Stone Wayfarer – Knut Wold's rock of ages

Few outside Norway know the sculptor, Knut Wold, but they should. It was Wold who persuaded Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois to work in Norway, helped National Tourist Routes initiate its art programme, and collaborated with Jensen & Skodvin on their early ground-breaking early projects. And then there's Wold's own sculpted spaces.

Knut Wold is part of a disappearing world. Instrumental in bringing both artist Louise Bourgeois and the Swiss architect, Peter Zumthor, to Norway, Wold has worked as the artist consultant on the National Tourist Routes programme since its earliest days, helping set the sensibility of this singular project through its quarter of a century life up to the present day.

The world that is disappearing is that of Before. Before the watershed arrival of the Internet, of the world-wide-web, of new media 1.0. Wold comes from a world where physicality and the presence imbued in physicality is a part of the weft of living. Although there is the makers’ revolution, and talk of the ‘revenge of analogue,’ the genie is out; certain forms of physicality continue into eclipse. Uncovering the way the world was before new media is becoming a rare thing. Wold returns us to this time and space.

To the Steilneset Memorial, Vardo – Photo NTR
Sauda – with the supporting stone wall. Photo - Per Bentsen

A Norwegian sculptor of significance within and beyond his generation, it is difficult to separate the way Wold brought these major European art figures to work in his country from his own sculptural practice. Indeed, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if both Zumthor and Bourgeois saw an integrity in Wold’s work, during their first contact, which went a long way to ensuring their commitment to, in Bourgeois’ case, what would be her last project. This is the Steilneset Memorial. To the Victims of the Finnmark Witchcraft Trials installation, on the Northern Varanger edge of the Arctic coastline. With Zumthor the relationship has been much longer, sixteen years, beginning and recently concluding in the Sauda Zinc mine museum, a similarly Zumthor-esque art-architecture-sculpture installation to the Steilneset Memorial sandwiched between the long running Sauda saga. Slow architecture begets slow relationships. Zumthor stayed the course.

Dinner in the hall 2015

It is the physicality of Wold’s work, again, which connects across time and space to Bourgeois and Zumthor. Wold is sculptural kin to the Swiss architect, sharers of histories in the material of stone. He was, for instance, responsible for finding the stone (and quarry) for the Sauda support wall at the pathway entrance to the museum installation. Other connections and broader overlays also speak to the times. Both men may not be directly connected to the wave of what became known as Land Art through the eighties and nineties, but depending on how many degrees of separation is accepted, it is possible to see both broader echoes and closer details in shared sensibilities.  A turn to natural materials, for instance, whether animate or inanimate, is an acknowledgement of time conjoined in the ephemerality, atmospheres and presence of some of the work of Wold, Zumthor and various artists who have been apprehended under the sign of Land Art. And the romanticism and drama of the natural canvases they’ve worked upon can also – at least to an extent - be claimed as shared terrain.

Wold represents another bridge too, this time between the younger Norwegian architects, Jan Olav Jensen and Børre Skodvin, and Zumthor. An experience of Jensen & Skodvin’s (JSA) delight at the sensuality of materials, making and materiality is clearly evident in JSA’s early series of tourist related projects, primarily at Juvet waterfalls, though also their Liasanden parking landscape work. In both Juvet and St Benedigt’s Chapel, there are elements that induce a feeling of a family conversation, even if it is admittedly distant family. For Wold, a half dozen years older than his fellow Norwegian architects, the conversation is there in the remarkable converted farmstead, that he has, with the late architect Are Vesterlid, quietly willed into existence over the last three decades. Here architecture is a house of sculpture, conveying a language where the edges of each are breaking down into something else, landscape again perhaps, or that place between land art and the edges of architecture, of which Zumthor has been a pre-eminent practitioner. This is my version, for Wold, and likely Skodvin and Jensen, the Sørum Gård farmstead sits within recent Norwegian architectural tradition, and furnishes both links and a continuity of sorts to the great man of twentieth century Norwegian architecture, Sverre Fehn. What feels assured is that with this cluster in such proximity, Fehn is brought into the conversational ebb and flow between Wold, JSA and Zumthor. Their shared presence within the roads project enables the imagination to consider such a conversation.

