'Viking Elm' sculpture pays homage to Norwegian immigrants

Chainsaw artist Jason Soderlund uses his chainsaw on the Viking Elm. (Adam Kurtz/ Grand Forks Herald)

After cutting down a large, old American elm tree on his property, a Grand Forks man turned over the stump to a chainsaw artist in homage not only to the tree, but to the Norwegian immigrants who came to the area -- in particular, an immigrant who helped build his house in 1888.

Lael Schmidt, whose home is on South Fifth Street, had to have the tree taken down in September, due to Dutch elm disease. His idea for the stump? A giant viking. The idea came from a note he found written then signed on a rafter in his attic, which read: Brede Kvalstad, August 20, 1888.

“It’s a nod to the influence of Norwegians in the area,” said Schmidt about the tree sculpture.

He reckons the tree was planted at about the same time as the house was built. He said he has photos of the house from the 1890s showing a young elm tree.

“I’d like to think he, or someone very much like him, planted the elm that provided subsequent shelter, comfort and protection to all families, including ours, that have occupied this home,” Schmidt told the Herald.


That’s where the idea of "Viking Elm," as Schmidt calls it, came from. To accomplish that goal, he turned over the tree stump to chainsaw artist Jason Soderlund, who, along with his brother, runs Soderlund’s Wood Mill in Chisago City, Minn., which lies to the northeast of the Twin Cities.

Soderlund has been doing chainsaw art for about 15 years. He used 3D CAD to design the statue, which he modeled off of the History Channel’s drama series “Vikings.”

“I’ve carved a number of Vikings myself, in the past,” said Soderlund. “Where we live is a real Scandanivian area, probably kind of like here.”

Soderlund estimates that it will take 40 or more hours to complete the sculpture. Once it is complete, he will add a separately carved sword and shield to the over 10-foot statue.

Schmidt said he saw the name on the rafter in his attic after having lived in the house for 30 years. He said he researched the name on to try to find any relatives in the area, but was unable to locate any. Schmidt said he believes Kvalstad may have immigrated back to Norway.

“I intend to place his name on the base of the 'Viking Elm' to recognize him and all other immigrants who have worked to make Grand Forks and the surrounding area such a wonderful place to live and raise a family,” Schmidt told the Herald.

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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