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Phil and Else’s
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Phil and Else’s
Art Form

Traditions in Artist's Work

Traditions In
Their Art

Phillip Odden Else Bigton

Norwegian Carving
Barronett, WI

Have you ever thought about what you want to be when you grow-up? Maybe you wanted to be an astronaut or an architect, but have you ever thought about being a wood carver?

When Else and Phil were your age, they hadn’t thought about being professional wood carvers at all! Then, how thought.gif (618 bytes)did they become carvers? They both grew up around traditions that led them in the direction of handcrafts.

Else saw many of her relatives do things with their hands. Her grandmother was a weaver and her mother embroidered bunader. Her father hammered metal just like her grandfather had. As a result of being around her family, Else decided she wanted to weave. She took some wood working classes at the same time. 

Phil grew up on a farm in Northwestern Wisconsin, an area with many lakes and trees. As a boy, he took himself hunting and fishing and carved wood a little, too. As a young adult, he visited some of his family in Norway and saw many woodcarvings in their homes. His relatives told him about a carving school, and he returned the next year to attend.

Phil Odden and Else Bigton's workshopElse and Phil met at the school. They fell in love with woodworking and with each other, so they married and moved to Barronett. They now live and work on a farm that used to be owned by one of Phil’s uncles.

In many ways, Phil and Else have remained close to the traditional ways of their Norwegian heritage. At the same time, they have taken their art in unique directions. Folk art is what happens when tradition meets individual artistic expression. That’s what Phil and Else do. They let their own ideas be a big part of their work while using older traditions as their base.

You can read along with Phil’s video clip by clicking here. (Else’s video clip has no words, only carving noises.)

In Your Community

If you’re lucky, you might see Phil and Else at a folklife festival in Wisconsin. If you can’t see them work in person, there are still opportunities to meet Norwegian-Americans and traditional wood carvers. Visit a Norwegian-American community (or maybe you live in one already!). Look for Norwegian surnames in businesses (they usually end with ‘son’ and ‘sen.’). A Sons of Norway lodge may be in your area, too. Go to Resources for Students to use their lodge directory. Many Norwegian-Americans live in the western part of our state, especially south of LaCrosse, near Coon Valley. They reside in Dunn and Dane county too. In the eastern part of Wisconsin, look in the towns Norrie and Scandinavia. Are you up for museum fieldtrip? Details for that are also on the Resources Page.

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“I’m trying to portray a snapshot in the lives of these people.”

– Phillip Odden

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