Online Artist Archive
b. 1897; d. 1981
Thorarin Snowfield’s parents Magnus and Gudbjorg emigrated from Iceland to Manitoba, where they stayed until they settled in Mountain, North Dakota. Nestled in the northeastern part of the state, the town of Mountain is to this day home to the largest concentrated population of Icelanders outside of Iceland itself. It was in Mountain that Snowfield was born into a family of four siblings.
Later, the family purchased a farm near Hannah, North Dakota, which is about forty miles northwest of Mountain.
Snowfield’s three brothers all aspired to be attorneys, so when they were ready for law school, the entire family moved to Minneapolis. This way, the brothers were able to attend the University of Minnesota there while still living at home.
Snowfield’s ambitions were different, however. He wanted to be an artist and soon moved to New York City. There, he enrolled in the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design before returning to Minnesota for classes at the Minneapolis Art School. He supported himself in Minneapolis as a sign painter and, after the Great Depression started, as a painter of North Dakota “native scenes” for the Works Progress Administration (WPA). (The WPA was a federal New Deal program designed to alleviate unemployment.)
After the WPA was dissolved during the buildup to World War Two, Snowfield moved back to northeastern North Dakota and settled in Cavalier. He lived next door to his brother Fred until 1958, when he moved a little west to Langdon and made a life as a painter.
Nearly destitute for most of his life, Snowfield traded his paintings for goods and services. It was not long before local physicians, storekeepers, milk men, and so on had at least one – and probably many – original Snowfield paintings. He also gave many as gifts to his family, friends, and neighbors.
As an artist, he painted scenes of Icelandic life in North Dakota during the early- and mid-Twentieth century. These carried such titles as “Threshing Crew at Noon” and “County Fair.” Snowfield is the only known artist that painted scenes from this portion of state’s history.
He died in 1981.
- Ben Nemenoff
Barr, Paul E. North Dakota Artists. Grand Forks: University of North Dakota Library, 1954.
“Scandinavian Exhibits: May through July.” 27th Annual Scandinavian Hjemkomst Festival, July 18, 2004. <http://www.scandinavianhjemkomstfestival.org>.
“Thorarin Snowfield: An Icelandic Painter of North Dakota.” North Dakota Museum of Art, July 18, 2004. <http://www.ndmoa.com>.