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Traditions in Artist's Work

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Phillip Odden Else Bigton

Norwegian Carving
Barronett, WI

Different Valleys, Different Styles

What are Norwegian wood carvings like? Is there only one style of Norwegian carving?

Norway is a country with many mountains and thousands of little valleys in between them. For centuries, people lived in the villages at the bottom of the mountains. Each village was different in small ways, just like your town is a little different from a neighboring town.

Rocking kubbestol by Phillip OddenVillages were unique in their style of wood carving. Woodcarvers throughout Norway made many of the same things, like ale bowls, mangel boards, and kubbestoler, but they decorated them differently depending on where they lived.

People couldn’t visit other villages very often because the mountains blocked their way. So each valley and region in Norway created its own style of carving without much outside influence. Else, Phil and other people who know a lot about Norwegian carving traditions can usually tell where a piece came from just by its style. They usually know what it was used for too.

Ale Bowls

Do you have a special cup or glass that you don’t use everyday but do use at special times? Ale bowls are like that. They’re special drinking bowls that Norwegians used on special occasions, like at baptisms, weddings, parties, and funerals. 

Here's how ale bowls were used at funerals in the   in Telemark region, located in the southeastern part of Ale bowl by Phillip OddenNorway. People at the funeral would place a huge ale bowl filled with beer on top of the casket. A smaller ale bowl that was also filled with beer would float in it. Each person at the funeral would fill a cup with beer, and they would make a toast in remembrance of the person who died.

Slide Show

Slide Show

The use has changed but the love of ale bowls remains. Today, Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans give ale bowls as gifts or use them as decorations in their homes. 

Let’s look at how Phil carves an ale bowl. Ale bowls might have human or dragon heads. This particular bowl will have a horse head.

“It’s not just a pretty piece.
There’s a lot to it.”

How do Phil and Else decide what to carve? Where do they get their ideas and inspirations?

Often, customers come to Phil and Else with stories about their families’ journeys and new lives in America. Phil and Else have studied the kind of wood carvings that were done for many centuries in different parts of Norway. They match their knowledge of carving history with the stories people tell them. Then they begin to form ideas in their minds. Phil likes to say that they "carve the idea out first."

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“Perfection isn’t what we should be looking for. We should be looking for expressiveness and allowing a person to...take experiences and somehow filter them, by whatever means they’re filtered, and come out with a piece that’s honest and real.”

– Phillip Odden

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