Sunday, March 29, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 4

Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on August 23rd, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 25 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 25

Looking back, moving forward: While reminiscing about its 30-year history, the Elverhoj Museum in Solvang plants a foot firmly in the future

By Rebecca Rose

The building that sits on Elverhoy Way is an illustration of exceptional contradictions.

At once giving off a staunch sense of antiquity, with its half-timbered building style indicative of the Danish architecture reflected throughout Solvang, the facade of Elverhoj Museum of History and Art is nothing if not traditional. It's the kind of building you would expect to find in a place where tourists from around the globe come to snap pictures of windmills and treat themselves to aebleskivers and kransekage.

by Luis Ramirez

But it's inside where things take in interesting turn. 

On any given day during the year, tourists might find internationally renowned artists like sculptor Neil Goodman milling around the gallery making minor adjustments to his massive installations. Or perhaps one might notice local artist Pamela Zwehl-Burke meticulously arranging a spotlight over a piece of conceptual book art. It might even be the day that the museum unveils a once in a lifetime look at the collected works of someone like the late Disney artist Eyvind Earle. 

"It's just a remarkable place," said Esther Jacobsen Bates, executive director of the Elverhoj. "People come and they find us for so many different reasons, and they get here and they realize there's something really special going on."

Preserve Grazing
by Nicole Strasburg

In August, the museum begins celebrations for its 30-year anniversary, kicked off by a staggering retrospective titled Past, Present, and Future, which features 40 artists, all of whom have displayed their work during the museum's tenure.

But the ambitious window into the museum's history also serves as a look into the future of a museum whose leadership is not content to stay rooted in its past. For the Elverhoj, the long road back to its origins ultimately leads to a vibrant future full of new artists and boundless possibilities. 



by Eyvind Earle

Since the museum first opened in 1988, it has carved a niche as an advocate for the arts, exhibiting more than 400 artists throughout the years. To mark the 30th anniversary, Jacobsen Bates set out to highlight the work of artists who have not only defined the museum's history but also those who are poised to determine its future. 

"We really wanted to make this a visual tribute to the milestone we're marking here," Jacobsen Bates said. "It's a curated selection by contemporary artists who have shown in the gallery through the decades and are still making art."

The title of the show includes a reference to artists who made an impact on the museum but are no longer alive. Artists include the late Earle, a Disney artist famed for his background paintings in films such as Snow White, and Viggo Brandt-Erichsen and his wife, Martha Mott. The Elverhoj building, itself a work of art, was the product of their work together. 

Brandt-Erichsen, a renowned sculptor who died in 1955, and Mott, a painter, moved to Solvang in 1949 to begin work on their dream project, a replica of 18th century Danish farmhouses. Touches of the artistry are present in almost every inch of the building, from the wrought-iron work to the hand-painted panels and especially the massive hand-carved front door that serves as the building's main entrance. 

Alamo Pintado Creek
by Teresa McNeil MacLean

"They left their artistic imprint here," Jacobsen Bates said. "It's a really beautiful building, and people remember it for that."

In 1980, Mott donated the building to Solvang for the purpose of creating a community museum. She lived at the Elverhoj until her death in 1983. After a series of renovations, the museum reopened in 1988 as a public museum. The Elverhoj's first show featured the artwork of Mott and Brandt-Erichsen. 

Viggo Brandt-Erichsen and his wife Martha Mott were the artists behind much of the detailed work on the building which now houses the The Elverhoj Museum of History and Art. 

"I think it's a beautiful backstory," said Holli Harmon, a local artist who has shown at Elverhoj. "This was an artists' home. It's given us something we can use as a ladder to move forward and up in our work. That's incredible, to be able to leave that as a legacy." 

The museum also earned a reputation for nurturing the work of young artists in the community. In 2007, artists Luis Ramirez, Sarah Arlen, Lauren N. Bassett, Kristen Bates, Dawn Cerny, Kari Crist, Mackenzie Duncan, Turner Mark-Jacobs, Alissa Massey, Lily Nathan, Karina Puente, Ethan Turpin, and Chelsea Ward were featured in a show titled On the Edge, which looked at the artwork of students from Santa Ynez Valley. 

"I think that definitely over the last dozen years we've tried to focus on shows that, on occasion, are the younger up-and-coming artists," Jacobsen Bates said. "It's a very diverse group of artists."

The chance to show at an established museum was a monumental opportunity for young local artists. For some, it wouldn't be the last time their work would hang in the Elverhoj. 



Harmon said small art museums like the Elverhoj give artists a chance to be more accessible to their local community. In 2016, Harmon debuted Revelations: Culture and the Human Landscape of the Central Coast at the museum. The show highlighted a series of Harmon's portraits of local residents and featured work in paper tapestry and other media.

