Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pipes expressing National Pride and Identity (Part II)

Hakon Kierulf. Member, International Academy of the Pipe


A picture of the “Ice bear” pipe was presented at the annual International Academy of the Pipe conference in Ruhla, Germany, in 2006, in a speech on “Common Knowledge on Meerschaum.” It was then revealed that a pipe with the exact same Bergslien motif was in the collection of fellow American Academy member, Dr. Sarunas Peckus. His bowl is quite different, somewhat larger and in the shape of a modified Kalmasch with the pipe neck and the pipe head at an angle. It has silver a mounting on the pipe neck.

Photo: Dr. Sarunas Peckus

The lid depicting typical Norwegian leprechauns (seldom visible, but believed to help farmers tending the animals in the barns might make trouble if they are not shown proper respect), are carved in meerschaum and superimposed on an ornamental silver band as part of the wind cover.

The right side of the pipe bowl is an almost exact duplicate of the scene from the “Ice bear” pipe with the two birch legs carrying the future king to safety. 

On the same side sits a man with traits resembling Fridtjof Nansen watching another man, supposedly one of his crewmembers, skinning an ice bear. On the top is a hunter hauling a rifle with him, creeping crossways over an ice block toward two ice bears in an ice landscape.

On the front of the bowl are two famous vessels. 

The one depicted in the left image (on the pipe bowl it is on top) is Gjøa. It was built in 1876, and used as a freighting vessel until 1901, when Roald Amundsen bought it, the first vessel to sail through the Northwest Passage in 1903–1906, and in 1918–1920, it was the third vessel to sail through the Northeast Passage. 

The one depicted in the right image (on the pipe bowl it is on the bottom) is the famous polar vessel Fram, built on the request of Fridtjof Nansen by the famous Norwegian ship builder, Collin Archer, and launched in 1892. It was used in different polar expeditions, among them, the drift through the ice covering the North Pole in 1893–1896, the exploration of unknown land east and northeast of Greenland in 1898–1902 and, finally, in 1912, to Antarctica by Roald Amundsen, when the first humans reached the South Pole. 

The back of the pipe bowl illustrates a sled dog, and the right side depicts a scene, obviously a copy of a picture initiated by the verse “A Ride on the Ice,” in the epic lyric poem, Fridtjof’s Saga, by the Swedish poet Esaias Tegnér (1782–1846), based on a Icelandic saga from the 14th century. The original painting or drawing from which the scene is copied has not yet been identified.


The saga and poem deal with the fate of the Viking, Fridtjof den frökne (i.e., the brave) and the synopsis is as follows. Fridtjof was born in the 9th century in one of the fjords in the western part of Norway. He grew up here together with the daughter of King Bele, Ingebjørg, whom he had betrothed before he was tricked by her brothers to take part in a Viking raid abroad and to visit the Orkney Islands. Now back home, he learned that King Bele was dead, and his fiancé’s brothers had burned and plundered his farm. Ingebjørg had been forced to marry the old, powerful King Ring whose kingdom, Ringerike, was situated in the inland areas of eastern Norway. Fridtjof took revenge by burning King Bele’s farm, which Ingebjørg’s brothers had inherited. As a result, he was outlawed, returned to being a Viking, gathered great wealth, returned to Norway after three years, and visited then King Ring in his realm in disguise. The two men established good relations and when Fridtjof wanted to return to viking, the old king persuaded him to stay on, promising him Ingebjørg as his wife when he himself was dead. During Fridtjof’s stay, and before King Ring learned who Fridtjof was, the king went with his queen for a sleigh ride on the icy waters accompanied by the skating Fridtjof.

Esaias Tegnér described in the verse “A Ride on the Ice,” how Fridtjof warned the king against making such a trip. The king rejected his advice, and the ride ended with the horse and sled breaking through the ice. Fridtjof however was near by and managed to haul the king, as well as the queen, horse and sled out of the water. Shortly after King Ring died, Fridtjof and Ingebjørg married. He became an earl and administered the Kingdom of Ringerike until the sons of King Ring became of age. He and Ingebjørg returned to West Norway and her brothers went to war against him. Fridtjof won the war in which one of the brothers was killed. The other brother was given clemency. Fridtjof then became the sole ruler of Sognefjorden. He enlarged his realm and lived happily ever after with Ingebjørg who gave him two sons.

Nobody knows the first part of the history of this pipe bowl or when or how it came to America. Dr. Peckus bought it from a man, presumably a Norwegian, whose father was said to have received it as part payment for some handiwork on a building.


