Before Hard Hats, Berhard Berntsen - Fine Arts
  • Date 1938
  • Place of Origin Falls Church, Virginia
  • Creator Bernhard Berntsen

The artist’s note that accompanies this painting states, “Myself, center, and men I worked with.  From left to right: Charlie Anderson, a carpenter; B. Berntsen, and Christian Johnsen raising a sidewalk bridge column. I appear again in the hoist tower pulling the rope. Christian came from Moss, Norway, and was an iron worker from Local 361, Brooklyn, New York. He was going to retire at the same time I did. He had bought a ticket for a trip to Moss. But it was not to be. He fell 45 floors to his death in a hoist tower of the same type you see in this painting. The last man is Jimmy Thinker, a foreman, kneeling and reading the blueprint. He came from London, England.”

Berntsen was born in Oslo in 1900. He worked as a galley boy on the S.S. Bergensfjord, signing off in New York City in 1919. He moved to Chicago and became involved with many of the city’s Norwegian-American organizations. Through these clubs, he dabbled in the arts. His profession was building scaffolding around skyscrapers to facilitate construction or repairs. In 1928 he moved to Brooklyn to join the Chrysler Building scaffolding crew.

Berntsen often sketched coworkers, or people that he saw on the street during his lunch break. He won a scholarship to study at the Art Students’ League and took evening classes from John Stuart Curry. Throughout his lifetime, Berntsen participated in many solo and group exhibitions, including a show in his hometown of Oslo in 1984. Berntsen died in 1992.

Vesterheim has more than 150 artworks by Bernhard Berntsen, mostly oil paintings and crayon drawings on newspaper.

  • Materials Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions height, 36 inches; width, 48 inches
  • Identifier / Source 1984.056.005 - Museum Purchase
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