Biography: Herbjørn Gausta was born on the Gausta farm in Vestfjørddalen, Telemark, Norway, June 16, 1854. In 1867 he emigrated to America with his parents and four sisters, settling on a farm near Harmony, Minnesota. Gausta entered a training program for parochial school teachers at Luther College in 1872, but left for Norway three years later on a stipend provided by the communiity of Decorah under the leadership of U.V. Koren.
Gausta studied at Knud Bergslien’s Academy of Art in Oslo. In 1878 he attended the Munich Academy of Art where he won the prestigious academy medal. In the spring of 1881 he traveled to Norway. He then returned to America in 1882, first settling in Chicago before moving to Madison and LaCrosse, Wisconsin. He returned to Decorah and taught at Luther College during the 1886-1887 academic year. During part of this time he lived with the Korens at the Washington Prairie parsonage where two of the sketches he did on the walls of his room may still be seen. He traveled to Europe three more times, in 1887, 1894 and 1899.
Gausta based his studio in Minneapolis, living there from 1888 until his death, where he supported himself by painting portraits of prominent Norwegian-American individuals and about 400 altar paintings for Norwegian-American churches. His landscapes and genre paintings were well-received, particularly those painted during his early years. He also painted copies of master works of art for additional revenue. His sketchbooks indicate that he also drew superior caricatures. In 1889, his studio burned completely so that almost 100 early paintings were lost. Gausta died on May 22, 1924 in Minneapolis at the Deaconess Hospital. After a funeral service at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, he was buried in Harmony, MN. In 1927, a granite monument over sixteen feet in height was erected to his memory. He never married.
Paintings by Herbjørn Gausta were exhibited in a number of venues of which a sampling is included here. He was included in the Minneapolis Industrial Exposition Art Exhibitions in 1890, 1891 and 1893, in the exhibition of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts in 1897, and the Society’s annual exhibitions in 1900, 1901, 1902 and 1904. Works by Gausta were also included in the Minneapolis Art League exhibition in 1897 and at The Artists League of Minneapolis in 1908, 1910, and 1915. The Norse-American Centennial Art Exhibition held at the Minnesota State Fair Grounds in 1925 included 37 oil paintings loaned by Luther College. An exhibition in Northfield, Minnesota, entitled "Scandinavian Paintings in Northfield" was held in 1980. In 1982, the exhibit, "The Divided Heart: Scandinavian Immigrant Artists 1850-1950," held at the University of Minnesota, contained works by Gausta. In 1989, the exhibit "Norway in America" was curated for showing in Norway and included paintings by Gausta. Most recently, paintings by Gausta were part of the exhibit, "Paintings by Minnesotans of Norwegian Background, 1870-1970," curated by Marion Nelson for the Minnesota Historical Society in 2000. Several of Gausta’s paintings have also been used as book illustrations.
Gausta is perhaps the best known of the Norwegian-American artists and is considered "a painter of exceptional talent…" (Nelson) There are almost 60 paintings by Gausta in the Fine Arts Collection. Some were donated by Gausta himself but others were given to Luther College by alumni and other friends of the College. Works singled out as being exceptional in the Collection are "Closing the Bargain" (LFAC #002); "Young Mother" (LFAC #015); "The Haymakers" (LFAC #023), "Rocky Shore" (LFAC #025); and, "Setting the Trap" (LFAC #032). Some of his best portraits are those of Hans Andreas Stub and his wife, Ingeborg Margrethe Stub (LFAC #041 and #042) and that of Diderikke Ottesen Brandt (LFAC #048a). An altar paintings by Gausta, "Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane" (LFAC #2009:04:01), is also in the Fine Arts Collection. Paintings in the Fine Arts Collection are included in the Inventory of American Paintings maintained by the National Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution.
Source of biography: Nelson, O.N. History of the Scandinavians and Successful Scandinavians in the United States. Minneapolis, MN: O.N. Nelson & Co., 1900;
Jacobson, J.N. "Herbjørn Gausta," in Telesoga. Vol. 2 (1950), 13-15; Hanson, Carl G.O. My Minneapolis. Minneapolis, MN: Standard Press, 1956;
Nelson, Marion J., "Herbjørn Gausta: Norwegian-American Painter," Americana Norvegica, Vol III, Oslo: Universitets for laget, 1971;
Anderson, Kristin M. Norwegian-American Altar Painting, 1880-1920. M.A. Thesis, Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary, 1987;
Nelson, Marion. Paintings by Minnesotans of Norwegian Background, 1870-1970. Northfield, MN: Norwegian-American Historical Association, 2000. Herbjørn Gausta Personal Papers, Luther College Archives, RG 15;
Nordics in America: The Future of Their Past. Nelson, Marion. ”Norwegian-American Painting in the Context of the Immigrant Community and American Art.” Northfield, MN: The Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1993