A decades-long restoration turned the world’s largest cobalt mine into an award-winning museum and cultural center
M. Michael Brady
Blaafarveværket (Blue Color Works) is a Norwegian mining and industrial company at Åmot in Buskerud County that was active from 1776 to 1898 and has now been restored as a cultural center. On June 22 this year in Berlin, famed tenor Plácido Domingo and European Union Commissioner Tibor Navracsics announced the 2018 European Heritage award winners. In the Dedicated Service category, the award went to Blaafarvefærket. The announcement stated that “The Norwegian Museum Director and Co-Founder Tone Sinding Steinsvik—together with her late husband Kjell Rasmus Steinsvik—has saved, restored, rebuilt, and successfully promoted the well-known and much-visited Blaafarveværket industrial complex in Buskerud, Norway. Over 50 years of intense and innovative efforts, these former cobalt mines have been transformed into what today is a well-run and versatile museum.”
Blaafarveværket was founded in 1776 by King Christian VII of Denmark and Norway. It soon became a significant actor in trade with Denmark, the Netherlands, and the Far East. In 1822, it was privatized and sold to German financers. They held it for 27 years, in retrospect its heyday in which it supplied 80 percent of the world’s need for blue pigment and became Norway’s largest industrial company. In 1849, it went bankrupt in the wake of the Spring of Nations Revolutions in Central and Western Europe of 1848. Thereafter, its business declined and its market was invaded by ultramarine synthetic blue pigment. In 1898, it closed down for good. In 1968, the Modum Blaafarveværk Foundation, headed by Tone Sinding Steinsvik, acquired the industrial complex—buildings, grounds, and mines—to make it available to the public as a museum and art gallery.
The complex comprised 65 buildings, 400 acres of land, and the mines beneath it. The foundation aimed to retain the authenticity of the complex, which entailed keeping the buildings on their original sites, using only traditional materials and techniques in restoration, and implementing new ancillary aids to make the complex visitor-friendly.
Today, the results of 50 years of diligent restoration are remarkable reminders of the age of mercantilism. The restored Glasshytta (smelting works), now used for concerts due to its excellent acoustics, is in the Nordic countries one of the largest frame buildings with no internal load-bearing walls. The workers’ family lodgings and their quarter-acre gardening plots clearly reflect the emergence of the Scandinavian sense of social welfare for workers. The 115-foot-long underground pedestrian suspension bridge is the first of its kind.
For more on visiting Blaafarveværket, please see “Blaafarveværket: the Cobalt Works & Mines”, The Norwegian American, Dec. 28 2018.
• European Heritage Award Announcement for Tone Sinding Steinsvik: www.europeanheritageawards.eu/winners/mrs-tone-sinding-steinsvik
• The Norwegian Cobalt Mines and the Cobalt Works, by Tone Sinding Steinsvik.
This article originally appeared in the December 28, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.