From afar – Sauda standing on the stone wall.
Photo – Aldo Amoretti
Sørum Gård farmstead - Photo Richard Riesenfeld

I met Wold again at the Sauda project press day in September 2016 for the second time, after visiting him in 2012 in his studio home in the Norwegian countryside an hour’s train journey north of Oslo. Wold looks young, lean and fit, for a man who has recently become – in his early sixties - a first time father. T-shirted and jeaned, he is friendly if preoccupied. Zumthor will be arriving in the next hour to inspect the four Sauda buildings, the first visit for a year since he has been on site, and no-one knows what he’ll think. A small posse of French and American journalists, plus a London based Japanese writer and myself, have been mini-bussed in that morning, arriving for a ninety minute walk. We wander round the black stilt towers, and the surrounding zinc mine landscape, the masses and forms different yet clearly related, heavy with Zumthor’s trademark, an uncanny presence.

This, in a way is a signal moment for Wold. Zumthor, with Sauda complete, after sixteen years of involvement will no longer be part of the programme. For Wold a chapter is closing and the Zumthor years will be consigned to the past. That chapter, the sculptor’s involvement in the National Tourist Routes goes back to its beginnings in the early mid nineties. By that time Wold been working as a stone sculptor for over a decade and a half, had lived and completed two stints of study in Germany and travelled in Europe, as well as finding and, with Vesterlid, transformed the old farmstead near Stange, close to where he was born and grew up.

Sørum Gård Farm – drawing by Are Vesterlid

“It was before the oil money,” Wold said the time I first visited him at his Sørum Gård Farm home, that is, before the cardinal threshold of recent Norwegian history. We were talking about how he gravitated towards art as a teenager, winning an art competition in his mid-teens, was awarded painting lessons and then describing his early arts encounters, which introduced him to Stockholm’s Östasiatiska Muséet  (the East-Asian museum), and also Swedish film maker Ingmar Bergman.

Listening to Wold recount his art life, I’m reminded of how long ago Wold’s formative period was, the already distant seventies from the various recent artist waves. His first step, he recalls, was to travel to Sweden in 1972 to study with sculptor Gøsta Lovén. Returning, he spent some further time with artist, Grete Nash, who had brought back Raku ceramic techniques to Norway after studying at the University of Minnesota with Warren Mackenzie, himself a student of Bernard Leach. They contributed to a melting pot of materials he was getting to know: ”Together with ceramics and plaster I started to work with wood very early.” And then, in 1974, Wold began a course at the Alanus Hochschule for Art , in Germany, moving to Alanus, and living there for the next five years. The move opened his eyes and ears to a wider world.

Alanus, South of Cologne, looms significant in Wold’s lifeline; the way he recalls his time there sounding formative. Once there he was suddenly close to Germany’s art capital, and Dusseldorf, vibrant scenes both, at a time when the likes of Joseph Beuys and Fluxus were at their most lively. “It was very interesting. We went to different places to see all these ‘new things’, in Cologne and Bonn; Beuys was performing his The Honey Pump in the Workplace and other groups were performing at the Art Cologne. I saw both Karl Heinz Stockhausen and Mauricio Kagel performing their work. And the dancer, Pina Bausch. We took the train to Wuppertal to see Pina. As a student we got very cheap tickets… or we went in through the restaurant. Later,” he postscripts, “most of it became rather dull.” But compared to his nearest town, Hamar, Alanus felt alive. “That was the big revelation.”

Beuys's Honey Pump in the Workplace
Photo Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark

Continental Europe opened his eyes. Everything Seemed Possible, as Richard Cork’s Art in the 1970s book had it. Living in Alanus meant he could travel and explore the mainland, particularly to France, Holland, and Italy. “They showed me all these things.” I ask him about the period’s early environmental movement, and its influence. Yes, he acknowledges his exposure to the new ecological thinking, but stops short of connecting the energies of the times with his work. The emerging green movement was part of the wider radical political energies pulsing through the continent. “Politics was a huge concern. I am sure it all influenced a lot of our lives. At the same time as all the things going on in the art scene there were tanks driving through the streets in Bonn, and helicopters looking for the Baader Meinhoff Group. They shot the businessman Hans-Martin Schleyer just a kilometre away from where I was living. There were discussions every day. Political posters on walls everywhere, protests and marches, speeches and performances and big exhibitions. I never made any typical political art.”

