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The Domestic Architecture and Cabinetry of Luther Valley
    by Claire Selkurt (Volume 30 Page 247)

WHEN ONE visits Luther Valley, Wisconsin, today, it is not difficult to understand the attraction this area had for the earliest Norwegian settlers. The gently rolling hills, the clusters of woods, the dark earth, and the well-kept farm structures all reflect a successful farming community. The earliest settlers came from a dramatically different setting -- the region of Numedal, which is marked by strong contrasts in topography. The Lågen River slashes deeply into that valley. Farms seem barely to cling to the sloping contours of the land. The brilliant green ground-covering is pierced by the jagged rocks that make up a good part of the barren soil. The fir trees and the wooden farm structures create striking silhouettes against the often leaden, mist-filled sky. One senses the tenacious will to survive that must have marked the day-to-day existence of these people. Emigration to the Wisconsin frontier brought with it a considerable change in their way of life. The purpose of this article is to recreate aspects of that life, based upon both extant and recorded evidence of the [248] material culture, the buildings and furniture of Luther Valley during the early period of settlement; as well as to show the persistence of certain Norwegian traditions.

By the late 1830s there were important reasons for the future founders of Luther Valley to consider leaving their homeland. The motivations were both religious and economic in nature. Gullik Gravdal, a Haugean and one of the founders of the settlement, addressed both of these issues in an interview many years later, saying that the great majority of those who emigrated from Numedal in 1839 belonged to the Haugeans. "We were not actually persecuted . . . but the 'readers' were the subject of much hostile gossip and we had to endure ridicule and scorn on the part of those who did not share our views . . . [However] the hope of finding cheap, fertile land together with reports about good wages were definitely the determining factors for most of us." {1} For many of the farmers in Numedal the effort to make a decent living had become a desperate struggle. Another early settler, Gullik Knudsen Springen, wrote: "Income from farming provided us with only the barest necessities.'' In return for farm labor "I could expect nothing but food and clothing. . . When I began to think seriously of the future, the idea of emigrating occurred to me." {2} It was not surprising then that Ansten Nattestad, who returned to Numedal in the fall of 1838 frown an exploratory journey that had taken him as far west as Chicago, found an eager and receptive audience. Gullik Gravdal reported that Ansten's return created about the same sensation a dead man might cause if he returned to tell of life beyond the grave. {3}

Early in June of 1839 the Nattestad party assembled in Drammen. There were approximately 140 people in the group, most of them from Rollaug and Veggli in northern Numedal. They set sail on June 12 on the Emilie and arrived in New York on August 26. [249] The settlers took the usual route to the West, traveling up the Hudson River, then by way of the Erie Canal to Buffalo, and through the Great Lakes to Chicago. The majority of the group followed Ansten Nattestad to Jefferson Prairie, but two of them, Gullik Gravdal and Gisle S. Halland, were dissatisfied with the Jefferson Prairie site and settled in Rock Prairie, about seven miles west of the present city of Beloit, Wisconsin, founding the settlement of Luther Valley. In the softly rolling hills and valleys of the area they found the land they had been seeking. The settlement grew fairly rapidly. By the fall of 1840 five Norwegians had bought land in the area and the following fall another contingent of several families arrived directly from Norway. The decade of the 1840s was an active period of settlement in the area. Emigrants from other parts of Norway joined the original group which had come from Numedal, people from Hallingdal, Valdres, and Gudbrandsdalen. While most of the settlers continued to live in log houses, the first stone houses were built during this period. It was also an active period in the history of the Luther Valley congregation. In the summer of 1846 Claus L. Clausen was called to become resident pastor, and under his guidance the settlement entered a period of growth and progress. With Clausen as editor, two Norwegian language periodicals, Norsk Luthersk Maanedstidende and Emigranten, began publication in Luther Valley. {4}

While the decade of the 1850s was marked by a decrease in the influx of new settlers, it was a period of increasing stability and development for the original families. In 1854 a cholera epidemic swept through the settlement and the gravestones in the Luther Valley cemetery bear mute testimony to the degree of the devastation. In 1857 the railroad came to the neighboring village of Orfordville and in 1860 the first train of the Western Union line from Racine reached Beloit. This [250] signified the opening of many markets previously inaccessible to the settlers. By the beginning of the Civil War Luther Valley had evolved into a thriving agricultural community.

