Great-grand-pappy Sevald O. Lund, the Painter (1852-1939)

One of Sevald O. Lund’s Western frontier paintings. Of the same generation as Frederic Remington and Charles Russell, Sevald liked to depict cowboys, Indians and loggers as much as he had the fishermen of his home country, Norway.

©2014 By Bob Litton

I have perhaps made it more than enough clear in previous posts that I aspired in my early youth to be an artist, particularly an author who illustrated his own writings. Well, it should also be obvious from those posts that I let my artistic talent wither, damn near atrophy. For several reasons, during my university years, I decided to concentrate on writing. From time to time, I returned to my paint brushes and clay, but mostly I just left them alone.

However, muscles notwithstanding, the blood within me still carried as much in the way of pigments, figuratively speaking, as it did ink. And one of these days, I am going to run away from this computer keyboard and employ those water colors I bought just over a month ago. It is difficult to elicit a true sense of color tones from words.

It could be all a delusion, but I believe I inherited my visual art talent from my great-grandfather on my mother’s side, Sevald Olsson Lund, a Norwegian immigrant whose family settled in Wisconsin in 1865, when he was thirteen years old. He was my maternal grandmother’s father. Since he died almost three months before I was born, I obviously never had any opportunity to meet Great-grand-pappy; yet what my mother related and what I have read[1] about him written by Carlin Hibbard, a gallery manager and art consultant in Wisconsin, has almost convinced me that his “timorous nature” and “community artist” genes have descended into my nature. I have always abhorred confrontations, and my work as a journalist was always devoted to “community newspapers” and a radio station. Also similar to Sevald’s nature was the natural, simple emphasis in my few artworks and my inclination to produce them primarily for my own enjoyment and that of acquaintances. And, finally, I never anticipated — and therefore probably never deserved — making much money from them: my ancestor was more of a self-promoter than I (he had to be to make a living), but not much more. He had to earn a good portion of his livelihood from farming (for a while) and painting houses and coaches.

Ms. Hibbard sums up her evaluation of Sevald Lund as artist this way:
“Lund painted for his own enjoyment, but also with an eye toward the desires and interests of those around him. His works varied according to their use and according to their prospective owners, be they businessmen, Norwegian relatives, or grandchildren. It is, therefore, not surprising that Lund is difficult to describe stylistically. His repetition of motifs and the flat schematic manner in which he painted some of his large early works…gave them something of the primitive flavor of work by artists who had developed their own personal techniques and ways of solving pictorial problems. However, Lund cannot be classified as a truly naive painter because he, at the same time, showed an acquaintance with such academic techniques as modelling…, perspective…, balance in composition…, coordinated color, and the ability to portray atmospheric light effects. Furthermore, if one were to look only at his Norwegian farm paintings one would probably classify him as a folk artist nostalgically depicting scenes from his past. These pieces, painted primarily for friends and relatives, were executed with the sort of straightforward simplicity and sincerity that is typical of folk art while lacking its flat and linear quality.”[2]

Although Sevald did not study art in a school, he did work for several years as assistant to German immigrant Jacob Miller, who had studied at, and been credentialed by, the Royal Academy in Munich. Hibbard, in her essay, tried to link Lund to other 19th century artists of note, comparing him stylistically and/or thematically to Herbjørn Gausta (1854-1924) for his “quiet realism” and to Edward Hicks (1780-1849), whose “painting procedures were a mixture of the primitive artist’s personally achieved methods and knowledge he had gained in the handling of pictorial space and depiction of figures from his work as a sign painter. Like Lund he cannot be really classified as a pure primitive or as an academic painter….What they have in common is being artists of the people, satisfied with serving their immediate community.”[3]

Although Sevald painted at least one religious painting, for a Lutheran church, most of his paintings were landscapes (especially of farms and logging camps), marine scenes (wharves, fishing boats, and ships at sea), bucolic scenes (cows and sheep), still lifes, and cowboys and Indians. Readers can get a good idea of the scope and quality of his works at this URL site:

There are also a couple of home movies accessible on YouTube showing Sevald and his immediate family about to depart on an excursion; but what they are celebrating, I have no idea. The main reason I mention it here, since I doubt that many readers will be interested in visiting those films, is that they were filmed by one of my great-aunts, Aunt Kristine (“Kit”), who also had some artistic talent, which she developed enough to coach me. Another of my grandmother’s sisters, Aunt Jo, was a commercial artist who did fashion drawings for a newspaper and illustrated at least one youth novel (which I no longer possess).

Ms. Hibbard notes that Sevald gave many of his paintings to relatives, especially to his grandchildren, of whom my mother was one. Mother gave me the one she had: a water-color scene of some sheep resting in the shade of a beech tree; and my great-aunt Jo gave me a water-color of a steam ship…with masts (?) docked at a wharf. My sister-in-law has one of his seascape-with-boats water-colors.

I have instructed my heir and power-of-attorney friend to send my Lund pictures to the Chippewa Valley Museum in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, after I am released from this “vale of sorrows”. That museum already has a large permanent collection of Sevald’s artworks. Knowing that many of his paintings are scattered now throughout the United States, particularly in California and Texas, they have requested that any present owners donate theirs to the Chippewa Museum.  They also had a special retrospective of his paintings and carvings during the period June 16, 1990 through January 6, 1991. Wish I could have gone to view it.

* * * * * *

[1] Carlin Hibbard, “S. O. Lund, A Community Artist from Norway”, in Marion Nelson, ed., Material Culture and People’s Art among the Norwegians in America, (Northfield, Minn., Norwegian-American Historical Assn.: 1994), pp. 176-198.

[2] Ibid. p. 193.

[3] Ibid., pp. 194-5.

S. O. Lund



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