Carved, unglazed vessel with Biomorph
by Lindy Kern

"What I appreciated about it was that small museums are often undervalued as art museums," Harmon said. "We go to the big museums to see famous artists from the past or very accomplished contemporary artists, but that's maybe a handful of artists out of the many working today. Small art museums give us a chance to be more accessible and closer to our community." 

by Channing Peake

Joseph Knowles is an artist and member of the Cherokee Nation who spent much of his life studying architecture and design. In 2016, he presented a stirring exhibit at the Elverhoj called The Evolving Perspective, which drew on his Native American heritage. He said Jacobsen Bates, who started at the museum in 2004, had a reputation early on for doing innovative exhibits and exploring the work of local artists. 

"It is a place where people are very likely to find art that is definitely contemporary and cutting-edge," Knowles said. "Some of the other places are a little more limited to the more conventional work with emphasis on landscape or things you might be more expecting to find in the valley. You might walk into the Elverhoj and see something there you'd be surprised to see."



Harmon said that the Elverhoj remains successful, in part, by carefully negotiating a balance between keeping an eye out for art that pushes boundaries yet still acknowledges the social mores.

The exterior of the Elverhoj Museum of History and Art is a replica of 18th century Danish farmhouses, created by husband-and-wife artists Viggo Brandt-Erichsen and Martha Mott, who moved to Solvang in 1949. Mott donated their home to the city in 1980, and since 1988, it’s been a public gallery for artists near and far, who are being celebrated in the current exhibit Past, Present, Future.

"I think there's always a disconnect between the most contemporary art that's being produced out there and the general population," Harmon said. "But they're not trying to be the Museum of Contemporary Art where everything is so cutting-edge. I think they've done a wonderful job in creating a bridge that gives us opportunity to learn. It's not ever presented in a way where it feels like an elitist experience to understand art."

Harmon said one of the best examples was a recent exhibit called Recuérdame/Remember Me, which debuted in 2017 and featured artists Rosalie Lopez and Luis Ramirez (second and first generation Mexican immigrants respectively). 

Ramirez, a local artist who works in the agricultural industry, presented work from a distinctly rural immigrant perspective, reflective of the people and spaces he interacted with as an immigrant and an agricultural worker. Lopez, a conceptual artist, explored themes of loss and survival using paper cutting and printmaking.

"Here was a show featuring the work of local contemporary artists from a large population in the Central Coast," Harmon said. "It was very progressive, and probably a lot of people hadn't seen anything like it before in Solvang, Buellton, Lompoc, or Santa Ynez. It was really exciting to see work at that level."

Born in Mexico and raised in the Santa Ynez Valley, Ramirez was trained in a more traditional style and considers his work representational with hints of abstraction. Since debuting at the Elverhoj as a young artist in 2007, he has participated in three additional shows.

"There really wasn't a contemporary art space that wasn't money driven," he said. "It's pretty cool when you have a place like [Elverhoj] led by someone like [Jacobsen Bates] who is trying to move the art scene forward."

The work he was creating about immigrant labor in the region was part of a trajectory that preceded the 2016 election, Ramirez said. In the context of the election, the work–which went on to be featured in Recuérdame/Remember Me–took on an entirely new tone. He believes it took a leap of faith for the museum to present their vision. 

Ramirez said that the museum enables artists such as himself to take risks, to focus on generating a conversation rather than money. 

"Solvang is pretty conservative," he said. "My work and [Lopez's] work were pushing envelopes. That [show] maybe wouldn't have happened in another art space locally."

Jacobsen Bates said the museum strives for inclusivity, to reflect the variety of cultures within the greater Central Coast community. The "future" portion of the show highlights artists such as Ramirez, whose work was nurtured through participation in shows and who were also mentored by art committee members who helped them along in their career. 

"I try really hard to focus on diversity in the subject matter and in the artists," Jacobsen Bates said. "We want to make every show a teaching and a learning opportunity. I never want to have information that explains the art. I want the viewer to take away their own judgements." 

The retrospective will continue though Nov. 11 and feature a variety of coinciding activities and events meant to connect the audience to the artists and their work. In October, the Elverhoj will present a poetry reading inspired by the show as well as a public discussion on the vitality of the arts community in the Santa Ynez Valley. 

"I always learn something new," Jacobsen Bates said. "I enjoy the experience of the exhibition, and I'm sad to see it go. But then, the next one comes along and it's amazing to me how the energy changes from one show to the next. It's kind of a magical thing to me." 

Contact Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose at

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