Who was Pauline Fjelde?

Who was Pauline Fjelde? What was her claim to fame?

Pauline Fjelde

Drawing by Mattea Bertling
Portrait of Pauline Gerhardine Fjelde.

MARY JO THORSHEIM
Norway Art®

Pauline Gerhardine Fjelde was a talented and versatile artist. She was a painter, textile artist, weaver, tailor, and an accomplished needleworker, who gained fame because of her embroidery. 

She studied in Norway, Denmark, and Paris, where her focus was tapestry art. In 1887, Pauline and her brother Jacob immigrated to Minneapolis, where brother Oswald was already living. The next year, their sister, Thomane, brother Herman, and their mother, Claudine, followed them.

Wave the flag for Pauline’s fame!

Pauline and her sister, Thomane, were commissioned to embroider the first official Minnesota state flag. It was exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair), where it won a gold medal. 

The design of the flag, based on earlier Civil War regimental flags, was created by another woman, who won a prize for it. Excellent needlework depends on both design and technique, and the Fjelde flag benefitted from the sisters’ technical skill.

Pauline’s accomplishments live on in the records of the Hennepin History Museum, the Minnesota Historical Society, the history of the Columbian Exposition, and in the name of the Daughters of Norway, 51 Pauline Fjelde Lodge. The lodge banner features an image of the first Minnesota State Flag.

Her work has been displayed at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., holds some of her oil paintings, and Vesterheim, the National Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, owns more of her artwork. Her brother Jacob and his son were prominent sculptors, known for creating important public monuments. 

The achievements of Jacob, Pauline, and Thomane Fjelde have been chronicled previously, but it would be interesting to document the artistic talents of other gifted family members as well.

Where was Pauline Fjelde from?

Vikebukt

Photo: Mary Jo Thorsheim
“Vikebukt, Norway” by Arthur Meyer (1907-1984).

Pauline Fjelde (1861-1923) was born and grew up in the city of Ålesund, Norway. The contrasting environments around her in Norway and America may have been significant influences on her life and her work.

Two paintings at Norway Art illustrate the beauty of western Norway, where Pauline’s hometown Ålesund is located.

What was her American neighborhood like?

Living in Ålesund, surrounded by water and mountains, would have been very different from Pauline’s city life in south Minneapolis, not far from downtown. 

The windows of 3009 Park Avenue looked out at other buildings on a busy street. The duplex she had built there at a cost of $7,500 in 1907 was intended to be large enough to house the family members who lived with her and her business. The accessible location would have been ideal for customers, and the public transportation nearby would have been convenient for them and the Fjeldes—a smart choice of a building site! 

And her business savvy seems to have been ahead of her time. She had a woman-owned business long before the phrase was coined and when it was uncommon for women to be in business. 

According to her descendent Charlotte Nordstrom, Pauline was also an active supporter of the women’s suffrage movement. That interest is another indication of her personal determination and forward-thinking attitude.  

Many of the city’s leading families lived in large mansions on Park Avenue, north of Lake Street. It is likely that her clients included some of the wealthy women who lived in those great houses. Her architect-designed home and business building was handsome, but it was not a mansion.

Next door to Pauline’s large house, to the south, the residents lived in rather unpretentious dwellings. Like the Fjelde dwelling, most of the others were finished with painted wood siding rather than the brick or stone that were the building materials for the mansions just to the north. The address 3009 Park is about half a mile from 38th and Chicago where George Floyd died in 2020.

This neighborhood has become prominent in newspapers and other media since 2020, but Pauline’s work on the Minnesota flag was featured in the press long ago. Her former home at 3009 Park Avenue drew wide media attention in the second decade of the 2000s.

Why did her house make the papers?  

When it was announced that it would be demolished, community objections were vocal and strong. Public discussion ensued because of Pauline’s place in Minnesota history, but the final result was the razing of the structure in 2009.

Minnesota State flag

Photo: Minnesota Historical Society
Minnesota’s first state flag created by the Fjelde sisters.

Community connections

This newspaper, The Norwegian American, has a current connection to Pauline Fjelde through the Daughters of Norway, 51 Pauline Fjelde Lodge: Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief, will present their virtual program in April. Karen Weiberg, cultural director, had heard Lori Ann speak about the newspaper when I had arranged for her to present a program for Mindekirken Minneapolis’ (now virtual) Tuesday Open House series. Karen says she thought it was excellent and that the lodge would enjoy a similar program. Zoom technology enables new opportunities like these two broadcasts from Lori Ann Reinhall in Seattle, beamed to viewers in Minnesota.

Pauline Fjelde had a large presence in the history of Minnesota. The creative initiative of this tiny person (4’8”) remains inspirational today, 98 years after her death in December 1923.

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., are not only the home base of the Minnesota Twins baseball team, but Minneapolis is also the adopted home of Pauline Fjelde and the home base of Daughters of Norway, 51 Pauline Fjelde Lodge!

This article originally appeared in the March 26, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Mary Jo Thorsheim

Mary Jo Thorsheim, Ph.D., the owner of the Norway Art® importing business for 40 years, was invited to donate a monthly article for The Norwegian American. She welcomes contact by email at mjtmng@gmail.com or phone at (612) 339-7829. For more information, visit www.norwayartonline.com and norwayartoriginals.com.

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