Woodcarver Hans Larsen Karlstad (1748-1832)

Pulpit carved by Hans Larsen Karlstad, painted by Peder Aadnes in Hov church in Land, on the occasion of the church’s opening in 1782.

I have had a brick wall for more than 10 years, my great great great great grandmother Karen Hansdatter Carlstad. I could not find where she was born or who her parents were. She married Niels Hansen Brattlia on 17th of January 1805. They had nine children. He was a sargent when they married in Land parish and he had a daughter a few months after his marriage, with another women.  Niels and Karen moved in about 1810 to Christiania (today’s Oslo).

But due to some creative thinking, I found a way to solve the puzzle. I used the name of her sons to find her father, I knew that this method was possible if they had followed Norwegian naming traditions and because some of the names were not very common. I will later make a blog post about the way I solved this brick wall.

Karen’s father had a very common name too, but a occupation which was new to me. He was a bilthugger or in English woodcarver. The word we most often use in Norway is treskjærer, the designation bilthugger has its origin in Germany.. I searched his name in combination with his occupation and found more information about his life and family; and that he was one who had carved the pulpit in Hov church for its opening in 1782. He was paid the handsome amount of 75 riksdaler, quite a sum in those days.

Hov church March 2023.

And on March 8th this year I had the pleasure of seeing the pulpit, along with two cousins, all descendants of Hans. This was an exceptionally cold day, minus 14 degrees Celsius and almost clear skies. Hov church is on a plateau with a view of Randsfjorden. Hov has about 2000 inhabitants and is 115 kilometers north of Oslo. So this was quite a trip on slippery and narrow roads.   

Peder Aadnes was the one who painted the pulpit. He was the first artist (kunstmaler) of this type in Norway and he also painted the altarpiece in this church. It is assumed that he also painted sleighs and wagons. (In winter it was possible to use horse and sleigh on the roads, but also on Randsfjorden, one of Norway’s largest lakes, seen on the left side of the church.) A nice-looking vehicle was also important back in those days. Hans Larsen might have carved these, at least he did some work for Aadnes, indications of this have been found in account books. Hans Larsen was a husmannssønn (in English a cottar’s son) so it is quite extraordinary that he achieved the occupation and fame that he did. It is not known for sure whether Hans had been trained in Christiania or in his home area, Land, which had many skillful woodcarvers.

The entrance to the altarpiece.

Hans Larsen was born in 1748 on the western side of Randsfjorden. His parents were Barbroe Hansdatter Tranby and Lars Larsen, living as husmenn (cottars or smallholders). He was baptized in a church north of Hov called Fluberg, built in wood in 1703 and still standing. At the time of his confirmation (in the Lutheran church), he lived at Store Odnes, the farm where the man, Svend Aadnes, in charge of building the Hov church, had lived as a boy. Hans was a bright boy, and he got the honor of standing on the church floor as number three in line (kind of like an orchestra, where the best one is the first violinist and so on.) He married Kari Kristoffersdatter Øverby in 1773. She was also from the western side of Randsfjorden. At the time of their marriage, they lived at Store Odneseie, implying that they had a smallholding under the main farm, Store Odnes. They came to live at Karlstad, hence their daughter Karen’s surname Carlstad. They had six children: Marit, Kirstine, Christian, Marte, Lars and of course Karen. The other siblings settled down in the area around Karlstad while Karen left with her husband and children to live in Christiania.

The balustrade round the altar, painted by Peder Aadnes.

The church was consecrated in 1782, and its interior is ornately decorated. Peder Aadnes painted in Roccoco style and he had elements of the traditional Norwegian rosemaling (rose-painting).  One carving style was Roccaille, originating in France, with the use of curves and ornamentation with pebbles and seashells. It is believed that Hans might have picked up this style from craftsmen who came from Christiania, or from visiting the city himself.

Hans Larsen participated, with other local craftsmen, in wood carving in other nearby churches like Bruflat, Aurdal, Skrautvål and Slidredomen.

Hans died in 1832, 84 years old, while his wife died in 1834. She was then poverty- stricken.

You can read more about her son Ingvald Johan Hansen here.

End notes. Norwegian spelling has varied greatly throughout time. The observant reader might have seen some similarities between Aadnes and Odnes. It is the same name but written differently at different periods of history. Carlstad and Karlstad are both used, when Karen Hansdatter Carlstad married it was spelled with a C, while her father is called Karlstad in written sources today.

The capital of Norway is now Oslo. Parts of the city have had different names and its boundaries have been expanded in recent centuries. I have used names and spellings that were correct at the time in question.

Other sources

Own genealogical research

Hans Larsen Karlstad, også en kunstner fra Aadnestiden by Terje Nordraak from Landingen årbok for 2009

Hov kirke 1781-1981 by Arthur Aas

Store norske leksikon: https://snl.no/Peder_Aadnes

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s