A day’s tour through Kvinesdal

Known for its Utvandrer festivalen, Kvinesdal offers museums, arts, and an immigrant connection

Photo: Visitnorway.com Tore Bjorn Skjolsvik’s statue depicting the separation of emmigration.

Photo: Visitnorway.com
Tore Bjorn Skjolsvik’s statue depicting the separation of emmigration.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

For the past four years I have been attending The American Festival in Vanse, which takes place the last weekend in June. It is an awful time for me to travel, but this year I was starting a brand new program and its late start gave me enough time to take an entire six days off. This left me with two days to explore before the festival began.

I chose to spend those two days exploring Kvinesdal. I have many friends who live in the town and had been there many times before—long, long ago. My biggest incentive to visit came through a chance encounter at the 17th of May celebrations in Brooklyn. There Erling Dugan, one of the founders of the Facebook site Brooklyn Norwegians, had a chance encounter with my good friend Liv Lyngsvag, who graciously opens her home to me when I attend the American Festival. Erling had Liv swear that she would take me to the museum in Kvinesdal that June.

So nothing stood in my way of this adventure; I had a wonderful tour guide—Erling—and great company in transit—Liv.

The day began with ice cream, a “must” according to Liv: “They have the best at the Sentrum Kiosk.” It is delicious. Cones in hand, we wandered over to a marvelous statue. Made by artist Tore Bjorn Skjolsvik, it depicts a family of three saying their final farewells to an elderly father. All are wearing early 20th-century garb. It commemorates the enormous emigration from the south of Norway and the human repercussions of families separating, often forever. Its rough-hewn texture allows you to feel the human pain of the impeding partition.

Magda Dugan and Arthur Svennivik began the campaign to raise funds for this statue. The monument was unveiled in 2002 and is one of the many markers Kvinesdal holds, reflecting the area’s long history of poverty, which forced thousands to leave and seek employment elsewhere. It also serves as symbol of Kvinesdal’s popular Utvandrer festivalen, held on the 4th of July weekend. In 2014 it boasted its 25th anniversary.

Next, we meandered in a well-tended graveyard across from Menighetssenter & Kvinesdal Gjestehus (Church Center & Guesthouse). Liv and Erling know many of the people who are forever at rest; some are related. The headstones are slightly different from those I’ve seen in the states. I especially love the carved sparrows and other birds.

Photo: kvinesdal.no Menighetssenter and Kvinesdal Gjestehus, where travelers and the needy can all find hospitality.

Photo: kvinesdal.no
Menighetssenter and Kvinesdal Gjestehus, where travelers and the needy can all find hospitality.

Erling brought us into the Gjestehus, originally known as the Rafoss Hotel, which opened in 1908. Today, it is owned by the church. They offer meals and accommodation and are active in mission work. This centrally located building is a stately Norwegian affair. The building’s incarnation is truly hospitable to all: offering food to locals, accommodations to visitors and refugees, and a place to learn a trade at its “Peace Cafe.” These refugees cannot yet legally work, but they are permitted to earn tips, so the church started this cafe where the refugees cook their native food, serve, and clean up. Unfortunately, it was not open the day we visited, but we made a plan to return.

Our next stop was to the Lister Emigrant Museum (Sørlandet Utvandrersenter), the catalyst for my visit. Erling has a key because he serves on its board, so Liv and I got a private tour. The creation of this institution was truly a grassroots effort. Local Judith Osteboe left her home to the Kvinesdal Council for the explicit purpose that it serve as a center/museum, documenting the emigration history between Vest Agder and the U.S. It is located on Prestergarden and was fully furnished, which makes looking at the vintage mid-20th-century furnishings a blast.

The Sons of Norway Viking Lodge proposed that it be the entity to run the center/museum in 2003. Its purpose is: “To preserve the emigration history; inform visitors of the emigration history from the Lister region that took place between 1850–1970, highlighting the period from the end of the Second World War up until the mid-1970s; collect and exhibit objects, letters, photos, documents, and other relevant material that would help to highlight how much the emigration meant for the people and the community and preserve objects and knowledge from this period that would otherwise stand the risk of disappearing during the next generations.”