We are sitting in the long kitchen room of his farmhouse home, enjoying the quiet and stillness of the agricultural countryside beyond the windows, intermittently interrupted by the work of two carpenters on one of the buildings. Through the other side of the wall is Wold’s studio, complete with a few of Wold’s works. These are close to monumental, heavy stone and wood sculptural pieces, carved and cut with openings and layers, the wooden piece washed down in muted white. Outside a stone cylinder lies, its smooth surface, with a small rounded eyelet, are reminders of the hours of work that will have already gone into its preparation.

Early stone work
Larvik Granite Quarry – Photo Larvik Granite AS

Wold worked in a foundry, welding metals and sand casting before returning to Norway: “It’s why I came back to Stange, because there was a local foundry, where I was taught cast sculpting.” At first his work included plaster and clay, avoiding synthetic materials. He worked with ceramics but gradually gravitated to larger sculptural forms, and also sculpture’s ur-material, stone. After a time working with the Swedish stone sculptor, Claes Hake, he discovered the large stone quarry in Larvik, Southern Norway, and began a connection, which has continued to this day. “I was influenced very much from early on by the quarry and working there. When I arrived I said to the foreman, ‘I want to learn.’” Though never employed, he spent much of the next six months working around the quarry every day. Commuting to and from the quarry, a two and half hours journey on the south east coast past Oslo, became his working life.

Larvik stone – Photo Larvik Granite AS

The sheer full-bodied physicality of the stone sculptors work comes across as he recalled his day-by day-routine at the quarry. The demands of the work required the physical strength needed for the hammering, chiselling and polishing. Chiselling is particularly physical. “The most difficult technique is hammering and chiselling. You hold the chisel in the left hand, the hammer with the right, and hit with the hammer as hard and full as possible to get the most stone away. If it’s a rough surface you have to hit very hard. Get all the power into the surface and into the chisels, and not into the hands. The force of the chisel should go into the stone not to the body. If you hold it too tightly you’ll damage your arms. You need at least two years to learn this, and I had to work extremely hard to develop a technique before I felt I was being effective, and began getting the surface’s I wanted. If your hammering is too neat and not hard enough you won’t get the technique. Not many are good at this. That’s the main difference between a good and bad technique.” The result was smashed, pulverised and bloodied fingers, a professional risk. “You have to go through the pain if you want to develop your technique. It’s connected with your rhythm and your full body. I tried to hit as hard as I could. But you will damage your hands. At first I didn’t dare, and crushed my fingers, broke one of my bones in my left hand twice.”

“After a while you stop thinking if you’ll hit myself. It’s like learning to play the piano. As you learn to play you just stop thinking about the technique and trying to get the music right. Today I never hit my hand. Just very occasionally, when hitting strange places, strange angles. You shouldn’t hold too tight, with two fingers.”

Early into the eighties - 1982 to be exact - Wold bought Sørum, a ramshackle and empty farm near to Stange municipality not far from Hamar. He moved in, taking the first steps in setting up his own studio and foundry there through the next years. Meanwhile working at the Larvik quarry continued. The scales changed. Large boulders and stone cutaway from the quarry face became an interest. At one point during this period he remembers working on his polishing technique, which was, “also very difficult. I used the hammer to crush the stone, and then use the diamond disk to make it finer and finer. It’s a lot of work, very, very hard. The first two years are only the beginning, it can’t be learnt in less than two years. Maybe it takes five years.” He also worked on drilling and splitting stone found in the quarry. Later he’d begin to use diamond saws, diamond wires and in 1985 began working with a diamond, which helped him develop different kind of graining techniques. “Learning to use the graining machines and polishing techniques is difficult but different. You need a lot of time.” A week on one hole; “the shape has to be right” – or on graining the stone. “I had to work very hard on it, and did so for half a year. The results became a small set of sculptures beside the E6 road nearby to his home.

All through this period Wold’s sculptural language was, he says, changing. He says: “I was having so many ideas. “It was like ‘I have to do it.’” It precipitated another life change; enrolling at the Berlin Academy of Arts in 1985 for a two year masters. There he met a Japanese stoneworker, Makoto Fujiwara. Fujiwara was to be particularly influential for him. Through Fujiwara, says Wold, another layer, and chapter to his intensive stone working through the mid-eighties began.