The struggle for survival marked the earliest period of settlement in the new land. Although most of the Norwegian settlers were farmers, many aspects of life on the frontier struck them as crude and totally unlike their experience in Norway. One of the major adjustments to be faced was the need to construct log cabins hastily and the accompanying sense of insecurity and transience. Expediency, motivated by economic constraints and the severe midwestern climate, encouraged inferior methods of construction. Every settler, however, cherished the dream of one day building a permanent dwelling. Tools were not readily available on the frontier and familiar types of timber called for major technical adjustments. The tall straight trunk of the fir tree provided an excellent module for the timber structures of Norway; the often crooked trunks of American trees such as walnut, elm, and maple were more difficult to work with.

The furnishings of the earliest homes were primitive and usually built by family members. Olaus Fredrik Duus, a frontier pastor, described the furnishings of a typical home in his letters: "Along the wall on one side are some planks placed on log stumps, which serve as benches, while on the other side the bed, chests, and trunk all serve the same purpose . . . chairs are not to be found in this settlement, since the farmers have come here too recently to be able to buy things that they can do without or that they can provide in a cheaper way." {5} Many small utensils of wood and silver, as well as textiles, were brought along from Norway in large wooden trunks, but rarely any substantial pieces of [251] furniture. Many of the farmers were skilled in various trades such as blacksmithing, cabinetry, and toolmaking. Since a great deal depended upon home industry, all members of the family were involved in producing necessary items. Virtually every woman was skilled at the spinning wheel and the loom. Timber construction and the various areas of woodworking were almost exclusively the domain of the men. As the settlements developed, local craftspeople had more time to devote to the making of furniture for themselves and their neighbors. It was not until later, when a relative degree of prosperity came to the settlers, that they could indulge in commercially-made fabrics and furnishings. Often this happened all too soon and many of the fine old handicraft traditions disappeared within decades. Factory-made products tended to be more highly regarded than handmade products; they served as symbols of the immigrant's economic progress as well as evidence of successful assimilation to the American way of life. Some of the more purely decorative areas of the craft tradition, such as rosemaling (rose-painting), never really gained a foothold during the early period. Necessity dictated that function be the essential criterion in the production of handmade objects.

Based upon both extant and recorded evidence gathered in Luther Valley, there were three major types of timber structures that characterized the early period of settlement. The most primitive was the log cabin, a structure built of round unhewn logs caulked with plant materials, mud, or in some cases limestone. The log cabin usually lacked windows and a chimney. A simple hole in the roof let out the smoke. Next was the log house, which was a more permanent, full two-storied structure built of hewn logs with interstices stopped with stones and plaster. The log house was much larger [252] than the log cabin in plan and it often had plank floors, crude glass windows, and a staircase leading up into the second story. A third form found in the Luther Valley settlement was the timber storehouse or granary, which came in a variety of forms.

One might expect to find traditional details of form and construction preserved among the Norwegians not only because of the rich wood heritage of rural Norway, but also because of the tendency of the Norwegian peasants to be tradition-bound and consciously desirous of preserving their native culture in the new land. Based upon the evidence in Luther Valley, however, details and forms traditional to the Norwegian timber style were only occasionally employed. As will be shown, those forms which can be traced back to distinctly Norwegian sources are in most cases highly modified, mere shadows of the prototypes. It is understandable that during the initial period the settlers would have had to sacrifice more complex multipartite structures or details of craftsmanship such as refined joining and fitting of the logs. However, no attempt was made to develop a more refined timber style when the time and means eventually allowed it. In Luther Valley an original log building was in some cases retained and incorporated into an enlarged structure with its original identity concealed beneath siding or a limestone facing. The Norwegians in fact rejected their native tradition in favor of one brought primarily by Yankee settlers from New England, that of the stone house. It was a logical choice. The Luther Valley area abounded in rich limestone deposits and the masonry tradition was already firmly established in the area.

