Musing on education and art

Learning about Norwegian painters for parents and children

Håkon Stenstadvold

Photo: Norway Art®
“At the Edge of Town, Sarpsborg” (“Utkant”) from 1939 is one of Håkon Stenstadvold’s most important paintings from the pre-World War II era. He chose the highest hill in Sarpsborg and depicted the colorful houses there before they were later razed for development.

MARY JO THORSHEIM
Norway Art®

When I was a child, the period before beginning school in the fall was an exciting time for me. Although I loved the greens of the lush leafy trees of summer and other growing things that replaced the white-on-white of Minnesota winter, for me, the humming-buzzing of cicadas in August signaled the start of a new school year and seasonal change into beautiful fall color. The anticipation of learning new things and meeting old and new friends after summer vacation was exhilarating (not to mention probably getting a new plaid cotton dress at Powers Department Store for the first day of school at Bryn Mawr Elementary).

The bright prospect of a new school year that many students have experienced in the past is now dimmed to some extent. Total education at home or limited time at school is the frequently difficult situation that students and their parents and caretakers find themselves facing. And parents and caretakers must certainly be challenged by attempting to locate interesting supplemental materials suitable for teaching at home.

Resources

Here are some resource ideas for Norwegian art education at home.

1. A mother who homeschools her 11-year-old son uses the Norway Art website as a tool to teach about art in Norway and follows up with biographical research about the artists, the styles they adopted, how their artwork may have documented history, among other topics. www.norwayartonline.com

2. Another link: a video produced by Norway House in Minneapolis offers a virtual tour of a selected Norway Art exhibit on view in the Coltvet Room there. www.youtube.com/watch?v=9n4FEKTvb7Y 

3. My past columns in The Norwegian American may be similarly useful. 

You can search for “Thorsheim” on www.norwegianamerican.com.

Learning at home

There are many lessons to be learned from studying at home beyond basic homework, in my opinion. Students today may benefit from more exposure to positive family influences than children of the past, who spent the majority of their school days at the school building, rather than at home.

It seems that some of the most prominent Norwegian artists were strongly influenced by the interests and talents of other family members, as probably happens worldwide. In Norway, for example, these combinations included: Lagertha Munthe and her uncle Gerhard Munthe; the Bergslien brothers of Voss; Christian and Oda Krohg and their son Per Krohg; Hans Dahl and his son Hans Andreas Dahl.

Father and son, Håkon Stenstadvold and Halvor Stenstadvold

Focusing on the art of Håkon Stenstadvold (1912-1977) of Sarpsborg, his noted son, Halvor Stenstadvold, comes into the picture. That Halvor has a strong interest in art may be shown in the fact that he has been chair of the board of directors of the famous Henie Onstad Art Center since 2008 (hok.no/en/art-center). 

A political scientist by education, Halvor has been a leader in national and local politics, and he has played very important roles in key Norwegian businesses. His involvement in the world of art and his leadership in government may attest to the influence of his father.

In his book about his father’s art, Håkon Stenstadvold – far, kunstner (1994), Halvor succeeded in his decision to place the emphasis on the art rather than on Haakon’s role as a father and deemphasized the personal aspects of his life. Nevertheless, I feel that the reader picks up on a special father-son relationship that must have had a strong influence on a son. Admiration for his father’s achievements is also apparent. 

“Far” (father) was a painter, journalist, illustrator, art critic, and local and regional elected political leader. His artistic prowess was demonstrated not only in his painting, but also in book illustration (Kristin Lavransdatter), serving as an art critic for Oslo newspapers, and being a leader of organizations of artists.

Håkon Stenstadvold’s painting:  “At the Edge of Town, Sarpsborg” (“Utkant”)

In his important painting from 1939 in pre-World War II Norway that is illustrated here, Haakon chose the highest hill in Sarpsborg, “Fritznerbakken” and its residential neighborhood as his subject. He documented the cluster of colorful houses years before they were razed for development. Unknowingly, he actually depicted a historic scene.

He included a railroad semaphore in the foreground that is marked with “A” for “Aust” (nynorsk for east). This marking means that the train would have been the eastbound Østfold line traveling to Oslo that still clicks over the Sarpsborg tracks.

Håkon’s paintings are characterized by his rhythmic, colorful style, which cleverly plays color against color to achieve remarkable contrast. In this painting, the composition appears deceptively uncomplicated at first glance. It is readily apparent, however, that extraordinary talent, training and creativity went into his vivid portrayal of this Sarpsborg neighborhood at the very edge of town.

Why did Håkon happen to choose this subject? It is impossible to know the answer but intriguing to speculate about it. Artists often follow their personal and political preferences in choosing subjects, as illustrated by a comment from art collector Lars Richardson. On observing Stenstadvold’s “Utkant” painting, Richardson is reminded of painters in the Oslo area who portrayed old neighborhoods, especially working class ones that were part of a changing city landscape at the time. Henrik Backer (1865-1948) followed this motivation in his drawings and paintings, for example, “Vika” before it was developed into the site of the present Oslo City Hall. 

“At the Edge of Town, Sarpsborg” (“Utkant”) shows a cozy neighborhood in the outskirts of the city at the farthest point from the city center. In Norwegian, the word “utkant” means at the fringe of the city limits. Now long gone, the memory of the old Fritnerbakken neighborhood lives on in this brilliant painting by Håkon Stenstadvold, which is available for purchase from Norway Art.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 4, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American

Published since May 17, 1889 PO Box 30863 Seattle WA 98113 Tel: (206) 784-4617 • Email: naw@na-weekly.com

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