Searching for Halvard Storm
Browsing online charity auction sites can yield some pretty unusual items. And as a stolt descendant of Norwegians, I often type in the words “Norway” and “Norwegian” to see what traditional or modern Nordic treasures pop up for the bidding. My curiosity was recently piqued when I came across several pieces of original artwork by an early-20th-century Norwegian artist named Halvard Storm. The auction was for six etchings, each framed and signed in pencil. I’d never heard of Storm and had no idea what an etching was, but I was drawn to his tranquil depictions of Norwegian towns and landscapes.
A quick internet search yielded little to help me gauge a ballpark figure for a bid. But I entered a number and let the auction play out; I felt certain to nab the lot by this little-known artist without a contest. And so I was rather astonished to find myself feverishly attempting to outbid a half-dozen other bargain-seekers late that night. And I was equally astonished when I learned not only did I win the auction but the “little known” Norwegian artist cost me a tidy $812, a sum I hadn’t exactly planned on. At least, I justified to myself, it was going to charity.
When the artwork arrived, I was utterly captivated. The six roughly 6-inch-by-9-inch etchings on time-weathered parchment reflected Storm’s penchant for dramatically capturing light and shadow and his understated application of colors. One piece depicts the home of playwright Henrik Ibsen (Vinkelgt. i Vika, Ibsens første bopel i Oslo) while several portray landmarks and neighborhoods (Fra Nykirken, Bergen and Fra Nordnes, Bergen). The lower right corner of each bears Storm’s signature with its distinctive “H.”
Still, my initial dilemma remained: who was this artist and why couldn’t I find more about him? I scanned the internet again for references and was disheartened to find very few—just a handful of galleries or auctions offering Storm’s work. Even my neighbor, a renowned collector of early-20th-century illustration art, could find little in his extensive library.
Then it dawned on me: I could use the tools at my disposal as an amateur genealogist to dig deeper into this mystery artist. These were the exact tools that helped me discover that my Norwegian lineage consisted of seafarers from Tønsberg and Holmestrand who immigrated to Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge neighborhood in the early 1900s, as well as a Kaptein from Kristiansand who apparently jumped ship around 1879 and settled in Stoughton, Wis.
Soon I was examining online Norwegian and U.S. censuses, Lutheran church books, emigration records, and ship passenger lists—much of it in Norwegian—and scanning the online catalog of the Nasjonalbibliotek of Norway, all of it in Norwegian (thank you Google Translate). And when I learned where Storm was buried, I contacted a young American woman living in Oslo, who kindly and enthusiastically ventured to the city’s Vestre Gravlund to photograph Storm’s headstone. I was delighted to see that the impressive memorial had birth and death dates for Storm, both of his wives, his brothers, and his parents, plus each of their occupations, a veritable jackpot for a genealogist.
So now that I had a slightly better idea of who Halvard Storm was, I set out to collate the tidbits I’d discovered and create my first Wikipedia entry to “e-honor” the unsung Storm. As I navigated HTML code, copyright issues, and the importance of primary sourcing, a modest Wikipedia article took form and included one of the beautiful etchings from the auction I’d won, Fra Akershus: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halvard_Storm.
I continue to be thoroughly enchanted with the six etchings that came to me rather serendipitously, but clearly my midnight bid brought me more than just artwork. In delving into Storm’s life, he came alive for me in the same way my own Norwegian forefathers have. And to be sure, I still stalk charity auction sites searching for more pieces by this elusive Norwegian artist. Overall, I’d say my midnight bid was quite an investment.
This article originally appeared in the January 10, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.