The first timber structure to be considered will be the log house of Knudt Crispenus Fossebrekke. Knudt Fossebrekke was a farmer, a native of Numedal. He was one of the original members of the Emilie expedition of [253] 1839 and worked for two years as a farm laborer in the area around Rockford, Illinois, in order to earn sufficient funds to buy land. He purchased the land the first year, and the log house was built the second summer by a family promised shelter in exchange for their labor. According to Fossebrekke's son Nels Crispensen, the wife of the builder dug the cellar in the summer, carrying all the dirt and stones out in her apron. In the spring of the third year Fossebrekke began farming and five years after his arrival he took Gertrude Vigere from Ringerike as his bride. Three children were born to them. Nels Crispensen recalled life in the log house, "This old house used to house as many as seventeen persons in the first winters. . . . I can well remember when as kids we slept in an old homemade bed under a fur robe and in the winter mornings we often awoke under a pile of snow that had drilled through the chinks." {6}

The Fossebrekke structure is a log house constructed of oak with two full stories, planked floors both upstairs and down, three windows, one original door opening in the south, and a chimney in the west end. The house measures sixteen and one-half by seventeen feet with a ceiling height in the first story of seven feet. The logs were joined in a crude form of dovetailing, and the fitting of the logs reflects rather hasty construction. Spaces between the square-hewn logs are large, and considerable chinking has been done with mortar and limestone chips. Reflecting traditional Norwegian construction, the purlins and ridgepole project through the gable-end walls of the structure. Inside there is a steep, ladder-like, enclosed staircase which leads through a trapdoor into the second story. The second story is illuminated by one window in the east wall. An interesting detail is a hinged section of log that was used for viewing out the windowless west end of the building. Two leather [254] hinges attach the section of log to the timber above and a wood peg fits into a hole in the timber below to secure it tightly. A review of some of the pieces auctioned off at the family estate sale in the late 1960s gives some indication of how the house was furnished during the early period. {7} A spinning wheel, candlemakers, two trunks -- one rose-painted and one lightly ornamented on the lid with acanthus carving -- punched tin lanterns, several spindle-backed chairs, three clocks, and a double-doored cupboard were all included in the estate. The cupboard, located by the author in a local collection, is a monumental piece, approximately seven and a half feet tall and crowned with a heavy cornice and distinctively Norwegian crest.

In contrast to the fully developed log house of Knudt Fossebrekke, the Gulbert Gulbertson structure is a classic example of the log cabin (Figure 1). It originally stood on land purchased from the government in January, 1848. {8} The loosely-constructed cabin has an earth floor and a loft that can be entered through a trapdoor in the ceiling. In plan it measures ten feet, six inches, by fifteen feet, eight inches, with a ceiling height close to seven feet. There were only two window openings, one centered in the north wall, the other next to the door in the south wall. Although very unrefined in construction, the joining of the logs, a rough saddle-cup with a slight overhang, reflects the Norwegian influence. {9} The spaces between the logs are filled with mortar and limestone chinking. A mere shadow of the rich timber style of Norway, this structure, more than the Fossebrekke house, is marked by the expediency of frontier life.


Figure 1. The Gulbert Gulbertson log cabin

One of the most remarkable finds in the Luther Valley settlement is an unimposing little structure on the original Nil Olsen Weglie farmstead of 1841. Measuring only twelve feet square in plan, it has [255] windows in the east and west walls and a door in the north gable end. The logs are square-hewn with crude dovetailed joining. The interior consists of one room with a ceiling height of seven feet, five inches, featuring a distinctively Norwegian corner fireplace or peis in the southwest corner. The fireplace is constructed of plastered stone with a curving profile to the bottom edge of the hood, a primitive but obvious adaptation of the original Norwegian form. A quarter-turn staircase in the southeast corner leads up to a low loft. 'Spacers,' inserted into notches between the logs around the door and window openings, add resiliency to the structure by allowing for fluctuation in the size of the openings. This structure may have been the earliest dwelling on the farmstead or it may have functioned as a bryggerhus, a small, freestanding structure which served a number of domestic uses, such as laundry and baking.

The stabbur, or elevated storehouse, is traditionally the pride of the Norwegian farmstead. It is usually a [256] two-storied structure on stilt-like supports, with an overhanging second story accessible by a ladder through an opening in the outer wall or in the floor of the overhanging portion. The often lavish carving on the building reflects the importance of the structure and the relative wealth of the owner. On the Wisconsin frontier the elevated storehouse lost its more symbolic connotations and served a purely functional role. The author was able to locate evidence of two of these elevated storehouses or granaries in the Luther Valley area. The Anders Michaelson granary was located on land purchased from the government in 1843. {10} Only photographic evidence remains of this structure, which was torn down in the 1950s. It was a large bipartite log structure with an interior dividing wall that had only a window to connect the two rooms. A ramp led up to a platform that ran in front of the doors. The structure was two-storied and rested on pyramidal wooden stilts in much the same fashion as the Norwegian stabbur. {11}

Another local variation on the stabbur type is to be found on land purchased by Ole Erickson in December, 1853. The land was first owned by a Yankee settler named Jim Keep and apparently the earliest log structures were built by him. {12} The Erickson granary was obviously built of a composite of timbers from earlier dismantled structures. The laying of the logs is highly irregular, with extraneous notches throughout the structure. Joining techniques vary, with dovetailing in one corner and more of a saddle-cup form in another. While the stilts of the Michaelson granary were wood, those supporting the Erickson structure are limestone.