Tjörn, Sweden

“I met him at the Art Academy. He had won a competition in Southern Germany, and wanted to go to the quarry.” Fujiwara had taught within the High School’s stone sculpture department since 1974. “He had been living for a long time in Europe, studying in the Paris Beaux Art tradition, so he wasn’t traditionally so Japanese.” Wold recalls how he was inspired by Fujiwara’s Japanese background and aesthetics, co-inciding with a renewed wave of interest in stone as a material across Europe. His references span the likes of Henry Moore and Louise Bourgeois, less known figures such as Austrian Karl Prantl (1923 – 2010), and also the influence of the distant past on the present, Megalithic stone sites like Carnac in Western France. “People lost interest in the 2000’s. He emphasises how the way he works, technique-wise, has always been non-figurative, within what he calls the Twentieth Century Modernist tradition. Everything” he concludes, “gives its influence.”

The sculptures are recognisable forms, heavy weighted three dimensional stone squares, rectangles, cubes and boxy shapes dispersed, mainly across Norway, though also elsewhere, in Bridgeport, outside New York and Tjörn, Sweden, for instance, are recognisable in their shared sensibllity, even if few will have seen the pieces, apart from maybe those placed close to the Oslo waterfront.

Larvik stone – Photo Larvik Granite AS

Fujiwara was to be a key, possibly a defining, influence. Early on into the Berlin period while just beginning with polished surfaces, Fujiwara whispered a sentence which has stayed with Wold ever since. "’A pity for the stone.’ It was the most interesting comment I’ve ever had. I thought I had done a brilliant work. I was not happy when he said that. I didn’t get any answer from him, when I asked him about it. He’d worked for twenty years, and I’d done two months. I think he saw I did something similar to the way he was working but in a very bad way. It was about the shape, and how I was changing at the time, beginning to listen to what was there in the stone. Later I realised it wasn’t a great piece of work.” He continues, generalising and heading into Louis Kahn territory. “The sculptures come from the materials themselves. You never know where it will lead to. You get surprised yourself. Sometimes it’s more interesting than you thought it would be. This could be something new or different. You just need to listen to what a stone wants to be. That’s something I know about.”

The same year Wold moved to Berlin, Fujiwara was introduced to the Larvik quarry. It soon became the centre for a series of stone conferences.  The first Symposium Norge ran alongside a course at the quarry. The next year Wold took over the organisation of the second symposium, also titled the Larvik Stone Seminar.  Both have continued through the years even as sculpture has been exiled from the academy. “It is disappearing from the art schools – all the big academies, Dusseldorf, Karlsruhe, Munich, Berlin. They’re giving up, the tutors are dead or are retiring.” Beyond the academy, Wold continues helping with classes and courses. For the last fifteen years, Andreas Kienlin, a German professor from Alanus who splits his time between Alanus and his house in Tangen, runs two-month courses on stone sculpting. Interested students make their way there and Wold contributes to the critical assessment at the end of the course. ”Some of his best students come to me as assistants. They learn on the machines, though most don’t chisel very well. It is one of the very few places where students can still study.” These under the radar courses attract the curious and committed, Wold says there were 20 students last year. There is a new generation coming, he says, young, increasingly Asian, including Japanese, though also some Europeans from countries like Switzerland and Holland.

Zinklaft II
Whitewashed Peat Stacks in Queens, NY
Early timber stack - Zinklaft I

Though Wold continued with stone sculpting, he also investigated other materials. This new chapter, turning from inanimate geological rock of ages to cellulose and vegetal live animate matter began at the cusp of the nineties, with pine and birch. “This is so amazing” he thought at the time, using woody materials, and going into forests and experimenting with the qualities of the different species.

The investigations expanded towards other natural materials, specifically peat and moss. Beginning in 1992, these early experiments, which gradually turned into the Peat Stacks series, that would continue into the nineties.

The wood pieces seem to have gravitated towards a heftier monumentality, both stone’s weight and time finding its way into the materiality. Though not at first. 1989’s Zinklaft II is a world away from the same named much more recent triptych. Zinklaft II appears to play off his work on the Sørum farm, with its dovetailed jointed corners reminiscent of the Brettstapel wooden frames of the buildings he’d moved into and was working on. Allusions to farming pepper the work, such as wooden sculptures standing on slate rocks reminiscent of the old ways of placing traditional farm-sheds off the ground to ensure safe storage of food stocks. Two years later, the bulkier Zinklaft I also sits on stone supports, and is made from four woods; pine, birch, larch and spruce, layered one upon each other. Zinklaft I is a preview for the later series of Zinklaft pieces Wold developed in the 2000’s.

