In 1883 Nikolai Astrup’s father became parish priest for Jølster Municipality and moved his family to the vicarage at Ålhus. It was here that Nikolai spent his childhood. Jølster’s nature and culture would come to play important roles in his choice of motifs as an artist. As a child, he produced small drawings and sketches and archived them in a scrapbook. These formed the basis for many of the pictures he made as an adult. But Jølster’s nature was not the only source of inspiration; he was also interested in ancient customs, folkways, building traditions and legends. Aside from periods in Trondheim, Kristiania (Oslo) and Paris, Astrup lived at Ålhus until his first child was born in 1911.
Ålhus: an important hub for the wider community
During Astrup’s lifetime Ålhus functioned as a crossroads and community centre for all of Jølster. It was here that the civil servants lived – the sheriff and the priest. The Ålhus Church was built in 1795, but before this a stave church had stood on the site since late Viking or early medieval times. The village also had its own grade school until 1903. It was located between the vicarage andÅlhustunet (a cluster of old log buildings), and can be identified as the yellow house in the middle ground of Summer Wind and Children Playing (1913). Jølster’s first post office was established in 1787 at Ålhus vicarage. From ca. 1860 until 1930, however, it was located at Ålhustunet, in the white house seen in the painting June Night, 3 am (1900).
Øvrebø Dairy was the first to be built in Ålhus (1901). In 1950 many of the small dairies merged into one – Jølster Dairy. In 1994 its old building was converted into what is today Eikaas Gallery. It contains approximately 800 artworks given to Jølster Municipality by the artist Ludvig Eikaas (1920-2010).
There used to be many shops in and around Ålhus: Hegrenes landhandel andA.K-Sunde at Hegrenes, and in Ålhus itself, a Samvirkelag and a Nærbutikk(this latter shop closed in 2011). Directly across from Eikaas Gallery is Øvrebø jewellery-smith.
On the east side of Ålhuselva (river) and Ålhusdalen (valley), you can find Lind-tunet. It is named after Andreas Lind, Jølster’s sheriff from 1870-1910. His wife, Katinkha Lind (1845-1943), took the initiative in 1890 to organize classes for women who wanted to learn the old weaving techniques of Jølster. Her contribution to the perpetuation of cultural knowledge was duly recognized, not least in 1926 when she was awarded a medal from the King. Katinkha Lind and Petra Astrup, Nikolai’s mother, wove several patterns designed by Nikolai.
Magnhild Heggheim (b. 1910) attended Den Kvinnelige Industriskole (’the woman’s industry school’) in Oslo and, in 1933, opened a weaving studio with five employees. Her daughter Norunn Øvrebø continued in her footsteps and ran the studio until the year 2000. At the neighbour farm, Synnøve Weldelboe (1908-1973) ran a bed & breakfast and weaving studio during the 1940s and ‘50s. She also employed several women. This house was destroyed in a fire in 2002.
On the east bank of Hegreneselva (river), near the river mouth, Audun Hugleikson (ca. 1240-1302) is said to have built a fortress. Hugleikson was one of the foremost statesman in Norway during the reign of King Erik Mangnusson, and he lived at Hegrenes in Ålhus. The house that stood on the ruins of Hugleikson’s fortress was therefore called Borgja. After a major land reform in the 1930s, Borgja was moved from Hegrenes to the west side of the river. It was used as a library from ca. 1920-1980, after which it was pressed into service as a young people’s community centre. It unfortunately burned down on 25 June 2006. Next to the site of the fire, below European Route E39, a stone marker commemorates Audun Hugleiksson.
Approximately half of Nikolai Astrup’s pictures have motifs from Ålhus. Kleberfossen (waterfall), partway up the mountainside, is a landmark visible in many of these Ålhus pictures. Other landmarks are included in pictures painted from the vicarage garden. In these works, one can often see a large mound on the right side in the middle ground, and in the background the mountain Klauva rises up from the far side of the lake. Yet another landmark is the white wooden house with stone table in the garden. Hjørnestuen is the only building that remains from the old vicarage where Astrup grew up. It stands alongside the turnoff to Ålhus Church. To the right of the present vicarage is Ålhustunet (a cluster of old log buildings), which Astrup pictured time and time again, in woodcuts as well as in paintings. The field of buttercups below the cluster of old buildings, as seen on a light summer evening, was one of Astrup’s favourite motifs.
Solveig Berg Lofnes