When time and economy allowed for the building of a more commodious and permanent dwelling in masonry or frame construction, the original log dwelling was usually relegated to the role of granary or storage shed. [257] In most cases it was sided over to protect the logs from the elements. In some eases, however, the original log structure was simply added onto to become part of an enlarged structure. The addition was most commonly of limestone, thereby combining the two most readily available building materials in the area. It was a logical and economical solution and an excellent example of the flexibility and organic development of a true vernacular form.


Figure 2. The Paul Skavlem house, built in 1841.

One structure will be discussed as an example of this combined form, the Paul Skavlem house erected around 1841 (Figure 2). Paul Skavlem is one of the more colorful figures in the folklore of Luther Valley. He was known for his outspoken views on community issues, his skills as a cabin builder and cabinetmaker, and his excellent home brew. {13} Skavlem left Bollaug parish in Numedal with his wife Gunhild Pedersdatter Brekke and their two children in 1841. On September 15, 1841, in partnership with Nils O. Weglie, he purchased land in Plymouth township. His earliest dwelling structure [258] was a log house solidly built of square-hewn timbers with dovetailed corners. Skavlem's legendary skill with the ax was apparent in the close fit of the timbers, contrasting strongly with other such buildings in the area.

On the interior the logs were originally exposed and whitewashed. Later the interior walls were completely paneled. The two-storied house is exceptionally large: twenty feet by twenty-four feet in plan with a ceiling height just under seven feet. These proportions give the main room the broad, low-ceilinged feeling of the traditional Norwegian stue or dwelling room. Continuing the Norwegian tradition, this dwelling room served various functions as a social, sleeping, and eating area. There are three windows in the main room, and in the northeast corner of the room a quarter-turn staircase leads upstairs to a large undivided room that served as a sleeping area. The only source of light or ventilation in the second story is a small window opening in the south gable end. The log portion was probably faced with fieldstone at a relatively early date. The roof was finished with a simple box cornice. The stone kitchen addition was probably built at a later date. In Paul Skavlem's home, probably more than in any other home in the area, the Norwegian traditions were kept alive. Besides building his house, he completely furnished it with beds, benches, stools, tables, built-in cupboards, and the typically Norwegian kubbestol or chair hewn from a single log. He also produced smaller wooden utensils: ladles, spoons, and finely turned ale bowls. To fill these fine bowls Skavlem also produced large coopered barrels for the production of his ale. {14}

As the economic situation improved, the interest of the settlers turned toward building larger, more permanent homes. Typically they drew upon the most readily [259] available materials, and southern Wisconsin proved to be a rich repository of limestone and sandstone. A yellowish limestone was the favored building material in the Luther Valley area. Stone construction was common in the Beloit area between 1840 and 1860. In 1857 there were forty-one stonemasons reported as active in the area. Most of the masons came from the East. The masonry work typical of the Luther Valley area can be classified as regular ashlar, which is characterized by a coursing of the stone in even rows with evenly staggered vertical joints and with quoins created by laying the stones so that their faces are alternately large and small. The ashlar facing is backed by an inner structural wall of fieldstone. Most of the stone used in Luther Valley was taken from quarries on individual farms, with the work directed by the farmer himself. There is a definite similarity in style and structure among the stone buildings of Luther Valley. The prevailing Greek Revival style of the period is reflected in these structures not so much in specific detailing as in symmetry of form and careful consideration of proportion. Two classic examples of the Luther Valley stone house type will be discussed. The first has particular historical significance as the home of pastor Claus L. Clausen.

