in 1900 in Ostre Aker, Norway, Bernhard Berntsen came to America when
he was 19, settling in New York. Soon he was building skyscrapers,
threading across open I-beams hundreds of feet in the air; at the
same time the open steel and the men who worked there became the subjects
of his oils, pastels and charcoals.
the decades following Berntsen worked with artistic luminaries including
Deigo Rivera, Suzuki and J. S. Curry and extended his vision beyond
high-steel to rural landscapes of New York state, Pennsylvania and
the horse country of Virginia where he spent his last years.
his work hangs from the Royal Palace in Norway to the Vesterheim,
the Iron Workers headquarters in Washington, D.C. to galleries in
Brooklyn and scores of private collections. Imagine
a man 50 stories above the city streets, perched on scaffolding,
dressed in overalls and a hardhat, with a paintbrush in his hand.
He is not painting the walls of a newly built skyscraper; he is
painting a canvas with his interpretation of the city before him.
could be lunch time or late in the afternoon, when most of the crew
has left the structure forming beneath them, but whatever time of
day, the task is the same: capture as much of the feel and the sights
of the "high steel" as possible before the sun bids adieu
to the grand structure that consumes his day.
man I describe is Bernhard Berntsen and the work he is involved
with is the building of some of our great American cities. All the
while he captures the sights of his job with oil paints and grease
in his painting career, Berntsen painted scenes mostly from the
construction sites ("Steel Girders") where he worked and
from the daily life around him.
decades after he began painting, his eye turned to the equestrian
world. ("Steeplechases") There are those who will be remembered
for their contributions to science and progress, those who captured
a moment in time or an idea through the arts, and those who made
a lasting impression on our spirits as humanitarians. Bernhard Berntsen
will be remembered for all of these things.
he was helping to build one of the great skyscrapers of New York
City or putting the final touches on an oil painting on a Saturday
afternoon, Berntsen was making impressions that last to this day.
He was also making lasting impressions on the people he met along
the way. He had a love of life and a love of people that spanned
most of the 20th Century.
pages, 2001, 9" x 11", hardcover