12/24/2015 10:27:00 AM Norwegian heritage provides inspiration for carving
by Betsy Frazier
The Midje family has lived and farmed in the area known as High Prairie west of Sogn for over 100 years. The current residents of the century farm are Howard and Louise Midje. Howard's grandparents, Hans and Anna Midje moved from Ellendale, MN to Warsaw Township, west of Sogn in 1914. Their son and Howard's father, Cyrus, one of nine children, was born on the farm in 1914. Cyrus attended rural schools, Dennison Public School and then studied at the University of Minnesota, School of Agriculture and farmed with his father until Hans died in 1941.
Cyrus married Helen Egge in 1937 at Vang Church, where her father was pastor. Helen, a gifted musician, traveled the prairies of North Dakota with her father, assisting him at church services in several parishes there prior to his call to serve the Norwegian Lutherans of Vang, Wangen Prairie and Urland. Cyrus and Helen's son, Howard, grew up on the High Prairie farm, became a Design Engineer with the Soil Conservation Service and designed hundreds of farm ponds and dams that included the Belle Creek Watershed, before he retired a few years ago.
He also became an expert wood carver.
Howard Midje's interest in Norwegian carving came about as the direct result of a figurine his uncle, who was also a pastor, purchased on a visit to Norway. The figure reminded his uncle of an old gentleman who lived on the prairie in North Dakota. The man, a bachelor, would strike out across open fields whenever he had an important opinion to share with his neighbors. Dressed in knee pants, long socks, clogs and a coat, the man is in full stride, looking at the ground, possibly bucking the ever-present North Dakota wind. He is a prime example of Norwegian flat-plane carving and dates back to the 1930s.
This little carved man has inspired Howard Midje to create an entire church congregation, a bevy of farm workers, repairmen, wood splitters, fjord horses, dogs, ladies rolling out lefse, men wearing suits seated in the traditional Norwegian chair - a kubbestol, and all manner of Norwegian artifacts that decorate the farm house occupied by Howard and Louise.
Louise Midje, a former teacher, has collected Norwegian antiques for many years, making a hobby of attending auctions and learning about family history and how it connects with the interesting items they have discovered in their searches.
The Midjes recently remodeled a large portion of the century old farm home to accommodate some of their beautifully carved furniture pieces. Their kitchen now features a bump-out breakfast nook that is perfect for two kubbestols carved by Howard and a round table with the same acanthus-style carving around the skirt. It's Howard and Louise's favorite spot to enjoy a cup of coffee, overlooking a large portion of the Sogn Valley in one direction and the skyline of St. Olaf College in the other direction.
Howard, an expert cabinet maker, built a base for an antique Norwegian corner cabinet that the couple found at an auction. After removing the chartreuse and red paint from the old cupboard, and adding the bottom portion, the cabinet fits perfectly into a corner of the remodeled ktichen.
Howard spends one evening a week with the carving group that meets in Wanamingo. He packs up his current project - right now he is carving a smaller kubbestol - and his case of carving tools. The tools are sharpened after each use and vary in size from tiny to long enough to reach into the kubbestol base for hollowing out the area under the seat. He generally uses basswood or butternut wood and deals with whatever imperfections may be found in the dried log.
He also paints the pieces, noting that he is a bit behind on his painting. He uses watercolors on the bare wood surfaces for a soft, colorful tint.
Howard Midje encourages anyone who is interested in learning the art form, or just exploring a new hobby, to join the group in Wanamingo. John Jirasek is the contact person, and Howard notes, "there's always free coffee and sometimes a cookie!" The group gets together on Wednesday evenings.