Clausen, a native of Denmark, moved to Norway when he was in his twenties. In Christiania in 1841 he was introduced to the doctrines of the pietistic reformer Hans Nielsen Hauge. After studying theology for a period in Copenhagen he left in the spring of 1843 to assist Søren Bache in the Muskego settlement. He was active in Muskego until 1845, when he was called to Luther Valley to take over the pastorate on July 31 of that year. {15} In order to build the parsonage Clausen was granted an interest-free loan of $100 from the congregation. He used this amount to buy an eighty-acre tract of land in Newark township and secure a loan [260] construction. By the fall of 1846 the parsonage was completed and Clausen moved into it with his wife Martha. It was the first stone parsonage built by Norwegians in Rock county and it served a variety of functions for the young congregation. The upper story served to accommodate worship services until the actual church was dedicated in the fall of 1847. The first confirmation was held in the large upper room on November 22, 1846. {16} Records of the Luther Valley congregation imply that Clausen was actively involved in the construction of the house. This may have been the case; however, since there is no indication that he had any experience as a stonemason, it can be assumed that another individual was in charge of the undertaking. Very likely this individual was Engebret Thorson, the mason who directed the construction of the first church the following year.

The Clausen parsonage is a classic example of the Luther Valley stone house type which reflects the influence of the Greek Revival style. The floor plan and placement of the windows is perfectly symmetrical, with a central hall containing a staircase and entrances at both ends of the hall. The question arises as to whether some prototype for this spatial arrangement can be found in the timber structures of Numedal. From floor plans of buildings in the parishes of Lyngdal, Veggli, and Nore the pattern of a symmetrical plan with a central hall, entrances at both ends, and a staircase within the hall appears to be quite common. The original south entrance to the Clausen parsonage is a handsome double door with a five-window transom above. Evidence indicates that there were originally three chimneys, one centrally located and one in each gable-end wall. The roof is characterized by a heavy Greek Revival molding and returning gable-end cornices. The first story of the house was originally divided into three [261] rooms. The large undivided room to the west of the hall probably always served as a kitchen. Kitchens in these houses usually functioned as multi-purpose areas for food preparation, eating, bathing, and informal socializing. The area to the east of the hallway contained two smaller rooms, probably originally a formal parlor with adjacent bedroom or study. The second story, which presumably served as a bedroom area, was divided into three rooms. In terms of interior detailing, the ceilings were originally entirely wainscoted and the walls were wainscoted up to the level of the chair-rail. The stairs leading to the second floor are extremely steep and set in against an angled backboard in a ladder-like fashion. The stair rail terminates in an elegantly turned banister post.


Figure 3. The Gullik Knudsen Springen stone house, built in 1850.

The finest example of the Luther Valley stone house is the Gullik Knudsen Springen house, constructed in 1850 (Figure 3). Springen had been a member of the Nattestad party of 1839. After working for a period in [262] Chicago he and his wife Margit Oldsdatter Bratt decided to buy land in Rock Prairie in 1841. Ten children were born to the Springens between the years of 1841 and 1861. The family lived in a one-room cabin with loft until 1850 when the stone house was completed. {17} A photograph presumably taken in the middle or late 1860s shows that at that time there was a long colonnaded porch projecting from the west end of the structure. The building originally had two gable-end chimneys and shutters on some of the windows. To the left of the house there was a summer kitchen constructed at a later date. Both the main house and the kitchen addition have well proportioned roofs with typical Greek Revival moldings. The main door is flanked by sidelights. Like the Clausen parsonage, the Springen house is divided by a central hallway with a staircase leading up to the second story. Recent renovations have revealed that the wood employed in the beams and studs throughout the house was oak. Originally there were four rooms on the first floor, with the summer kitchen to the northeast, and four rooms in the second story. Since the Springen family was exceptionally large, a number of the rooms were no doubt used for bedrooms. The room in the southeast corner of the first story would have logically served as a parlor while the roomy summer kitchen probably served as a family gathering place. A stone fireplace in the summer kitchen was used for heating and cooking. The ceilings of the Springen house were originally wainscoted as were the walls of the original enclosed staircase. The banisters of the staircase in the form of flat columns and the incised sunburst motif on the front door reflect the Greek Revival heritage of the building. The Springens often accommodated newcomers to the settlement, a kindness that had tragic repercussions in 1854 when they welcomed a group of immigrants fresh off shipboard who brought cholera with [263] them. The settlement was stricken with the worst epidemic in its history and the Springen household was devastated. Gullik Springen later recalled, "One can well understand the conditions when eighteen corpses were carried from our home that summer, my parents and one brother included. {18}

