Egersund as the third daughter in a family with four children. Her father had died while all of the children were young, so they moved in with her mother’s brother and his large family in the city of Kristiansund (North). Her situation was not very good and she had little reason to believe that her prospects would become significantly better so as a 24 year old, she left Norway for America. Her reason, I found this simple phrase in her immigration paperwork at Ellis Island: Reason for leaving country of origin: For a better life.

My grandfather like so many of the boys and men in the 1800s took to the sea. His father had died, leaving at least 7 children under the age of 16. As the oldest boy, going to sea was the best way to make money and send it home for the family to live. After being at sea for 5 years he settled in the US and eventually 2 siblings joined him here. As an adult he took a job at the Chicago Sun-Times working 42 years as a pressman.

Whether you are Norwegian, Irish, Polish or of any other ethnic background, similar stories and reasons can be easily found.

So, what was happening in Norway?

In the book Norway to America by Ingrid Semmingsen (p. 99) I found the following quotes:

The half century from 1865 to 1915 was the time of mass emigration, even though Norwegian emigrants were only a small percentage of those who came to American each year. But Norway had few people to spare. When close to three-quarters of a million persons left the country in the course of fifty year, it was a massive loss for a country that had only 1,800,000 inhabitants in 1865 and 2,500,000 in 1915. In proportion to total population only Ireland had a higher percentage emigrating.

In this period [1879 – 1893 editor] a quarter million departed the country, leaving a population increase of only 150,000. In some years the number of emigrants was greater than the surplus of births, causing a population decrease. The record was set in 1882 when 29,000 persons emigrated, leaving Norway with 5,000 fewer people at the end of the year.

Clearly, our Norwegian ancestors (as well as many other countries) were having a terrible time finding work and a suitable place to live. For centuries prior to 1800, the Norwegian population growth was minimal, in 1664 the population was around 440,00 by 1815 the population was 885,431. However the population of Norway doubled to 1,701,756 by 1865 and reached nearly 3 million in 1930 [Statistics Norway website]. For anyone that has been to Norway we can easily see that, and in particular before 1900, Norway’s countryside would have trouble supporting this number of people.

In the 1800’s most of the people of Norway lived on farms and in small communities around farming areas. This is made evident by the population percentages in for example Oslo. In 1801, 7.5 percent of the total population of Norway lived in Oslo, by 1930, 17.4 percent live in Oslo and today over 20 percent of Norway’s population live in Oslo. While the percentage only went up 2.5 times the actual population went up over 7 times in the same period. This vast expansion of the city population must have placed a great strain on the economics of the people.

Equally so the increase in farm population made sharing and inheriting farm property almost impossible, while the increase in mechanization made it more difficult to find work. Case in point, my grandfather’s father (Thomas) was born on a farm in Førde Kommune (now called Naustdal Kommune). Because Thomas’ father was not a land owner, he would never inherit a farm and finding work was very difficult. He was able to learn a trade however and moved to Bergen, returning to Sunnfjord (a multi kommune region) only to find and take a bride from Jølster Kommune. His sister, having little chance to find a local husband move to Bergen also, eventually marrying a man in Bergen.

While times were difficult then, as they are difficult today. Hard work and changes in the way (and where) they lived, gave our ancestors new hope and livelihood, they also provide me with renewed excitement about the future.

In a future entry I’ll take a deeper look at the communities that my ancestors left. These are my stories, I’d love to here your stories too.

Ken Nordan, Contributing Editor

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