Paper mill to sculpture park

Businessman and philanthropist Christen Sveaas has transformed his family business into a museum of both history and art

Christen Sveaas

Photo: Kistefos-Museet
Businessman and philanthropist Christen Sveaas stands in front of Castor & Pollux, a bright yellow sculpture by Tony Cragg.

Rasmus Falck
Oslo, Norway

Christen Sveaas is a well-known Norwegian businessman and philanthropist. He is founder, Executive Chairman and Owner of Kistefos A/S, which was established in 1998, when he merged his various activities into one company. The company is involved in financial services, telecommunications, IT, real estate, offshore services, and financial investments.

Sveaas is active in the venture field. He made a series of successful investments in venture capital in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He is a part owner of the Alliance Venture capital funds. This is an early-stage growth company within the ICT industry in Norway. They invest in excellent teams and work with them to expand internationally. The focus is companies with a global potential. Lately, they invested in a provider of the world’s most robust natural language processing algorithms.

One of his more impressive “ventures” is how he transformed a family business. His grandfather, entrepreneur and Consul Anders Sveaas, established the paper mill Kistefos Træsliperi in 1889. The company was sold out of the family, but in 1993 Christen Sveaas bought it back. He developed the Træsliperi into a museum in Jevnaker, northwest of Oslo, where you can see what the work process and life was once like. The wood pulp was an important basic product in the manufacture of cheap paper products like newsprint. There were about 100 pulp mills driven by hydroelectric power in Norway. Kistefos is the only one that has kept the building and production inventory. In the museum, there is also a small temporary exhibition about the war on the European Spruce bark beetle in Norway.

Around the museum is a famous sculpture park that is expanded each year with a new sculpture. This year’s sculpture was made by American artist Lynda Benglis (born 1941). The artist became famous in the late 1960s in New York for the use of materials like liquid latex and PVC foam. She was a powerful and innovative voice in a male-dominated environment. Benglis was inspired to create the piece, Face Off (bronze and metal), by the atmosphere and scenery of Kistefos and Scandinavian folklore and mythology. According to the Kistefos Museum website, “her distinctive expression is amplified through the radical transformation material undergoes; soft becomes hard, hard to feel soft, and gestures and movements are frozen. Through ambiguity in form, an artistic space develops where abstraction gets content. The forms become meaningful in addition to the inherent properties of the material, and are perceived as metaphorical forms.”

Kistefos Museum

Photo: Frédéric Boudin / Kistefos-Museet
The 2018 sculpture addition to the Kistefos Museum’s sculpture park is American Lynda Benglis’s Face Off, inspired by the atmosphere at Kistefos and Scandinavian folklore and mythology.

In a former factory building there is an exhibition. This summer, the Polish painter Wilhelm Sasnal showed his pop-art inspired graphical productions. He paints from photos of daily life. The exhibition was his first solo exhibition in Scandinavia.

A new exhibition hall is under construction across the flowing river. The design is spectacular. There is also fishing grounds with fishing opportunities.

Sveaas is also a donor and philanthropist. Very quietly, he donated $11 million to the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government. The donation will be used to help educate Africans in public administration. In addition, since 2006, he has annually supported two Norwegian students taking a master’s degree in public administration at Harvard. In August 2017, reported that Sveaas had purchased 24 million shares in the financially strapped Norske Skog, raising his ownership stake to 35.7 million shares, making him the largest investor and helping keep the company afloat.

Sveaas is a Commander of the Order of Merit in the Republic of Italy and a Knight, First Class of the Order of St. Olav for his contribution to the Arts. He is also the Chairman of the Board of Viking Supply Ships AB and Viking Supply Ships A/S; Vice-Chairman of the Board of the Kistefos Museum Foundation; and Chairman of Anders Sveaas’ Allmennyttige Fund, a Norwegian charitable foundation. He is a member of the Dean’s Council’s Executive Committee, Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government. Sveaas was educated at University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, earning the equivalent of an MBA.

Rasmus Falck is a strong innovation and entrepreneurship advocate. The author of “What do the best do better” and “The board of directors as a resource in SME,” he received his master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently lives in Oslo, Norway.

This article originally appeared in the September 7, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Avatar photo

Rasmus Falck

Rasmus Falck is a strong innovation and entrepreneurship advocate. The author of “What do the best do better” and “The board of directors as a resource in SME,” he received his masters degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently lives in Oslo.