The tradition of the farmer-craftsman in Norway is as old as the culture itself. The severe isolation of most of Norway's valleys was not penetrated until the modern period of mass communication and improved roadways. Even today many of the areas remain relatively inaccessible. The farmers therefore had to be capable of producing their own farm implements as well as the furnishings for their homes. As was the case in Norway, in the American settlements certain farmers were skilled in a particular craft such as cabinetry or clockmaking and would do work for other members of the community. Numedal was a particularly remote district, and during the period when the Luther Valley settlers still lived there the only link to the outside was the footpath over the high mountains that circumscribed the valley. The stylistic traditions of the Middle Ages lingered for many centuries in the area. During the Rococo period of the eighteenth century, Numedal came increasingly under the influence of the city of Kongsberg and the high Rococo style gradually filtered down to the rural level. The Rococo led to excesses in furniture design in the area. Structure became hidden beneath an abundance of naturalistic woodcarving and applied moldings. The Empire style, a neoclassical direction which gained a strong foothold in Scandinavia in the first decade of the nineteenth century, introduced a new clarification and simplicity of form. Since the city of Kongsberg received all the latest emanations from the Continent, Numedal craftwork passed quickly into the Empire style along [264] with the rest of Europe. {19} The Empire style was the predominant influence that the craftsmen of Luther Valley brought with them. They remained faithful to a clean-lined functionalism and in ornament restricted themselves to only the most pristine classical detailing.


Figure 4. Cupboard made by Paul Skavlem.

The cabinetmaking of Paul Skavlem has already been mentioned. Like many Norwegian Farmers of the period he was an adept craftsman, skilled as axman, carpenter, turner, and rose-painter. The only surviving evidence of his skill with the ax is the log house that has been discussed. Two examples of cabinetry that can be unquestionably attributed to Skavlem are a large cupboard with open shelves above and closed shelves below and a tall closed cupboard, both of which were found in his house. The former piece, constructed of walnut as was most of the furniture in Luther Valley, has an upper section containing open shelving and staggered tiers of small drawers, two on either side of the lower shelves (Figure 4). The piece is marked by the influence of the Empire in its simplicity of line, angularity, and refined classical details. The piece terminates in a heavy cornice ornamented with dentils. A small fluted column decorates the corners of both the upper and lower portions. The prototype for this form is the framskap or dish cupboard which was used by the woman of the house for the display and storage of her tableware. The other piece found in the Skavlem house is a simple, tall, double-doored cupboard with shelving. A diamond shaped opening is located in the center of both upper panels.

An additional piece which can also reasonably be attributed to Paul Skavlem is a corner cupboard that belonged to a descendant of Nils Weglie, a dose friend of Skavlem. The corner cupboard or roskap was exclusively for the use of the man of the house. Originally it hung in the corner above the high seat, but after chairs [265] were introduced it evolved into a full standing structure. The Weglie cupboard is marked by clear, classical lines. The center part of each door is beveled to form a central ridge. An arch crowns the cornice and the piece stands on bracket feet. The lower section is broader and deeper than the upper section. One ale bowl has remained in the hands of a Skavlem descendant and is reputedly an example of Paul Skavlem's skill as a turner. The bowl is turned in a form dating back to the Renaissance in Norway with a tapered rim accentuated by fluting. No trace remains of any original rosemaling, and in fact no pieces remain to give evidence of Skavlem's skill as a painter. However, two firsthand sources support the fact that the beams and ceiling of the Skavlem log house were at one time completely rose-painted. {20} Skavlem also made smaller objects such as wooden spoons and kitchen utensils for his own family and his neighbors. A straightforward functionalism and simplicity of line typify the furniture of Paul Skavlem. His work does not represent a unique design concept, but rather is the work of a reasonably skilled rural craftsman who sought to recreate a home environment reminiscent of Norway on the Wisconsin frontier. Paul Skavlem died in Luther Valley on January 10, 1866.


Figure 5. Walnut secretary made by Gullik Olson Gravdal.

