The paintings of Olof Krans provide one of the best chronicles of daily life at Bishop Hill and of its citizens. With more than 90 paintings, Krans became one of Americas’s famous folk artists. Without Krans paintings there would have been no pictures of life in the colony or pictures of it's people. His paintings command very high prices.
Olof Ersson was born on November 2,1838 in a small hamlet of Sälja in Tarnsjö Parish in northern Uppland of Sweden . The family arrived at Bishop Hill in 1850 during the second wave of Jasonists to Bishop Hill. Shortly after it’s leader, Eric Janson, was murdered at the courthouse in Cambridge .
During the first two winters at the colony Olof attended school and as he got older he was an ox boy and later worked in the black smith and paint shops. When the Civil War began Lincoln called for volunteers. The colonists, proud to be Americans, raised an entire company and Olof was among the volunteeres. When he entered the army he changed his lat name to Krans. In Sweden when men entered the army they often changed their surnames. There were so many Johanssons, Anderssons and Olssons that when the name was called often several dozen men would step forward. The name Krans meant “wrath” and the whole family then took the name.
After the battle of Fort Donnelson in Tennesee he became ill and was given a disability discharge in June of 1862. During his time in the service there were two things that he looked forward to. One was returning to Bishop Hill and marrying his childhood sweetheart. Those two things became his biggest disappointment. After years of prosperity the communal colony had been dissolved in 1862 and his sweetheart had married somebody else. Olof Krans became deeply depressed and during this time he earned a living operating a horse drawn photography studio.
Eventually Krans shook off his depression and married in 1867 and moved to Galva. There he became a house painter and also did interior decorating. Krans would often use his imagination when decorating Galva’s Methodist Church soon had vines and flowers painted on the pews and ceiling of the Lutheran church had a beautiful blue sky with golden stars twinkling.
In 1896 while he was recovering from a fall that left him crippled for a time, he began painting memories and people from his beloved Bishop Hill. There were no photographs at that time but in his paintings he captured the quiet, peaceful life of the colony and the strong determined faces of the Swedish settlers. The most popular being a painting of long lines of men and woman sowing in the fields. In his painting Krans documented daily life at Bishop Hill.
On the colony’s 50 th anniversary Krans donated a large portions of his paintings to the colony. Now most of them belong to the collection of the Olof Krans Museum at Bishop Hill which was dedicated by the governor of Illinois in 1988 and witnessed by Princess Christina of Sweden .
Some of his paintings are also on display at the Tarnjö Museum in Sweden,only a short distance from the house where he was born.More than 30 paintings, presented in Tärnsjö, are photographically very well-made reproductions. The photos have been taken and produced under guidance of "Nordiska Museet's" keeper Sören Hallgren, who with great interests and very much skill accomplished these reproductions in full scale.
Olof Krans died on January 4,1916 in Altona. At the time of his death he had finished more than 90 pictures.
Krans Self Portrait
Swedes in Illinois
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