Online Artist Archive
b. August 12, 1892; d. May 3, 1984
Paul Fjelde’s father Jacob was a well-known sculptor in Norway when he emigrated to the United States in 1887. Success followed him to his new home in Minneapolis, where his son Paul was born on August 12, 1892. His various busts and statues can be seen all over the Twin Cities: Minnehaha Park, Loring Park, and over the door of the Library Building at the University of Minnesota, to name a few. Also, his monument to “The First Minnesota Regiment” sits on the battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
When Jacob died in 1896, his wife moved their four children to a small homestead near Wing, North Dakota (about 45 miles northeast of Bismarck). Paul’s mother was an amateur musician who encouraged Paul’s budding interest in sculpting with clay she kept around the house.
In 1911, the family moved to Valley City, where Paul’s sisters (Margaret and Astrid) received instruction in music at the State Normal School there. Paul came under the guidance of Mary Goodrich Deem, who was the director of art at the school. Seeing much potential in what was then Paul’s crude sculptures, she directed him to study under Chicago sculptor Lorado Taft. His skills improved considerably and he was hired to assist Taft with his famous “Fountain of Time” in Chicago. He went on to study at the Minneapolis School of Art, the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design and the Art Students League in New York City, the Royal Academy in Copenhagen, and the Academie de la Grande Chaumiére in Paris.
His architectural sculpture adorns the Federal Street Building in Boston. Other sculptural work includes the Wendell Wilkie Memorial in the Indiana Statehouse, the John Scott Bradstreet tablet at the Minneapolis Art Institute, and the bust of Charles Lindbergh at the San Diego International Airport, among others.
Although Paul is mostly associated with working outside of North Dakota, he holds considerable artistic ties to the state. He carved the Bjorson Bauta Stone in R.R. Park in Mayville and in 1913, he was commissioned by North Dakota Governor Louis B. Hanna to sculpt a bust of Abraham Lincoln to give to the people of Norway.
The Lincoln bust was inspired by a similar piece seen by Hanna on a trip to Gettysburg. Designed as both an homage to North Dakota’s Norwegian roots and as a gift celebrating Norway’s 1914 centennial, the sculpture was more than five years in the making. It was formally presented to a Norwegian delegation by Hanna’s daughter Dorothy at a ceremony in Oslo. It was accompanied by two engraved bronze tablets, one of which read “That Government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth,” the other stating “Presented to the People of Norway by the People of North Dakota.” (The bust now sits in Frogner Park in Oslo, where it is the only sculpture not made by Gustav Vigeland, who is known for his creative nudes.)
A replica of the Lincoln bust sits on the courthouse lawn in Hillsboro, North Dakota.
Paul went on to teach at the Pratt Institute of Art in New York City and serve as chairman of the Sculpture Department at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh. Later, he was an instructor of sculpture at the National Academy School of Fine Arts in New York City and was editor of National Sculpture Review between 1951 and 1955.
He died on May 3, 1984 in Brewster, Massachusetts at the age of 91. He was survived by his wife Amy and their son Rolf, who became a writer and poet.
- Ben Nemenoff
Barr, Paul E. North Dakota Artists. Grand Forks: University of North Dakota Library, 1954.
McLean, Michelle. “Lincoln’s Statue Stands Silent Watch in Three Cities.” Hillsboro Banner, February 7, 2004.
Palmer, Bertha Rachael. Beauty Spots in North Dakota. Boston: Bruce Humphries, Inc., 1939.
“Paul Fjelde.” Decorah, Iowa: Luther College Fine Arts Collection. July 7, 2004. <http://finearts.luther.edu>.
Taylor, Edwin Mrs. Catalogue of Art Workers Within North Dakota. Bismarck: American Association of University Women (local branch), 1945.
N.D. artist helped lift Norway hopes during Nazi rule
*A reprint from the Fargo Forum, September 3, 2006 issue, “Did you know that…” by Curtis Eriksmoen*
One of the most open and active forms of defiance during Nazi Germany’s occupation of Norway during World War II involved a sculptured work by someone from North Dakota.
Thousands of Norwegians streamed around the Abraham Lincolns memorial bust in Oslo’s Frogner Park on July 4, 1940. This act was in direct defiance of the Nazis, who forbade all public demonstrations in Norway. The bust of Lincoln was sculpted by Paul Fjelde, who grew up on a farm near Wilton, ND.
Fjelde was born August 12, 1892, to Jacob and Margaret Fjelde in Minneapolis, Jacob was commissioned with many works. His bronze bust of playwright Henrik Ibsen was placed on an 8-foot pedestal in St. Paul’s Como Park (a replica can be found at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton), and other major works were placed at the city library, the Gettysburg battlefield and other places throughout the country.
After finishing the plaster mold of the statue of famed violinist Ole Bull, Jacob went into the hospital to have an operation for an ear problem. He died on the operating table in 1896 at age 36.