Commemorating Anders Beer Wilse

Norway’s famous photographer to be celebrated throughout the year

Photo courtesy of Posten Norge The stamps use images of Wilse’s famous photographs. This 20 kroner stamp is taken from “Setesdal, på vei til kirken,” a 1934 hand-colored photograph.

Photo courtesy of Posten Norge
The stamps use images of Wilse’s famous photographs. This 20 kroner stamp is taken from “Setesdal, på vei til kirken,” a 1934 hand-colored photograph.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Anders Beer Wilse’s birth, the renowned Norwegian photographer will be honored throughout 2015 with an extensive exhibit at the Norsk Folkemuseum, the republication of his books in Bilingual English Norwegian, and a set of four commemorative postage stamps, among other celebrations.

Understanding the significance of Norway’s most famous photographer requires a review of his remarkable life. The story begins in Flekkefjord, Norway, when Anders Beer Wilse was born in 1865. After spending his youth years in Kragerø and earning his technical degree, Wilse made the move to America in 1884. He started off as a railroad engineer in Minnesota, but eventually moved west to Seattle to work as a cartographer. His interest in photography began when he bought his first camera in 1886 and starting taking photographs in his free time. Soon enough, he opened his own photography business in Seattle. But after 17 years in the U.S., Wilse and his family returned to their homeland in 1900. He once again opened a photography business, this time in Christiania (now Oslo).

It was a pivotal time for the culture of Norway as the country was just a few years away from regaining its independence. Wilse realized the significance of Norway’s evolving national identity and traveled all over the country to capture this cultural history through his photography.

He soon became a world-class photographer. “His images of Norwegian landscapes, of people at work, of people in their national costumes, and of the Royal family are well known for every Norwegian interested in photographs. In his images, we can see the transformation of Norway towards a modern society in the early 20th century,” states the Norsk Folkemuseum.

Wilse’s life and his photography can be remembered through his books, En Emigrants Ungdomserindringer (1936) and Norsk Landskap og Norske Menn (1943). At the time of his death in 1949, he left behind over 200,000 documented photographs. Most of his work was distributed among museums in Norway.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary, the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo is featuring a comprehensive exhibit of Wilse’s work, including an extensive selection of original images as well as reproductions from Wilse’s original negatives. The exhibit kicked off with a grand opening on April 16, and will remain on view through the end of the year.

While the exhibit at the Norsk Folkemuseum is the largest of 2015, there are also exhibits featuring Wilse at the National Library, Oslo City Museum, The Museum of Science, Preus Museum, and the Norwegian Maritime Museum.

Photo: Sheridan Books, Inc. / Astri My Astri Publishing Hot off the press, Wilse’s first book in updated bilingual edition is available from Astri My Astri Publishing.

Photo: Sheridan Books, Inc. / Astri My Astri Publishing
Hot off the press, Wilse’s first book in updated bilingual edition is available from Astri My Astri Publishing.

To further honor Wilse and his legacy, Deb Nelson Gourley of Astri My Astri Publishing—in collaboration with the Anders Beer Wilse family—has published Wilse’s two books in Bilingual English Norwegian. Each of the volumes provides both Wilse’s original Norwegian text and English text, translated by Odd-Steinar Dybvad Raneng, as well as over 100 hand-colored and black-and-white Wilse images.

Volume 1 – Anders Beer Wilse Photography: Life of a Young Norwegian Pioneer, En Emigrants Ungdomserindringer features text and photographs of Wilse’s early immigrant life in the U.S. from 1884 to 1900.

Wilse’s archive of Norwegian identity from 1900-1949 is captured in Volume 2 – Anders Beer Wilse Photography: Norwegian Men and their Country, Norsk Landskap og Norske Menn. This volume will be available from Astri My Astri Publishing in June.

Deb Nelson Gourley stated that the new Wilse two-volume-set of books would not have been possible without the assistance of Christian Wilse, co-editor and great-grandson of Anders Beer Wilse. Christian, the Wilse Family spokesperson, worked with many museums and libraries in both Norway and the U.S. in order to obtain over 200 high-resolution digital images from Wilse’s original glass plate negatives for the bilingual books. Fifty-three of the images from Wilse’s photography in the U.S. were provided by Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) and University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.

Photo: Nils Midtbøen / Posten Norge Culture Minister Thorhild Widvey unveiled the last stamp and opened the Wilse exhibition at the Norsk Folkemuseum.

Photo: Nils Midtbøen / Posten Norge
Culture Minister Thorhild Widvey unveiled the last stamp and opened the Wilse exhibition at the Norsk Folkemuseum.

In addition, four of Wilse’s works are featured on commemorative postage stamps created especially for the 150th anniversary and released on April 16: “Grensen, mot Vår Frelsers kirke” Oslo (1924) on A innland stamp, “‘Kyrkja’ ved Leirvassbu, Lom” (1933) on a 14 kroner stamp, “3 digre torske” (1910) on a 16 kroner stamp, and “Setesdal, på vei til kirken” (1934) on a 20 kroner stamp.

One of Wilse’s photographs will also appear on Norway’s new money to be introduced in 2017; the Metric System and Terje Tønnessen chose one of Wilse’s works to be included in the design for the new 500 kroner bill.

The extent of these celebrations of Wilse’s life confirms that his legacy will continue to be celebrated as an important artifact of Norwegian national identity in the early to mid-20th century for many years to come.

Learn more about the 150th anniversary celebrations at www.wilse2015.no (in Norwegian). To purchase the bilingual Anders Beer Wilse Photography volumes, visit www.astrimyastri.com.

This article originally appeared in the May 1, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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