Wold’s  investigations expanded to other natural materials, specifically peat and moss. Beginning in 1992, these early experiments, which gradually turned into the Peat Stacks series, continued into the nineties. The first, Small Haystack, was part of a group project for Hamar’s Hedmarksmuseet museum, and again drew from the immediate agricultural environment on his farmstead doorstep, a compost of hay and peat glued together by clay and cow manure, after which the external faces were whitewashed down. Several others followed for galleries in Oslo and Stavanger. In 1993 a piece comprised of three side-by-side peat stacks was placed on the Åkersvika lake nature reserve just outside Hamar, when the town hosted the Winter Olympics, and a large version was displayed at the 1998 Kankaanpaae Peat Moss Symposium, in Finland.

Peat Stack experiments
Åkersvika Lake work

All the time, Wold’s stone-work continued, including the first sculptural work on the earliest of the National Tourist Routes (NTR), the Sognefell pass. The work, a large block was transported to the mid-Norwegian site, high up on the mountainous Mefjellet plateau at the Storevasskrysset crossroads. Rough-hewn on its external surfaces, the Larvikite stone has been smoothed into a human sized viewing window on its dramatic surroundings. It was one of the largest single pieces of stone he’d worked with, measuring 3 x 3 x 3 metres, and weighing – apparently - the equivalent of 62 tonnes. Too heavy to move, the act of chiselling and cutting away the rock became an exercise in careful subtraction. Using the diamond saw he drilled four holes removing its inner core, and reducing the weight to 42 tonnes. “I didn’t really do anything, I only drilled the holes, split the stone and took away the inner surface.” Only then was transportation to the Sognefell site possible.

Sognefjell at Sorum and under the mountain – Photos NTR

Wold met the Jan Olav Jensen, one half of the first NTR architects, Jensen & Skodvin, the previous year and they discussed how to introduce artworks as a first step into the project. “Jan Olav and me took a lot of trips up to the North and North West to look at how it could work.” They decided to place the sculpture in the open landscape, a kind of ‘nature gallery’ introducing a new frame of the open, panoramic views. In the following months Jensen & Skodvin completed their Liasanden car parking area sitting within a wooded grove, the entrance and route marked by the simplest of acts: ropes twined protectively round pine trees, looking not dissimilar to a period piece of ecological art.

Rope Works - Jensen & Skodvin at Liasanden car park – Photo JSA
Whitewashed Peat Stack in Queens, NY

Though in talking with both Wold and Skodvin during recent phone conversations they energetically downplay ecological interpretations. For Wold the land art/ecological art element is most pronounced in the Peat Stack series. 1999’s Whitewashed Peat Stack was the work Bourgeois came upon on the waterfront in Queens, NY, and until last summer the end point of his peat works. As the result of a competitive art award, Wold was invited to New York to create waterside pieces as part of the Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, and over a three-month period he worked outside on different pieces for three New York rivers. Initially he enquired about whether he could bring peat moss to New York, given health risk concerns, and eventually made two blocks for two of the sculptures, each comprised of peat bricks stacked on the waterside. These were incorporated into larger sculptural blocks, which were again whitewashed. “I went back to the river banks one year later, and it was still there. I worked on the inner part of the sculpture.”

Sognefjell at Sorum and under the mountain – Photos NTR

The peat stack pieces speak to ephemerality and decomposition, foils to the geological epochs preserved in fossilised stone, and reminiscent of contemporaries working with natural vegetal materials. If the earthbound heft of rock is present in the boxy stacked peat bricks, Wold downplays interpreting any overtones to concurrent 80’s and 90’s ecological art, whether earthworks or land art. His line is a familiar and well rehearsed one, that art isn’t – or shouldn’t be – fundamentally changed by whatever its surroundings happens to be, whether a White Cube gallery or panoramic vista. He does, however, vividly recall a visit to moorland, near to Hamar as a small child when he accompanied his parents onto the moorland from which peat blocks had been cut for generations. “There were hundreds of meters of clean cut canals dug into the moor, all filled with water but still with rather high black walls. It made such an impression on me. For years I wanted to do something similar. My Peat Stacks are nothing compared with this!” Their imaginative hold remains. In 2016, Wold returned to the peat stack form again, completing one on his farm over the summer. 

