Ibsen's Venstøp* will never be the same...

 but probably more like in Henrik's time   NORSK tekst

«New Venstøp" will be ready for the 200th anniversary of Henrik Ibsen's birth in 2028. The large fireplace that stood there when Henrik grew up is already there - on the poster. All photos © Per Helge Berreford - click on them for large images, captions included in the text below.


Ny Christiansen i døra

During a tour of Ibsen's Venstøp in August 2020, parts of the building's interior looked like during the "excavation of the Oseberg ship". Back then, during the corona, it was architect Finn Christiansen from Porsgrunn who showed us around. The archaeological investigations of the building had begun; the work to find something that could tell; – how it actually might have been like at the time when Henrik Ibsen was a child. 

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One of the big discoveries at the start of the "excavations" were the traces of a big fireplace for cooking with a baking oven, same place as the later made up «maid's room». A huge one! The outline of the foundation was clearly there when the floors in this oldest part of the house were torn up. Also the plastic pipe from the public "restoration work" in the 1980s. 

Venstøp 8

Not long after Ibsen's time, Venstøp became a semi-detached house. The fireplace, the baking oven and the original chimney disappeared. The room division now was new. 

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In the summer of 2022, eight cubic meters of clay were collected from the Venstøp area. The frost during the winter makes it a more flexible clay when the original stuff is built up this spring. The room dividers were of recent date. Finn Christiansen stands approximately where the grua with the large baking oven was. (First photo.)


At the end of October 2022, museum artisan Karina Børven received at Venstøp. Now the excavations had progressed even further; "to the bone" so to speak. But it was clearer what was to come. She's been busy! Venstøp had both been demolished further, and a great deal of the interior was restored. Today, the interior is even more "naked". She has torn down the room dividers and made ready for the masons in the spring. The chimney is of recent date, the stone will be reused. The chimney from the fireplace and the baking oven had a different run! Finn Christiansen discovered where it went after careful seam testing in the attic (photo to the right). 

When Finn Christiansen showed around in 2020, the question was: Would it be financially possible to restore the building «according to all the rules of art»? Also; to complete it by 20 March 2028? At Henrik Ibsen's 200th birthday anniversary! 

Venstøp Finn Christiansen-3

For example, the stateroom itself was a challenge, he said. In terms of division and especially in terms of interior craftsmanship, they had found much inappropriate. As in several other parts of the house. Museum people restored to the best of their ability, around 1980 it is believed, as the performances and skills were then. 

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The level among traditional craftsmen is many notches higher now. But it will take time and cost big money. Karina Børven has no doubt that everything will be in order by 2028. 


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Outside, the museum has already restored a badly repaired and newly painted facade to the west (photo). The door that was there last time has been moved, actually it is gone. To the south there is now a "stripped" gable wall with paneled windows, with a towering stilt in front. Here there will be contemporary  windows and panels (photo). 

In one of the pictures a little further down on the right, from 2020, Finn Christiansen points to where they found the right wallpaper, the one that Henrik has seen. The room is located behind the stateroom room, at the back of the house. It was probably the living room for the Ibsen family. The building archaeologists had then finished their work. Wallpaper and color samples have since been studied under a microscope, and perhaps found? 

Venstøp Finn Christiansen-2

Below, Karina Børven has cleaned and made the room ready for the traditional craftsmen. The fireplace chimney is now gone. In the valuation papers Jørgen Haave found, was there perhaps no oven or fireplace here at the time? Everything that is to be restored in terms of interior design must be done as it was done in Henrik's time. Further down, Karina shows where the real house fungus has wreaked havoc, and a newly-timbered corner. The stones, still infected with fungus, must be cleaned and perhaps reused. 

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It was in 2017 that the bomb was dropped. Historian Jørgen Haave at the Telemark museum stood up in TA** and said: The house, as it had been presented for years, is not representative of what it was like in the years when Henrik Ibsen grew up there. Far from it. Newly discovered written sources, especially some fire rates documens, shed new light on this. 

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Haave's book "The Ibsen Family" had been released. There he follows every member of the Ibsen family - from cradle to grave, including his illegitimate son. This publication from 2017 will remain a turning point in the rich Ibsen literature. Here the focus turns from Snipetorp*** to Venstøp. Facts and events that were unknown or pushed aside are presented. A test of endurance for the author - and a non-fiction event! 

«There has been a lot of speculation about dates and Ibsen's family throughout the ages. Many books about the poet from Skien have been characterized by wishful thinking.» The museum director Erik Edvardsen at the Ibsen Museum in Oslo told TA in 2017. 

Venstøp Karina Vindu

He added: «Henrik Ibsen laid the foundation for his writing at Venstøp. I see many parallels to Shakespeare's Stratford. People make pilgrimages to Shakespeare's birthplace. I think Skien municipality must concentrate on what is real.» This was the starting point for the ongoing efforts at the property today. 