Gullik Olson Gravdal was one of the earliest settlers in Luther Valley, arriving in 1839 and residing in the area until his death in 1873. Gravdal was born in Veggli parish, Numedal, in 1802. He had a considerable reputation in the community for his cabinetry and as a sideline he enjoyed making toys for the children in the family. In his later years he spent many hours creating miniature wheelbarrows, doll beds, and buggies. {21} Five remaining pieces have been documented as his work, including two identical walnut secretaries and three walnut bureaus. One of the walnut secretaries, which until recent years remained in the possession of [266] the Gravdal family, is a monumental piece standing close to eight feet in height (Figure 5). It shares certain stylistic traits with Skavlem's cupboards: a heavy cornice ornamented with dentils, an imposing massiveness and angularity of form, beveled corners suggesting the same effect as the corner columns on the Skavlem pieces, and a similar arrangement of small drawers. The upper bookcase section containing four shelves is enclosed behind glass doors. It rests on a desk section with an upper portion that is hidden behind a drop-front panel. The desk section contains pigeonholes flanked by two pairs of small drawers. Although neither of the secretaries is dated, it is reasonable to assume because of their size and complexity that they were not executed [267] until after the building of the Gravdal stone house in 1849, when Gravdal moved into a better-equipped workroom. The handsomest of the Gravdal bureaus is in the collection of Alice Thiss of Minneapolis, a great-granddaughter of Gullik Gravdal. The walnut piece measures forty-six inches in height. It rests on short turned legs, contains five drawers, and is ornamented with a scroll backboard. While the piece is less sophisticated in style than the secretary, the refinement of structural details is notable, particularly the brass keyholes and the very fine dovetailing. Like Paul Skavlem, Gravdal was a fine country craftsman. Although his work reflects the reigning Empire style of the period in its massiveness and clarity of line, there is an underlying functionalism that binds his work to the Norwegian immigrant furniture tradition.

Halvor Nilsson Aae, born September 15, 1781, in Nore parish in Numedal, came to the Luther Valley settlement in 1842 and died there in 1856. He was trained in Norway as a silversmith and clockmaker, designing not only the workings but the cabinets as well. His daughter Groe Skavlem left this account of her father shortly before his decision to leave for America: "Those never-to-be-forgotten evenings when, the day's work finished, mother and I would draw our wheels before the fireplace and by the light of the blazing logs sit spinning far into the night. At a short distance from us, surrounded by a confused assortment of tools, sat father. A host of tiny candles burned blinkingly all about him, throwing stray gleams upon the spoons with filigree handles, the quaint brooches and other articles of dainty filigree, which he fashioned with such delicate skill. As we worked he talked of America and conjectured as to the fate of our many friends who had gone to make for themselves on its vast, unsettled prairies new homes and greater fortunes." {22} Aae's silverwork is [268] represented by a number of spoons in the possession of several Luther Valley families. In constructing the spoons, the silver is beaten very thin. The bowl of the typical Aae spoon is relatively shallow and tapers at the point, continuing into a narrow neck which broadens out into a flat handle that is oval in form and tapered at the end. The ornamentation on the spoons consists of delicately incised floral motifs and zig-zag borders along the edge of the handles.

Aae was also a clockmaker by trade and, according to Groe Skavlem, in 1845 he perfected the first clock made in Wisconsin. One clock cabinet attributed to Aae was found in the Beloit area. Unfortunately it no longer contains the workings. Stylistically the clock relates to the classicism typical of other early Luther Valley pieces and appears to be a somewhat naive interpretation of a Norwegian prototype. The proportions are tall and narrow and a simple profiled molding crowns the piece. While one could assume that his production of timepieces remained limited, many Luther Valley families probably acquired examples of his silverwork. There is no evidence of larger hollowware forms from Aae's hand; presumably his work was confined to smaller utensils and jewelry.

While most of the cabinetry produced in the Luther Valley settlement reflects the influence of the Empire, nowhere is this spirit more clearly expressed than in the furnishings of the West Luther Valley church. The West church, built in 1871, houses the pews, rails, altar, lectern, and pulpit designed for the first East Luther Valley church, a stone building constructed in 1847. Although there is no documentary evidence, according to church tradition the interior appointments of the first East church were designed and crafted by Claus L. Clausen himself. It does not seem likely that all the pieces are from his hand. Clausen was much too busy to [269] have actively participated in the crafting of the furnishings. Two craftsmen who probably were involved are Peder Helgeson, who was in charge of the carpentry in the church, and the stonemason Engebret Thorson, who directed the building of the church. {23} It is very possible, however, that Clausen designed the pieces and directed their production. He had studied in both Christiania and Copenhagen in the early 1840s and would have come into direct contact with the Empire style that had reached its full fruition in the two capital cities during the first decades of the nineteenth century. Perhaps it was the glittering interior of C. F. Hansen's Christiansborg Chapel in Copenhagen that left a lasting impression on the young pastor.


Figure 6. The altar and altar rail from the first East Luther Valley church, dedicated in 1847.


