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Olson, Ole A. (a.k.a. “Ole the Hermit”)
b. June 19, 1882; d. April 27, 1966
Discipline: Wood

Ole A. Olson (or “Ole the Hermit” as he was otherwise known) was born in Norway in 1882. His family emigrated to the United States a year later, settling on a farm near Litchville.

As a young man, Ole served in the Army during World War One. On March 10, 1921, after his return, he married Hazel Child and made his living as a farmer near Litchville.

He retired from that in 1942 and moved to Valley City, where he spent the rest of his life. It was there that his artistic legacy was born. He had been a lifelong whittler and woodcarver, and being a recently widowed retiree gave Ole the time to produce innumerable woodcarvings.

Often using the “grizzled old pioneer” as a subject, his carved figures were of stooped-over chin-whiskered men and shawled women. His sense of humor also trickled into most of his pieces: one is of a fisherman whose lure is caught on his pants while another is an entire scene of a baseball game played on donkeys. (Donkeys were another theme of Ole’s. The baseball scene was inspired by an actual event that occurred in Litchville. The 89 human figures and 11 donkey figures were carved from the ends of fruit crates. The human figures were based on real people and were placed around the baseball diamond according to social standing: bachelor men flank one baseline while married men and families flank the other. Ole usually carved individual figures; this scene was an exception.)

He displayed his pieces in the front room of his house. Contrary to his “Hermit” moniker, a signed guest book listed thousands of visitors from all over the country and world including Hawaii, Europe, Africa, and the Philippines.

- Ben Nemenoff

Bibliography:

Barr, Paul E. North Dakota Artists. Grand Forks: University of North Dakota Library, 1954.

Rolfsrud, Erling Nicolai. Extraordinary North Dakotans. Alexandria, Minnesota: Lantern Books, 1954.

Taylor, Edwin Mrs. Catalogue of Art Workers Within North Dakota. Bismarck: American Association of University Women (local branch), 1945.

Other Sources:

State Historical Society of North Dakota

 
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