Flashback Friday: 'Norwegian sculptor who created long-standing statues in 2 Minneapolis parks born 100 years ago

Flashback Friday: 'Norwegian sculptor who created long-standing statues in 2 Minneapolis parks born 100 years ago Photo: The Minnesota Historical Society .

Updated: April 10, 2020 08:31 AM
Created: April 09, 2020 09:18 AM

Over 100 years ago, on April 10, Jacob Fjelde was born in Norway. He would be the man that sculpts the work of Hiawatha and Minnehaha, which is displayed in Minnehaha Park and the statue of Ole Bull located in Loring Park, according to the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS).

Fjelde immigrated to Minnesota in 1887, following family members. Once in Minneapolis, he established a studio and began receiving public and private commissions for his work.

One of the commissions was to create a sculpture for the Minnesota Building at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. 

Photo credit: Minnesota Historical Society. Photo of Jacob Fjelde with his siblings. 

According to the Minnesota Historical Society, Fjelde chose to create Hiawatha and Minnehaha, a plaster sculpture illustrating a particular section of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, The Song of Hiawatha. 

This work was installed at the entrance of the Minnesota Building for the duration of the 1893 Exposition. Then, it was put on display in the Minneapolis Public Library.

On May 17, 1896, a bronze statue of Ole Bull, a Norwegian violinist, was unveiled at the Exposition Hall. The statue was then later placed in Loring Park.

Photo credit: Minnesota Historical Society. Photo of Norwegian-Americans gathered around statue of Ole Bull, Loring Park, Minneapolis

At the beginning of 1902, an informal public campaign was launched to cast Fjelde's original plaster Hiawatha and Minnehaha sculpture in bronze and place it in Minneapolis's Minnehaha Park, near the falls mentioned in Longfellow's poem.

The Minnesota Historical Society stated that critics of the move said that the piece was "flawed," specifically that the features of Hiawatha and Minnehaha were not Indian enough. Fjelde had struggled to find American Indian people to model the faces after, and he relied on photographs to guide his work. 

Photo credit: Minnesota Historical Society. Photos of Hiawatha and Minnehaha statue, Minnehaha Park.

Fjelde died in 1896, so significant changes to the sculpture were no longer possible by 1902, stated MHS. 

The debate continued until 1912, when the sculpture finally was cast, then installed and unveiled in a public ceremony at Minnehaha Park on October 5. 

Fjelde's Hiawatha and Minnehaha sculpture soon became a visitor attraction in the park, and postcards depicting it were widely available. As of 2011, the sculpture remains in its location along Minnehaha Creek and is one of Fjelde's best-known works.

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