The first East church was dedicated in the fall of 1847. An early photograph shows a tall narrow building with three windows on either side, two windows and a door in the front, a central steeple, and crow-step gables, very likely a tribute by Clausen to the rural churches of Denmark. Inside, a gallery in the back of the room rested upon oak pillars, painted to resemble blue-veined marble. As the furnishings exist today, dark brown railings and gold detailing accentuate the whiteness of the altar, pulpit, and columns of the altar rail and "klokker's pen" in a true Empire manner (Figure 6). The altar culminates in an arched top borne upon a pair of columns and segments of entablature. The arch is ornamented with three pointed finials. Two lancet arches framed in gold leaf and bearing stenciled crosses flank a high relief of the baptism of Christ surmounted by Gothic tracery. The base of the altarpiece is inscribed with the words, "Gaaer hen og læerer folk og døber dem!" (Go ye therefore and teach all nations and baptize them. Matthew 28:19). Triangular areas are set off by railings to the right and left of the altar. These areas, referred to as "pens," were used to seat the klokker, an unordained [270] aide to the minister, and the forsanger, whose duty it was to lead the congregation in singing. The baptismal font to the left of the altar consists of a column decorated with gold leaf rings and resting on a dark brown plinth base. The pulpit, constructed of six molded panels, has a dark brown railing and gold leaf borders finishing off the panels. The pews, severe in their simplicity, complete the church furnishings. The question of Clausen's role in the design of the East Luther Valley church furnishings will remain open for debate; however, evidence indicates that he was involved in their basic [271] design. In any case the furnishings of the church constitute an important chapter in the history of the Luther Valley cabinetry tradition.

This study of the Luther Valley settlement demonstrates that although the settlers brought with them the skills and knowledge to continue a Norwegian tradition in building with wood they chose other alternatives. In their timber structures they retained some of the details of the Norwegian style; however, in overall form and craftsmanship the structures were influenced by the exigencies of the frontier. The eventual adoption of stone building by the Luther Valley settlers represented in most respects a rejection of their native tradition in form and material. Beginning with the more established period of the late 1840s and 1850s, the farmer-craftsmen had more time to devote to the making of furniture. From the abundant walnut in the area they created pieces of cabinetry along simple, functional lines marked by the influence of the Empire style that was predominant in Scandinavia at the time of their departure. This restrained and simplified classicism also marks the elegant furnishings of the first Luther Valley church.

NOTES
<1> C. A. Clausen, ed. and trans., A Chronicler of Immigrant Life: Svein Nilsson's Articles in Billed-Magazin (Northfield, Minnesota, 1982), 69.
<2> Clausen, Chronicler of Immigrant Life, 71.
<3> Clausen, Chronicler of Immigrant Life, 68.
<4> H. Fred Swanson, The Founder of St. Ansgar, the Life Story of Claus Laurits Clausen (Blair, Nebraska, 1949), 3.
<5> Theodore C. Blegen, ed., Frontier Parsonage: The Letters of Olaus Fredrik Duus, Norwegian Pastor in Wisconsin, 18,55-18,58 (Northfield, Minnesota, 1947), 54.
<6> Beloit Gazette, August 19, 1939.
<7> Letter to the author from Ed Mortenson, July 24, 1973.
<8> Rock county Deed Records.
<9> The saddle-cup technique is described in detail in Kate Stafford and Harald Naess, eds., On Both Sides of the Ocean: A Part of Per Hagen's Journey (Northfield, Minnesota, 1984), 40-4l. [272]
<10> Rock county Deed Records.
<11> Interview with Knut Haugen, July 15, 1973.
<12> Rock county Deed Records.
<13> Halvor L. Skavlem, The Skavlem arid Odegaarden Families (Beloit, Wisconsin, 1915), 82.
<14> Skavlem, Skavlem arid Odegaarden Families, 82-83.
<15> Swanson, Founder of St. Ansgar, 66.
<16 > Swanson, Founder of St. Ansgar, 69.
<17> Springen family scrapbook and record.
<18> The Luther Valley Centennial, 44.
<19> Janice Stewart, The Folk Arts of Norway (Madison, 1953), 76-77.
<20> Interview with Vera Gilbertson, September 3, 1972.
<21> The Luther Valley Centennial, 21.
<22> Hannah Skavlem, "Account of Early Settlement Days by Groe Skavlem," in History of Rock County (Chicago, 1908), 442-445.
<23> Hjalmar Rued Holand, De norske settlementers historie (Ephraim, Wisconsin, 1908), 137.

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