Norway's ambassador visits local museum

January 14, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

Norway's ambassador to the United States visited the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts on Tuesday to learn more about American-born artist William Henry Singer Jr., who had a connection to a tiny village in Norway.

"I didn't know much about Singer until I came to the United States," said Ambassador Knut Vollebaek, who traveled to Hagerstown by car from Washington, D.C., with his wife Ellen to tour the museum's Singer Memorial Gallery.

Singer is the only American artist whose paintings are on display at the Norwegian embassy in Washington, said Vollebaek. "All the other artists are Norwegian."


That fact prompted the embassy to research Singer and his connection to Norway. What was found led to Tuesday's visit.

"It's an intercultural connection between Norway and our town. I invited the Vollebaeks to visit Hagerstown to see Singer's paintings in our gallery and to see the rest of the museum," said Jean Woods, the retired museum director.

Singer married Hagerstown native Anna Spencer Brugh in 1895 and the couple founded the museum in 1929, according to museum literature.

The son of a wealthy steel magnate, Singer pursued his dream of becoming an artist instead of opting for a career in the steel industry, Woods said.

"In 1901 Singer left the United States to study art at Paris' Academie Julian," Woods said.

Later, he would travel to Norway with his art teacher, Martin Borgord, a native of Norway. While there, Singer wanted to capture the beauty of Norway on his canvas.

"He was attracted to the beauty of the scenery. The light is fascinating because we have long days in Norway, and you see some of that in his paintings," Vollebaek said.

"Norway gave him great inspiration. Painting glaciers and the magnificent countryside was instrumental in his development as an impressionist artist," said Woods.

In 1914, Singer built an art studio in Olden, Norway, where he spent the summers capturing fjords and the splendor of the Norwegian outdoors. The Singers later settled in Norway permanently after building a home in 1921. Singer died there of a heart attack in 1943.

Ellen Vollebaek said she was impressed with Singer's ability to capture the rich outdoor beauty of Norway, adding that many Olden residents remember the Singers for their assistance in funding a community hospital and the construction of a highway between Olden and Innvik.

His legacy lives today in the Singer Gallery, a collection of Singer's works and those of other impressionists such as Walter Griffin and Willard Metcalf, said Woods.

"The links are still alive today. The mayor and deputy mayor back in Olden, Norway, are very involved in trying to learn more about Singer," said Vollebaek, who said he hopes that the United States and Norway will develop activities to attract Norwegian artists to the United States and American artists to Norway to build on Singer's legacy.

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