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Sondre Norheim
- the
Skiing Pioneer of Telemark

Knut Skinnarland – the Sondre Sculptor

-A brilliant artist, an impassioned and warm person. This is how the sculptor Knut Skinnarland (1909–1993), the creator of the Sondre statue, is described by friends, colleagues and people who had the good fortune to know him.

Tove and Knut during the unveiling of the Sondre statue in Minot, North Dakota
Courtesy of Norsk Høstfest Assn.

Knut Skinnarland was born in Rauland, Telemark January 15, 1909. He came from a family of craftsmen and artists. The internationally known author Tarjei Vesaas was one of his close relatives and best friends.

After several years with studies at academies in Norway, he studied abroad at the academy in Copenhagen and also at the Académie Colarossi in Paris.

While at the Copenhagen academy, Knut met Danish Tove, who later said, “The very first time I met Knut, I knew he was the finest man I’d ever met.”  

Tove and Knut married and had two children. The family wintered in Oslo and spent summers at their adventurous property in Rauland.

“Art is patience and willpower”, Knut said. “It’s about the ability not to give up and being open for impressions all your life. It has nothing to do with hurry, it is more like a kind of growth, like a tree, you might not reap before you are 80.”

Artworks of this highly recognized Telemark artist can be seen at the Knut Skinnarland Collection in Rauland. The collection includes more than 100 copies of Skinnarland’s sculptures and also a copy of his studio.
Photo by Eivind Molde

Knut participated along with other artists in a 17 year restoration of the famous Nidarosdomen Cathedral in Trondheim. During the 50’s and 60’s he made about 30 sculptures at this majestic cathedral. For this work he received “Nidarosdomen Gold Medal”.

“Knut Skinnarland’s portrayal art is some of the finest made in this country”, a colleague said. His artwork can be seen in all parts of the country. Among his many sculptures are the monument over the author and fellow villager Aasmund Olavsson Vinje.

In 1988 he was awarded The Kings Decoration, given for meritorious services for his contribution to Norwegian culture, and the Cultural Award from the municipality of Vinje. Knut Skinnarland has also received the Cultural Award from the county of Telemark.

The Sondre statue
Photo by Eivind Molde

His friends describe him as a hard working artist, professional, serious and modest. Norwegian chairwoman for the Sondre Norheim Statue committee, Ragnhild Hagen describes, “Knut enriched the lives of his many Norwegian and American friends with fond memories. He also loved lyrics, literature and enjoyed folk music. Though he was quiet and soft spoken, what he said was always honest and well thought through. He made enormous demands on himself as an artist.”

Knut was the clear choice when the creation of a statue of Sondre was planned. As a matter of fact, Knut had already been thinking of just such a statue – in 1977 he had a plaster figure ready which became the basis for the monument. The draft was made on the initiative of a
former president of the North Dakota State Historical Society, Edward A. Milligan, who originated the idea for a Sondre statue.

“I wondered what kind of impression I should give the statue of Sondre”, Knut said. “Should I make him steeping down the hills, or should it be an abstract monument maybe? All I had to refer to was all the stories about Sondre and a picture of him at age 59, taking in America.”

From the dedication ceremony in Morgedal, Knut Skinnarland is on the right. At his side are HM King Olav and Norsk Høstfest President Chester Reiten.
Courtesy of Ragnhild Hagen

Finally Knut decided to make Sondre monumental standing with his skis by his side. That’s the way it had to be.

In 1987 this monument was finished and on October 16 it was dedicated in Minot, North Dakota. Exactly three months later an identical statue was unveiled in Morgedal by HM King Olav.

The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) produced a three-part TV series about the creation of the Sondre statue. Directed by Johan Vestly, the TV team followed Knut during his work at his atelier in Rauland and also when the statue in Minot was dedicated.

Feel free to browse
>Sondre Statues in Norway and the United States
>The Statue in Minot
>The Statue in Morgedal

Some years later Knut Skinnarland created another Sondre sculpture – the much smaller “Upptrekkjaren” (“The drawn-up style jumper”) or “Vesle Sondre” (“Little Sondre”). The sculpture depicts Sondre in a spectacular jump, using the typical Sondre “drawn-up” style.

This sculpture of Sondre was one of Knut Skinnarland’s last works.

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