Running Errands with Erlend: Trondheim, Norway & A Family Legacy of Art

I have to backtrack a few weeks to highlight one of my first adventures in Norway. During my research for this trip, I reached out to lots of different crafts people and resources to find woodworkers and woodartists in Norway and Sweden. Thanks to the input from members of the facebook group, Critical Craft Forum, I got connected to a renowned wood sculptor, Erlend Leirdal, who is based in Trondheim, Norway.

I wrote him asking if I could visit his workshop and learn about his work, and he generously invited me to stay at his home and sent a list of museums and sites I would have to check out. Then a few weeks later, his plans changed, and he had to drive to the west coast to pick up a used lathe – did I want to join?

Initially I thought – yes! And then I google-mapped the route and realized, oh… It’s 9 hours one way, 18 hours total, and that’s without stopping. Hmm…

Fortunately friends and my instinct said go for it.

I went to Trondheim a day before the roadtrip departure date, and he showed me a little bit of the city. Upon picking me up from the Trondheim train station, we went straight to his workshop. It’s on the top floor of a German WWII-era building. It’s eye-opening to think about how he moves his large scale wooden materials and sculptures up and down from the ground to the fourth floor. There is a crane but I didn’t get to see it in action. The challenge of moving his materials and projects seemed like a testament to his determination to create.

From Erlend's workshop you can see a much larger German WWII relic – a submarine bunker with 10’-thick concrete walls and an 11’-thick ceiling. Germany occupied Norway from 1940 - 45 and used Trondheim as a naval base.

 The building that house's Erlend's workshop. His red pickup truck and some wood materials on the ground. Scraps for firewood at the top of the spiral staircase. 

The building that house's Erlend's workshop. His red pickup truck and some wood materials on the ground. Scraps for firewood at the top of the spiral staircase. 

 The view from his workshop of the massive WWII-era German submarine bunker. The submarines would enter at the water-level openings.

The view from his workshop of the massive WWII-era German submarine bunker. The submarines would enter at the water-level openings.

 Inside Erlend's workshop - a well-used bandsaw from the late 1890s, made in Norway. 

Inside Erlend's workshop - a well-used bandsaw from the late 1890s, made in Norway. 

Erlend is originally from Trondheim, and was raised by a sculptor and a ceramicist. He worked in construction in the past, but transitioned to being a fulltime artist since then and makes a variety of artwork, including large-scale private and public art often out of Norwegian pine and large-diameter oak.

 "Amulet," 2010. From one piece of oak. Location: Gauldal Skole-og Kultursenter

"Amulet," 2010. From one piece of oak. Location: Gauldal Skole-og Kultursenter

 "Amulet" and Erlend. 

"Amulet" and Erlend. 

 "The sea is very big my son," approximately  3 x 1.5 meters. At the gallery  Dropsfabrikken . Mountain birch. 2013. 

"The sea is very big my son," approximately  3 x 1.5 meters. At the gallery Dropsfabrikken. Mountain birch. 2013. 

 Close up of the joinery used to connect these curvy pieces of mountain birch.

Close up of the joinery used to connect these curvy pieces of mountain birch.

His father’s sculptures still dot the city, including one of unique prominence on the iconic gothic Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. It is the northernmost medieval cathedral in the world and is the burial site for St. Olav, a king who was posthumously canonized as the patron saint of Norway. The church was first completed in 1300, and prominent Norwegian artists rebuilt the figures of the western wall in the 20th century.

 The western wall of Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim. The St. Michael sculpture made by his father is on the top left turret.

The western wall of Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim. The St. Michael sculpture made by his father is on the top left turret.

In 1969 Erlend's father, Kristofer Leirdal, was commissioned to make a St. Michael sculpture for the cathedral. He decided to make St. Michael resemble Bob Dylan, as a critique of the U.S.'s involvement in the Vietnam War and an American bishop who was said to have blessed napalm, bombs and aircrafts at an airbase before they were sent to Vietnam. (I believe this might be referring to Cardinal Francis Spellman, but I could not confirm this after doing a cursory search online.) Leirdal did not publicly acknowledge this until 2001, when he was 85 years old. This act of resistance was moving to learn about, especially given the current tumultuous and highly politicized state of the U.S. It’s powerful to think about how long that sculpture will remain on such a symbolic building.

 St. Michael as Bob Dylan, spearing a dragon, 1969. Photo of a postcard I purchased at the cathedral.

St. Michael as Bob Dylan, spearing a dragon, 1969. Photo of a postcard I purchased at the cathedral.

After seeing Erlend's workshop, hearing family stories and diving into the politics of Norway, we went grocery shopping and returned to his home where he and his partner made a delicious meal of cod, potatoes and vegetables. That night we started talking about the logistics of the roadtrip, but didn't start packing until the next morning.

I will have to pause here and write the roadtrip story another time. Being in Trondheim and learning about the city from Erlend and his family was such a rich experience – I hope I can return there someday to learn more.

 Erlend, Mikael, me, Ylva, and Lotte at their home.

Erlend, Mikael, me, Ylva, and Lotte at their home.