New book available at Norsk Høstfest 2015 by Norwegian-American immigrant and world-class photographer, Anders Beer Wilse

Posted on September 27, 2015 by Deb Nelson Gourley


Publisher Deb Nelson Gourley, Astri My Astri Publishing, Waukon, IA has released her newest bilingual English/Norwegian book.

Anders Beer Wilse Photography: Life of a Young Norwegian Pioneer, Volume 1 – is the 13th bilingual English Norwegian book published by Astri My Astri Publishing. The book was first published in 1936, but has now been translated into English for the first time by Odd Steinar Dybvad Raneng (Australia) and co-edited by Deb Nelson Gourley (Iowa) and Wilse’s great-grandson, Christian Wilse (England).

Gourley’s new release includes many photos, which capture the rich heritage of America in the late 19th century.

She will have the new book, as well as previous publications, on display during the 2015 Norsk Høstfest Bookstore/Author’s Corner, Helsinki Hall, Minot, ND.

Gourley also will offer her previous titles, written on the subjects of Norwegian heritage, culture, history, language and genealogy.

Several of her books have won national awards, including the prestigious G.K. Haukebo Heritage Resource Award for Historical Emphasis.

Gourley’s book release is timed with the 150th anniversary of Anders Beer Wilse’s birth (1865).

In commemoration, the country of Norway is honoring Wilse throughout the year with an extensive exhibit at the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo, a set of four commemorative stamps and other celebrations.

A Wilse photo will also be featured on Norway’s new money to be introduced in 2017 and on the new 500 kroner bill.

About Wilse

Born in Vest-Agder and raised in Telemark, Norway, Wilse immigrated to America in 1884, where he worked as both a railroad engineer and cartographer.

The book chronicles Wilse’s childhood in Norway where he grew up hunting, keeping an extensive menagerie of animals, learning to swim and climbing aboard sailing ships that arrived in port.

At just 13 years old, he had the opportunity to sign on as a deck boy during his summer vacation.

At 17, he attended Horten’s technical school, later getting a job as a grease monkey on a passenger ship. In October of 1884, at just 19, he set sail for America aboard the Thingvalla. The book chronicles some hard times for Wilse after he first arrived in New York, where he struggled to find employment before moving to Chicago to find work in an architectural office. When that job ended, he and a friend took a train to St. Louis where they again encountered challenges related to finding work.

Broke and jobless, the two men wired a friend in St. Paul, Minn. to send them train tickets and they headed north.

As luck would have it, while staying at a boarding house, Wilse met four fellow Norwegians, who offered him and his friend work with a Minnesota railroad company digging holes for boundary markers. When that job ended, Wilse found work at a railway office, where he did tracing and other work. He would stay employed with the company for 13 years.

“As there was big competition between the different railway companies to seize this uninhabited territory for future railway construction, it (the company) depended on there being the least amount of publicity that we were pegging,” wrote Wilse, adding when the Minnesota work dried up he was sent to the Dakotas.

Among his stories about a treacherous winter near Sioux Falls, S.D., he emerged from a farmer’s home to see the heads and legs of many animals that had frozen to death under the drifts.

The snow was so high, the family he stayed with had to use “measuring chains” to guide them from their home to their outbuildings to care for livestock.

Home to Norway

In 1888, Wilse almost drowned at sea, when the ship he was on (the Geysir) was hit by the Thingvalla, the very same ship he had originally taken to America. “And when all had been brought in by the boats, there were only 31 left of the Geysir’s 149 passengers and crew,” he said, adding it was many years before he could ever feel safe aboard a boat again. When he returned to America, Wilse embarked upon surveying in the forests of Minnesota before being transferred to Washington state to work on the Great Northern Railroad.

Local connection

During the summer of 1892, Wilse was married to Helen Marie Hutchinson, who he had proposed to during his 1889 visit to Norway. The couple was married in Seattle by Carlo A. Sperati, a 1888 graduate of Luther College and Luther Seminary. (In 1905, Sperati returned to Luther to replace Halder Hanson and was hired to teach both vocal and instrumental music as well as religion. He was the only full-time music faculty member until 1928.) It was after his marriage that he started regularly using his camera, which he refers to as his “photographic apparatus” throughout the book. He bought out a traveling photography business and proceeded to be commissioned to take photographs for a number of purposes, including pack expeditions. It was on an expedition to Montana that he was given a Mustang pony named “Pussy,” who would remain his faithful companion for many years. His last years in America were spent photographing different Native American tribes, before he headed home to Norway in 1900 after 16 years of living abroad. Gourley’s new release includes many photos, which capture the rich heritage of America in the late 19th century. “And so I came home where I had grown up … to be tempted to embark on the work that would become my life’s work: to study and know Norway and its beauty from behind a camera,” wrote Wilse of his return to his homeland. He returned to Christiana (now known as Oslo) to open a photography business and subsequently became extremely well known as a world-class photographer. “His images of Norwegian landscapes, of people at work, of people in their national costumes, and of the Royal family are well known for every Norwegian interested in photographs. In his images, we can see the transformation of Norway towards a modern society in the early 20th century,” states the Norsk Folkemuseum. At the time of his death in 1949, he left behind over 200,000 documented photographs. Gourley collaborated with the family of Anders Beer Wilse on Volume 1 and the soon-to-be-published Volume 2: Anders Beer Wilse Photography: Norwegian Men and their Country, which chronicles photos he took in Norway from 1900-1949.

Many thanks

Gourley said her publishing business would not be possible without the mentoring and assistance of Anundsen Publishing Company (owner of Decorah Newspapers), which stores her pallets of books and ships her online orders. For more information, visit

Reprinted with permission from Decorah Newspapers, Decorah, IA

Article written by Lissa Blake and reprinted from The Decorah Journal

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