Norwegian Culture Inspires Life And Art For A North-Western Wisconsin Couple

By Joe Astrouski | December 17, 2015


Growing up in northwestern Wisconsin, Phillip Odden had two interests: working with his hands and travelling the world.

“I grew up on a dairy farm, but I’ve always been adventurous, and after fighting fires in Alaska and living in Montana, I decided to travel to Norway and study woodcarving,” Odden said.

Meanwhile, in a town near Alesund Norway, Else Bigton had similar interests.

“I come from a long line of artists and craftsmen and women, and for me, I knew that I would always work with my hands,” Bigton said. “I applied to this woodcarving and furniture trade school … When I arrived to the school, here was this young, handsome American that was fresh from the Alaska bush, and he looked like it. So that’s how we met.”

In 1979, the two moved to Wisconsin, settling on Philip’s uncle’s farm near Barronett, in Barron County. The two woodworkers have lived and worked on the farm ever since.

Philip’s work focuses on carving flat surfaces and building traditional Norwegian log chairs called Kubbestols.

“This is an Acanthus leaf design, traditional Norwegian style carving,” Odden said while working on a chair in his workshop. “I’ve always been fascinated with how the knife works with wood, just a knife and wood.”

Bigton’s work, meanwhile, centers on building and carving furniture.

“If it’s a hutch or a trunk or a cabinet, it’s my job,” Bigton said. “I will build it and draw it.”

Odden and Bigton’s work has been widely recognized in the United States and abroad. Among their commissions: pieces for the Norway Pavilion at Epcot Theme Park in Florida.

“Our carvings go around the country, all around the United States, and our Students come from all over the United States,” Odden said.

“We try to be artists in everything we do, and quality of life is very important to us,” Bigton said, while sitting outside their farm home. “If you look around the yard, you can look at the trees that Phil has been pruning to be really beautiful.”

The couple also keep, train and compete with Norwegian Fjord horses.

“I do combined driving events, which is competitions that have to do with precision driving, and we do pleasure driving shows,” Odden said. “I hunt with them in Montana, and we do trail rides in wilderness areas. So our show ponies are our constant companions.”

The horses and the farm scenery provide inspiration for their creativity, Odden said.
“The Norwegians always went to nature to find inspiration for their work,” Odden said. “Not only is inspiration found in the woods and the lakes and the streams, but also with the farm animals and their lines and the way they look: the curve of their necks … that’s art. That’s where folk art came from.”

Along with carving and showing their horses, Odden and Bigton also lead Rural Life Tours through Scandinavia each year.

Joe Astrouski

Joe Astrouski

Joe Astrouski is a reporter for the “Wisconsin Life” project who travels the state, telling the stories of people and their passions. In his spare time, Joe enjoys fishing, hiking and eating his way across the Midwest with his wife, Charity.  Astrouski is a reporter, field producer and narrator for “Wisconsin...
2018-01-19T17:52:41-06:00Tags: , , , , |

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