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3.3: Mural, Painting on Masonite

  • Page ID
    8236
  • Painting on Masonite Mural, Painting on Masonite
    Norwegian-American
    Olaf Colberson, 1928
    Masonite, paint
    Little Norway Collection, Gift of Scott & Jennifer Winner
    MHAHS 2016.040.0001

    Norwegian-trained painter Olaf “Ole” Colberson immigrated to Black Earth, Wisconsin. At one point in his life, he was committed to the Wisconsin Hospital for the Insane. He was later released by petitions from his Norwegian community of devoted friends. They provided him a new home and began purchasing his artwork. His talent was later recognized by Isaak Dahle who commissioned Colberson to adorn one of Little Norway’s buildings with a series of murals. Each mural depicts a quiet rural scene in the Norway home region of Dahle’s grandfather.

    For a complete essay on this object, click here.


    Olaf Colberson was a trained painter, who learned his trade in Norway before moving to the Midwest. “—not only a house painter, but an artist who created beautiful pictures.”[1] He is remembered best for his paintings that decorated the halls of Little Norway. Most of what can learned about Colberson comes from his funeral and wake, where his closest friends spoke about who he was as a person, his talents, and his family. Anne Sinley,[2] displayed the majority of what we can infer about his personal life in a touching eulogy. She provides information about his family, his time in Mendota mental hospital, information about his training, and his influence within the community.

    She starts her letter by detailing how she came to meet the Colberson family, they were neighbors in Black Earth, Wisconsin, and because of their shared immigration experiences the families became friends. It was sometime after this move that Colberson’s life took an interesting turn.

    Sometime about 1922 or 1923, we heard that Colberson was at Mendota, supposedly a mental case. My brother, Ole, was just then taking a degree in Psychology. He and my father went to Mendota to see our old friend. It seems that while he was undergoing some minor surgery, devious means had been implemented to get him committed to Mendota. He was listed as manic depressive and with good reason. He had been completely disowned and deserted by his wife, daughter and son-in-law and stripped of his home and all of his assets.[3]
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