Still placing pieces within the natural world, and the atmospheric and dramatic natural world at that, makes it hard not to trigger associations, not least in how a relatively inaccessible piece like the roads programme viewing stone, was almost as dependent on the technology of the camera and the dissemination of photographs, like land art or America’s more monumental earthworks tradition Still, Wold’s ongoing production line of Larvik stone sculpture, which continued alongside the vegetal experiments, are also sited in well populated, urban or easily accessible sites, rather than always up in the mountains beyond civilisation.

Box 1 and 2, Hamar

Box 1 and 2, on the waterfront of Hamar’s sizeable lake Mjøsa, reprise the Roads Programme piece eight years on. Large cube like boxes, rough, and not without a certain concrete brutality, their interior windows echo the piece high up on the first tourist route, even if on their landside Wold has carved horizontal lines into the rock. Not far away is another piece, O.lena, brought to the lakeside a year later in 2004. This oblong form includes the fine finish of a smooth cylindrical window, in photographs, at least, catching the light within its surfaces. A year earlier, in 2003, Wold installed an ensemble of four stone sculptures, titled 2O, on Oslo’s wide-open waterfront promenade. This group of pieces are passed - though not necessarily taken in - by hundreds day in, day out. They are contrasting hulks of stone, many of their fronts raw larkvikite, with a cylindrical eye hole through one of them. Not surprisingly, he cites Larvik as the source of his appetite for large dimensions and weight, and “probably also for the box like masses.” In their sheer weight imbued presence and their aura of permanence, these standing stones evoke pasts gone that reach back far beyond the city’s modern condition, agents of prehistory telescoped into the present.

Oslo waterfront

A comparable presence is evoked by the relatively recent – last ten years – Zinklaft triptych of wooden sculptures completed in 2007. These large, heavyweight pieces, carved out of oak, comprise three core forms that Wold has been investigating for twenty years or so, descendants, in part, of old abandoned log houses that had occupied his childhood imagination, and uncovered while out in the ‘wilds’. The first, the whitewashed square window, creates relationships with the ensemble’s two remaining pieces, the middle flatter, fatter, piece, the timber joins highlighted, the cracked, weathered wood again a map of time. The third in the Zinklaft triptych is larger still, double in height to the middle piece, the darker linseed-oil treated wood again foregrounding the Brettstapel log building joinery and the beginnings of the explicitly structural - the beginnings of a tower maybe  - within the sculptural. An association with ecological, and indeed land art feels almost inevitable. There is an echo of familiarity with David Nash’s cubes, for instance, Nash’s large cube for Luxembourg, or the 2002 Oak Frame with Insert, while different each has been similarly carved and shorn into muscular, weight inflected presences. Shown most recently in Fiskars, the Finnish arts and crafts centre in September 2015, the Zinklaft triptych is the closest Wold’s sculpture has got, so far, to marrying with built or constructed form. With a sole exception; Sørum Farm, the wholly individual studio and home Wold gradually created, reflects and represents his work and world.

The Zinklaft Triptych at Fiskars, in the gallery and in Wold's Sørum Studio (Fiskars photo Monica Slotte)


The whole farmstead is a sculpture. A set of farm buildings, including the farmhouse and barn, the latter have become Wold’s home and place of work after a radically individual re-interpretation by the late architect, Are Vesterlid.  When I arranged to visit back in 2012 I hadn’t known about it, and so was quietly stunned when, after crossing a T junction somewhere along a country lane, we climbed briefly up a dirt track, and the farm and outhouses came into view, set along on a small ridge.

Twirling staircase
Photo Richard Riesenfeld
Stone work at Sørum

The cluster of buildings are set around the farm yard. Wold bought the farm in 1982 with its various buildings in a state of advanced disrepair. The restoration project has been ongoing since, although it turned a corner when Vesterlid began his work in 1999. The immediate surroundings are intermittently strewn with large pieces of stone, some unhewn, others worked and carved, Larvik ghosts in the detritus of one-time farming implements and machinery. The largest building is almost traditional, a white weather-boarded Norwegian neoclassical farmhouse, until you turn the corner and find a twirling wooden pillar, joined above by a top floor window-extension, reaching out from the farmhouse proper, a dormer-turned bridge unit, all the more surprising given the faux normality of the main house.