Venstøp Karina glassbiter


Henrik's family did not live, as has been claimed, in poor conditions at Venstøp. Ibsen's Venstøp was an aristocratic home, despite his father's financial blunders. However, Knut Ibsen had greater care for the facade, Finn Christiansen told us in 2020. It had to be «great – seen from the street». 

But neither the facade nor the rooms and functions have remained like then in the following years. The sweet entrance the guides have taken us into, with the siblings' name tags on the pegs are pure imagination. There was no door on the entire facade! The one in place now has moved a little to the right on the wall, and on a daily basisis is behind anonymous hidden doors. A compromise. A door is nice to have, as Karina said. 

In other parts of the large house, especially to the north-east, there are scant sources of how it actually was back then. Since there was no door on the long west wall, it is still uncertain where people entered and left the house. There must be some «maybes»» when finished. 

Nevertheless; we begin to glimpse what is to come - when the restoration is finished. The drawings Jørgen Haave found deep in the archives provide the guides. The modern water closet and shower by the stairs up to the famous loft, seen there in 2020, are now gone (photo). The stairs will be moved and the run changed. Both here and elsewhere the older parts have been cleaned up. Only the stateroom looked in October 2022 much like the picture further up from 2020. 


Retrieving, and using , the old craft techniques – all the way back to Stone Age flint-knapping – has become the latest trend in archaeology. Both archaeologists and traditional craftsmen have researched and experimented to develop methods and, above all, skills. It goes by the name of experimental archaeology. 

Nowadays, the genre is not least visible in everything that happens around the recreation of Viking Age houses, clothes and tools. There are people now with skills in most of «the ways they used to do it». Also at Ibsen's Venstøp the materials, tools and techniques used need to be researched before they can be used over again. 

There are many types of craftsmen that the Telemark Museum will eventually have to engage, old style masons for example. Karina has picked apart the remains as far as it goes before the newer chimney falls down, she has cleaned the stones and neatly stacked them. A main rule in this type of work is reuse. As much as possible should be original. Traditional painters will recreate the stately living room. 

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The return project started in earnest last year. Karina has had the daily work of cleaning up and getting an overview of the tasks that await. Exciting! she says. Almost nerdy. 

Window glass: Not all of the small panes of glass are complete or original anymore, but many are! So what do you do then? Researching glassblowing for window glass at the time when the original glasses were made. 

There were two methods. An ancient one called «Tafelglass», a method known from before the year 0 – and «Kronglass». The latter method was developed by glassblowers in France in the 14th century, but was kept secret. In the 17th century it came into use in English glass cottages. From the middle of the 18th century, both types were also produced in Norway. Mostly Tafelglass - until Kronglass «won» in the middle of the 19th century. 

Both types of glass can be found in the windows at Venstøp (photo). Their shine is different when the sunlight gives them a glow, says Karina. Tafelglass  which is flatter – and more brittle, has a feel like when a small breeze blows over a pond. Kronglass has a pattern like when you drop a stone in the water. In the windows just small squares of the large, flat circle from the glassblowing are used. Nobody masters these ways of blowing pane glass, mind you in the size they were able to before. But Karina knows of the only glassblowing shop in Europe that comes closest. 

Then there is the house itself, the constitution of the wood. Stick ants – and real house mushrooms! has ravaged far into the building. The fungus-infested corner with a wall facing the hallway, which Karina saved, was re-timbered with new timber as in the old days - a completely normal repair that has been carried out in timber houses at all times. She also does it in the old fashion way when moldings are to be returned and moss is to be pushed into the gap at the back. She finds this moss near by her home at Skotfoss. 

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Also mysteries, strange things appear. When she found pieces of glass in the timber wall behind the panel, it was an unknown phenomenon in the conservation environment. The timber and carpentry is the oldest in the house, from a 17th-century barn. But broken glass was once available while the timber was lying open. It was probably put in the cracks against the mouse plague. 

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Some mouldings, which had been battered by house buck, she nevertheless carefully planed for reuse. But then the planing steel hit metal! Not nails, as she immediately thought. It was lead!? Must have been rooted while the tree was standing. A shot from a muzzle-loading rifle, she learned, the kind used in bear hunting. They have been in the tree trunk quite a while after the bear was shot. The deforestation around the close by Fossum ironworks is a well-known fact. Perhaps it was the only pine with carpentry quality left? 


Venstøp at the end of October 2022: On the other side of the road the entire field was uncovered. The excavator was running. Preparations for the car park, which of course must be in place by 2028? No! Improvement of water and drainage for the two houses down the road. Not municipal property! Someone (in the municipality) gets a long way to go, as the visitors will in 2028. 

* Venstøp – is the rural property where Henrik Ibsen grew up, in farmlands just north of Skien.

** TA – Telemark Arbeiderblad, local newspaper in later years known as TelemarksAvisa.

*** Snipetorp – a street in the old town of Skien. The Ibsen family moved there just after Henrik left home for a job in Grimstad at the age of 15. 

© Per Helge Berrefjord 2023.      Kontakt.