Neither of these pipes is signed. However, an interview of the Norwegian painter, critic of society, author, and journalist Christian Krogh (1852–1925) conducted in 1900 when he visited Lillehammer gives a clue. He had befriended August Larsen, the owner at that time of the Larsen pipe factory who, while he was carving a pipe for Krogh in his likeness, was talking of pipe- making. He said (or words to this effect): 

Look here, and you shall see an exhibition piece. He took out a piece wrapped in cotton wool. It was a large pipe head with lots of cut figures on it. It represents an ice block. Here below you see King Ring and his queen on the way to a party. In the front you see Nansen and Sverdrup and “Fram.” And here are the birch legs on skis bringing the small King Haakon across the mountain.

This description does not exactly tally with the “Fridtjof” pipe that, on the front, has two vessels, no trace of Sverdrup, and Nansen placed on the side of the pipe shank. But could it have been this pipe that Krogh was shown? The interview was probably not written when it took place, but presumably done later due to notes and without having the pipe present. Perhaps Krogh did not precisely remember where the different persons and objects were placed. On the other hand, did the vessel Gjøa start its triumphant voyage through the Northwest Passage in 1903 and the “Fridtjof” pipe carved until after this expedition had ended in 1906? That is six years after Krogh was shown an almost identical one. This means that three pipes with the birch leg scene must have been produced by the G. Larsen Company, and no one, today, knows if or where the one shown to Krogh (the Krogh pipe) still exists. 

Who carved these pipes? The birch leg scene on the “Ice bear” pipe is, with minimal discrepancies, identical to the one on the ”Fridtjof” pipe. A similar scene was for sure on the Krogh pipe that August Larsen displayed during the interview, but is this evidence enough to accept that he carved all three bowls? Could all three have been carved as joint venture? Jehans Odde, August Larsen and Lars Prestmoen were eminent pipe carvers adept at copying each other’s work. Would they have done it so minutely as was done with the two birch leg scenes? Furthermore, would a carver copying his own work do so? Can the fact that the G. Larsen firm, at a time when national pride was high, made at least three pipes replete with national symbolism indicate that yet other similar pipe bowls were produced? If so, is it possible that each of these three carvers did what he was best at? 

Little is known of the miniature works of Jehans Odde, other than his knife-making. He died in 1899 and could have participated on the “Ice bear” pipe as well as on the “Fridtjof “pipe, It is known that August Larsen did miniature carvings on objects other than pipes, and he was good on portrait carvings, but very few of his works are known. In fact, the only existing report on this is the interview by Krogh. Lars Prestmoen was, perhaps, an even better carver of miniatures, especially good on faces and ice scenes, but he used to “fill out" open spaces. This is not done on the “Fridtjof” pipe that lacks carving on the underside of the pipe bowl.

At least three pipes with the birch leg scene were made. The “Ice bear” pipe and the “Fridtjof” pipe were both carved before 1912, but did the G. Larsen Company of Lillehammer make them? For sure, the “Ice bear” pipe” was! It is stamped with the name of the firm and the original pipe case is still intact. As for the Krogh pipe that has since disappeared, the answer to this question is, of course, the same. But what about the “Fridtjof” pipe? The only marks are the same silver stamps as those on the “Ice bear” pipe. The carving of the birch leg scene, however, is similar to that of “Ice bear” pipe.

Personally, I am content knowing of the existence of two of these three pipes and that, most likely, all three either as individual or collaborative works were carved by August Larsen, Lars Prestmoen, and Jehans Odde.


Aschehoughs Konversasjonsleksikon
G. Larsen Pipefabrik, Pipens historie i 100 år
Snorre Sturlason, Norske Kongesagaer
Dream Host.com, The Story of Frithiof the Bold
Esaias Tegnér, Frithjofs Saga


After the iconography on the “Fridtjof” pipe was written, a clipping from the newspaper Aftenposten, November 17, 1912, turned up, revealing that at least one of the three pipes in question, the “Fridtjof “ was carved by August Larsen. He estimated its value to be Nok.1.000; it was to be raffled for the benefit of the “Norwegian Defense League” and “The National Society for the Counteracting of Tuberculosis,” and he hoped it would bring twice as much. The only condition mandated is that the winner had to have it displayed at the coming jubilee exhibition in Oslo, 1914. August Larsen died, however, on New Year’s Eve, 1912, and it is not yet known whether or not the pipe was displayed. As well, it is not known if it might have been brought to U.S.A. by the lucky winner, or whether that person sold/gave it to another who did so.

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