This is a first hint that you are entering spaces where the traditional vernacular rules have been set aside, or inverted, with adaptations that feel surreal yet make functional sense. The most intensively reworked of the buildings, the barn, with views out over a long string of fields towards lake Mjøsa, lines the western boundary line of the yard. Further buildings include the erstwhile brewery, used in farm times for bread baking and storage, and a new incumbent, a guesthouse, under construction when I visited. Approaching the main farmhouse there is another storage shed, or Foderad standing in front of the yard, and a smaller shed.

Kitchen and stairway to bedroom
Photo Richard Riesenfeld
Grand Piano in the studio and the studio's upper bridge

It is the long two-storey timber truss barn, though, standing on ground that slopes away towards the lake, where transformation is clearest. Once the farms threshing forecourt, its Brettstapel log walls now house new uses. Vesterlid first cut a series of sharp skylight windows into the roof, bringing light into the darkness of the truss-framed barn. The original stable has been turned into Wold’s living space. Long diameter windows have replaced the arched threshing doorways, and inside the main living space, kitchen and dining room are under a single ceiling, the old log walls expressed on all sides and an equally open staircase leading up to the bedroom. So far, so tasteful. The other side of the walls, though, and the workshop, take on the fantastical. Vesterlid, who was particularly admired for his abilities at reimagining traditional Norwegian timber architecture, has opened up the second storey, so that the truss beams cross above the studio, lit by the dormers and skylights, invoking the atmospherics in the vernacular, but also something entirely beyond vernacular, a trick Zumthor has been a master of. Wold and the architect have hardly stopped there. Walkways, and a landing space, cantilevering out above the ground floor studio, holds, to my initial astonishment, a grand piano.

The studio is separated into gallery and performance space. Steel pillars reinforce the truss’s posts and beams, while various of the walls’ log faces have been washed white, counterpoints to a new brick fireplace on the right hand wall.  Architect and artist have also recycled materials found on the farm into the building. The railings on the bridges are from discarded water pipes. The walls’ logs, white or not, add yet more atmospherics to the performance space, remaking the ruins of this old barn building into something new and other. A staircase, comprised of half moon logs, slides up the side gallery’s side.

The barn – Photo Charles De Muynck
From the studio through to the living room - Photo Richard Riesenfeld

On my visit a new building was under construction, the two carpenters standing on a small piece of scaffolding, deciding on a skeletal timber frame. This will turn into a guest house, or in Wold’s words a ‘house for an exhausted urbanist.’ The log cabin structures echo the older buildings vernacular tradition. Quite substantial recycling and reuse has been part of this project, including recycled wood used on the exterior weatherboards, found stored on the farm, likewise old curved roof tiles, and planks where thick enough, reversed to use the less worn side, and tarred in an old formulation for durability. The barn, and to a certain extent the whole farm, speaks to something rich and strange, the remaking of the simple log shed, proof of sorts of vernacular’s potency for re-creation. Juhani Pallasmaa, the old man of Finnish phenomenological architecture, has called Sørum Farm a Gesamtkunstwerk, and sitting on the land together, ‘an architectural still life.’

What now for Wold? His role in the National Tourist Routes is less central, and with the many years on the Sauda Zumthor project presently completing, a certain chapter in the sculptors life is closing. How does he feel about the period coming to an end? “A whole mixture of feelings” he says, “it’s very nice to have finished the main building, though it’s not over for me,” a reference to the pathways around Sauda’s old zinc mine that are yet to be completed, with a network of bridges to replace the original ones destroyed over the years.

Still, closure of this long chapter must bring release. He can contemplate committing his full attention to his sculptural work and starting on projects he has long mentally filed away. He is a father too. And there is Larvik, and Sørum, the farmstead home and art work. Wold’s life and work has brought the old ways of the sculptural into the new world of the crossover art-architectural installation. Out of time, and closed now from the academy, the stone world that Knut embodies is seriously endangered. Where it survives, renewed by a few of the young touched by this archaic practice, the flow is underground, touching the surface in places like Larvik. The elemental work of sculpting space with stone has been with us down the millennia. If it survives another hundred years it will be due to a small band of art workers, with the likes of Wold at the forefront.

Sørum Farm – Are Vesterlid asBuilt 15 the book about the Wold’s farm is published by Pax Publishers, including accompanying texts by Juhani Pallasmaa and Ragnar Pedersen

The Pallasmaa text can be found on ArchitectureNorway here.

An Oslo Architecture School site, A Room of Possibilities features a lovely series of pieces on Are Vesterlid by Charles De Muynk and others.