It includes the stories of many locals who lived in the U.S., along with its vast collection of many objects from the 1950s era, and parts of it are set up like an apartment. I especially loved the funky lamp that twisted like a vine up the side of a couch, with light glowing from bulbous plastic flowers. The vintage furniture in the living room is iconic to a specific time in American history. That time—the 1950s/1960s—coincides with the last large wave of emigrants who came to America, some for only a short time, from this part of Norway.

I asked Liv about her impressions of the museum and she said, “I love the museum; so nice to see memories that I remembered from my childhood! I was impressed to see how many things had been collected there and to see different rooms with original furniture. Also the original apartment downstairs that she used to stay in during her summer vacation was impressive. The museum is absolutely worth a visit.”

Photo: kvinesdal.no Utsikten Kvinesdal, a stark building with a magnificent view and many cultural attractions.

Photo: kvinesdal.no
Utsikten Kvinesdal, a stark building with a magnificent view and many cultural attractions.

Afterwards we headed to Utsikten Hotell. On our way into Kvinesdal I had noticed a concrete-looking building jutting out from the trees on a mountain top. It was jarring to see in this bucolic setting. Thinking it was ugly, I asked what it was. When they told me it was Utsikten I was shocked. More than a decade ago, I remember visiting a charming wooden building with an amazing view. It blended into the environment seamlessly. This one, not so much.

Well, Norway, like the rest of the world is not frozen in amber. Bigger, bolder, and glitzier should not surprise. So, I say suck it up and enjoy. Away we went.

We first walked around outside. The view is breathtaking from atop one of the highest peaks, in the center of Fedafjord. It is perfectly placed, like scoring 10th row center seat at the theater.

There is a small, curved amphitheater overlooking the fjord for outdoor concerts, performances, and exhibits. Can you imagine hearing a concert from this place? I wonder if the amazing backdrop would steal the show? In 2009, it featured a site-specific installation, Jewels of Kvinesdal, by Rapahaele Shirley. The artist’s work incorporated the changes of light that occurs here.

This reminded me of a relatively recent Norwegian policy, which proposes to have cultural centers built in small towns all over the country. Each would be unique. I remember seeing the one built in Vigeland, its Kulturtorvet. I noticed the structure right away. Not for its size; it was very compact, but for its distinct design, a mix between modern and traditional architecture, but a little off kilter. Shifting planks play peek-a-boo with the walls, like a cabin in the beginning stage of collapse. The idea of having cultural centers in towns around Norway is a marvelous one. Vigeland is where the famous artist of the same name hails from. The area is rich in wood carving tradition. Doesn’t it make sense to feature it here, at the battlefield? Ideally, should you have to travel all the way to Oslo to see a performance or exhibition? If you give local artists a place to feature the results of their creativity the locals will flourish. Perhaps adding this cultural layer to a town will even encourage youth to stay.

Back to Kvinesdal Utsikten. Not only is there an amazing view, they also have a delightful neighbor, a museum. It was the home and studio of one of southern Norway’s most renowned painters, Marcelius Førland. It holds many of his work in situ. What a wonderful place to be an artist, for how could this site fail to inspire? Unfortunately, it was closed when we arrived. But we could see a lot through the windows and stumbling upon it introduced me to an artist who was formerly unknown to me.

We were ready to see Utsikten. The windows are enormous, making the view democratic. The architecture on the inside is much warmer than the outside, paneled in local oak. The hotel is also a center where art and technology merge, featuring changing installations. The piece featured on their website involves plants, entitled, Akousmaflore or The Singing Garden: “The plants’ ability to sense energy variations is used to create sound. Maybe we know that nature is sensitive to our interaction, here one can experience it.” This hotel is doing some very clever things. It is offering traditional amenities, such as golf, which will hopefully attract an international crowd. It is also declaring itself to be the innovative cultural hub of the town, which could draw in a completely new audience. By creating a place for cutting-edge art and technology it becomes an educational and cultural center, which will hopefully keep the younger residents in town and attract other like-minded folk. It has transformed itself into a destination for most segments of the population.

We order dessert and coffee. Both are splendid. We are cocooned in a very laid-back environment, so we linger forever without an eyebrow raised. After hours of chat we depart and separate. Liv and I promise to return tomorrow to continue our tour of Kvinesdal—take two.

To be continued.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 9, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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