Project Heimatt

Five years ago: Project Heimatt was started

It was Saturday night November 8 2014. In the library of Christian Thams’ mansion, Bårdshaug Herregård, we were celebrating Olav Sigurd Kvaale’s 70th birthday, two days in advance.

After dinner Olav Sigurd and I ended up in the Bridal Suite, discussing the fate of The Norway Building. A couple of month earlier, cousins Olav Sigurd and Sigrid with spouses had visited Little Norway, the Wisconsin outdoor museum showcasing the Norwegian heritage, and found that the whole place was closed and up for sale. They had gone there to see the woodcarvings of their common grandfather, Peder O Kvaale. He carved the entrance to The Norway Building, representing Norway at The World’s Fair in Chicago 1893. The big question was – would it be possible to bring the building back to Orkdal?

The Monday after, we met again at Olav Sigurd’s house. That was November 10, his 70th birthday. Which means that today, November 10 2019, he turns 75 – CONGRATULATIONS!

So, five years ago on his 70th birthday, we decided to go ahead with what Olav Sigurd later dubbed Project Heimatt. The first interim board of the project consisted of four persons:

Olav Sigurd Kvaale, Project Manager

Oddmund Stenset, Construction Manager

Sigrid Stenset, Cultural Manager

Arne Asphjell, Communications Manager

Our first task was to check if the building was still for sale, and what the price would be. As Communication Manager and with some useful experience from two semesters at University of Wisconsin Madison, I took the assignment to call the owner, Scott Winner.

The price we had in mind was a hundred thousand dollars, and I was quite excited when I placed the call to Scott. It turned out that we were on good speaking terms, and when he after some hesitation named his price, $ 100.000, exactly what we had hoped for, we took that as a very good sign for a successful continuation of our deliberations.

I’m very dependent on flatbread for dinner, and during a dinner in Mid-December, I picked up a piece of flatbread that had close resemblance to the shape of the state of Wisconsin! I also took that as a very good omen for the success of Project Heimatt.

Next step was to approach the Mayor of Orkdal, Gunnar Lysholm. As former director of hotel Bårdshaug Herregård and full of Thams history, he was of course all for it. – Boys, we’ll pull this off, otherwise I’ll resign as mayor, he said.

We were subsequently invited to the Presidency of the Municipality of Orkdal to present the idea, and our plans were fairly well received.

In the aftermath of our first political contacts, rumors about the project became public and we had the first story in the local newspaper, Sør-Trøndelag. Ola Fossvoll, a lawyer about to retire, acted on the news, and offered to come aboard to assist with legal matters. That resulted in Sigrid withdrawing from the interim board, and Ola joining instead.

In April 2015 a gang of four from Orkdal went to Little Norway to assess the building: Is it in acceptable condition and can it be moved? The answer was yes, and in September a gang expanded to 14 came to Wisconsin to take down the building and put it containers for shipment to Norway.

It should be mentioned that working with local politicians has been quite frustrating. There has been a lot of ”narrow escapes”. When politicians had to vote – for the idea, the allocation of money, selecting a site for the building etc – it has at all these crossroads been av very small majority in our favor. The project could have gone down the drain on many occasions. But luckily, The Norway Building came through and is now firmly planted on home turf, with a Norway pennant proudly at the top mast.

Today even the most skeptical politicians as well as other skeptics come around and tell us how proud they are of The Norway Building. They feel a little bit ashamed they did not approve in the early stages. And I think they should. With all the voluntary work involved and the impressive result, this has been a very good investment for Orkdal. The building and its future is secured, the local community take great pride in the building and want it to stand proud for many hundred years to come, like the stave churches it is modeled after.   

The enthusiasm among the gang of volunteers has been formidable, both during the process and especially after the reerected building is standing tall and proud. I think many of the participants see Project Heimatt as ”a crowning achievement of their seniorhood”. Jan Erik Johansen, who was fully engaged in the project and today is an unpaid custodian of the pavilion, sums up the experience in a very special way. Luckily there were no serious mishaps during the more than 20.000 hours spent on the project. One exception though: Jan Erik lost a finger when a piece of wood ricochetted from the saw he was operating. ”It was worth it”, he says.

Photo captions

In the darkest hours of the year the preliminary Heimatt Board pose outside Bårdshaug Herregård for a Christmas card to be sent to the Winners. From left: Olav Sigurd, Arne, Sigrid, Oddmund.
The same week we celebrated Olav Sigurd’s birthday, the leading Norwegian business newspaper had this startling story: ”Asians want to buy Norway from USA”.  A Taiwanese university planned to buy the pavilion, and that scared us into action.
My personal notes from one of the very first meetings we had.
Accidentally a  Wisconsin-like piece of homebaked flatbread showed up at my dinner table – a very good omen for Project Heimatt!

Scott Winner is not on Facebook, so I sent him this five year review for his approval. A comment I got from Scott: Arne, Some people read tea leafs. You read flatbread.

After the ”research visit” to Little Norway in April 2015, the local newspaper Sør-Trøndelag reports that the stave church can be moved.

September  2015: The Winners had mixed feelings about letting The Norway Building leave the grounds. ”Bittersweet” was the headline in Mount Horeb Mail.
The beer brakes provided by Scott were highly appreciated during the deconstruction process.
This combo photo illustrates Scott’s emotions about tearing down the building. But he went ”all in”, and his efforts and assistance to the visiting crew was invaluable for a smooth operation.
May 2017: New dragons are taking shape in Olav Kvåle’s workshop, far out in the woods. Olav’s hospitality is proportional to distance from civilisation, and here American visitors – Blaine Bestul and family – get an inside view of a woodcarver’s shop.
Jan Erik Johansen lost a finger during the reconstruction process, but that did not stop him from continuing his eager work. His comment about the incident has become a classic: ”It was worth it”.