Herbjørn Gausta was born in Telemark, Norway in 1854, immigrated to America at age twelve, then settled in Harmony, Minnesota. “He attended Luther College as a student in 1872, and later returned to Norway. He also studied in Europe and came back to Luther to teach,” says Elliott. “Later, he pursued a professional art career and finally settled in Minneapolis.”
Elliott and her students Linder and Vande Krol decided to research Gausta because his paintings are scattered throughout the Midwest. “Luther has 60 of his paintings, and some are located at the Vesterheim-Norwegian, the Midwest Historical Society, and St. Olaf College,” Elliott says. “And there hasn’t been a systematic cataloging of his work. This research involves Linder and Vande Krol combing through our archives and collections to find all the paintings that they can find by Gausta.”
The students have been building a spreadsheet of information (including titles, descriptions, provenance, exhibit history, images, dimensions, etc.). “This will become what’s called a ‘catalog raisonné’’ which will include a full compendium of images,” Elliott says. “It will allow us to see his career of landscapes, genre scenes, and they’ll all be located in one place.”
Linder and Vande Krol also gather this information by calling donors who are either individual owners of paintings or people who have contacted some of the organizations with paintings to learn more about the artist and his work.
And in Elliott’s view, it was a bonus that both students are Nordic Studies majors. “That’s one of the reasons why I picked them,” Elliott says. “They can read Norwegian and it’s very helpful when it comes to learning about or locating Gausta’s works in Norway.”
When the project is complete, Elliott will have a whole database of Gausta’s images at her fingertips even if Luther doesn’t own all of the paintings or the one she may be researching at a given time. “What’s great is that even if it might be in a collection in Norway or have a private owner, I can still view the image and make some arguments about Gausta, his work, and his influence,” she says. “For example, I have a feeling that he was influenced by some of the German painters in Munich when he studied there, but I need to see the work to make those kinds of comparisons.”
Elliott knows that research like this helps students engage in a project, get real-world experience, supplement their coursework, learn how to network, and make connections. “And they do all this while working with a professor who’s gone through graduate school, master’s and PhD degrees, and training alongside their own mentor,” she says. “For eight weeks, they get to experience what it feels like to be an academic researcher.”
Vande Krol experienced a thrill while researching whenever she received a response from someone indicating they had one of Gausta’s paintings in their possession. “Every time I got that response I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to see the painting they owned.”
Linder started her particular research portion with a painting of a young blond girl in a blue dress. “There was no other information available on the piece. After going through many files, I came across multiple mentions of the painting and the subject,” she says. “After putting together all of the pieces, I was able to figure out the location that was depicted in the painting and who the subject was. I ultimately found out what happened to the original painting and who currently owns it. Putting all of those pieces together was a ton of fun for me.“
“Choose a topic you’re passionate about. I looked forward to going to the office everyday because I was researching a topic that fascinated me.”
—Annika Vande Krol
“Don't shy away from research because you don't think you have enough experience, knowledge, or it’s a topic that’s completely new to you. I had skills that I didn't realize would be helpful, and acquired others. You'd be surprised about you learn about yourself.”
If you know of the whereabouts of a Gausta painting, please contact Dr. Kate Elliott.