Thanksgiving and a very special painting of a ship

The story of Antonio Jacobsen’s “Steaming Toward America”

Antonio Jacobsen

Photo: Lori Ann Reinhall
Antonio Jacobsen’s oil painting of the Hekla in the collection at Norway Art. Size: 27.4 x 41” including the frame which is probably original. Signed: A Jacobsen 1899. 31 Palisade Ave., West Hoboken, N.J.

Mary Jo Thorsheim

The Thanksgiving season reminds us of the importance of gratitude for the many kinds of gifts that we receive. At Thanksgiving, we anticipate the tradition of giving gifts at Christmas. Although not something tangible that can be gift-wrapped and tied with a ribbon, being able to feel and express grateful feelings may also be thought of as a gift.

Antonio Jacobsen (1850-1921) had the gift of talent in art. He was the immigrant artist who painted the portrait of the S/S Hekla featured here: “Steaming Toward America 1899.” Now owned by Norway Art® in Minneapolis, this antique oil painting is waiting for a new home. It would be a wonderful addition to a corporate or private collection, or as a donation to an organization such as a museum. 

The S/S Hekla sailed from Kristiania to New York on voyages of 14 to 16 days during the 1880-90s and until it was scrapped in 1905 due to several misfortunes. In 1899 alone, it made six round trips from Kristiania to New York (with a stop in Kristiansand) between February and November. It carried hundreds of immigrants, primarily Scandinavians. Hekla passenger lists of 1899 show the preponderance of Norwegian names and places of origin. 

The painting shows the ship flying the American flag, the ensign of the Thingvalla/Scandinavian America Line, the Norwegian flag (which included the Swedish flag at that time), and the Danish flag, which signified the ownership of the line, based in Copenhagen. The name of the ship refers to Iceland’s famous mountain Hekla. While Antonio Jacobsen was a prolific painter of all kinds of ships, the Hekla and this particular work of art are special to many with Scandinavian roots.

The dates Nov. 24, 26 and 28—just two days apart but separated by many years—are significant in the story of the Hekla, the Mayflower and Thanksgiving Day 2019. On Nov. 26, 1899, Hekla arrived from Kristiania in New York for the last time that year. 

On Nov. 26, 1620, 279 years earlier, the Mayflower docked in Massachusetts. The pilgrims suffered more wretched general conditions during their voyage than did the immigrants on the Hekla, but sailing the North Atlantic in November can be challenging due to the rougher seas of early winter.

This year, America observes Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 28. The Pilgrims expressed their deep gratitude by gathering for the first Thanksgiving Day in America. How and when the Hekla passengers were introduced to the custom of Thanksgiving observances is not known to us. But we do know that Thanksgiving Day continues to be a fine tradition that citizens of varied ethnic backgrounds honor and enjoy.

This article originally appeared in the November 15, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Mary Jo Thorsheim

Mary Jo Thorsheim (1937-2023) was the owner of the Norway Art® importing business for 40 years and a regular contributor to The Norwegian American.