Henrik Wergeland Statue
To the right, one can see the statue of Henrik Wergeland (1808-1845), which stands in Island Park. Wergeland was Norway's national poet and a symbol of Norway's independence. Wergeland's literary works were used to lead his country toward independence from Sweden in 1905. He was a reformer of politics, religion, agriculture and prisons, and he has been called "the Abraham Lincoln of Norway." He is largely credited with making May 17 the day Norwegians celebrate their independence.
The statue of Wergeland was unveiled in Island Park on Wednesday, June 17, 1908, as more than 3,500 people watched. The Fargo forum reported that area businesses closed early so employees could attend.
Dr. Herman Fjelde of Abercrombie, ND, first commissioned the statue by Gustav Vigeland, Norway's leading sculptor. In 1906, Abercrombie residents planned to build an Old Settlers park on the site of its historic fort. Fjelde and others who had strong ties to the Norwegian aristocracy, hired Vigeland with $500 down. Soon, however, Vigeland's work on the life-size sculpture was then taken over by a Norwegian group and the $500 refunded. There was a dispute over installing the work of such an important artist in the town because of its remoteness. Instead it was sent to Minneapolis, though a final resting place for the piece had not been determined.
Committees from Minneapolis, St. Paul, Chicago, Grand Forks and Fargo bid for the statue, with Fargo winning. On June 17, 1908, the statue was dedicated in its current location, marking what would have been Wergeland's 100th birthday. An identical bronze statue was unveiled in Oslo the same day.
The sculptor of the Wergeland statue was Gustav Vigeland, one of Europe's most well known sculptors. Evidence shows he was working on the Wergeland piece as far back as 1897, at least nine years prior to being hired for the project.
Vigeland is best known for nude statues of men and women, especially those engaged in erotic poses, which put him at odds with the anti-sexual morals of his time. Today Norway honors Vigeland with a museum and park bearing his name in Oslo. The Wergeland statue in Fargo is one of the rare Vigeland works found outside Norway.