Emil Biorn was born in Oslo, Norway June 7, 1864. He was trained
at the Royal Norwegian School of Drawing and at Lindeman’s School
of Music in Oslo. He also studied in Paris, France and at the Chicago
Art Institute. In 1887, Emil Biorn came to America and settled
in Chicago, where he spent the rest of his life. A commercial artist by
profession, he was a prominent figure in the life of the Norwegian-American
community in Chicago. For many years he worked for the Barnes-Crosby Company,
one of the largest engraving houses in America. He was a member of the
Chicago Palette and Chisel Club, the Norwegian Quartette Club, Bjørgvin’s
Singing Society, and the Norwegian ski club, "Nor." Biorn
was married in Chicago on December 23, 1891 to Sigrid Lowum. They made
their home in Chicago where he died in 1935.
Emil Biorn achieved national recognition both as an artist and
as a musician. He was a composer whose works were performed in Norway
and America. From 1906 to 1914, he was principal conductor of the Norwegian
Singers’ Society of America. In 1914, he conducted that chorus during
their trip to Norway to help celebrate the centennial of the Norwegian
As an artist, Emil Biorn displayed a mastery of many media. He
was a sculptor and painter. He was also a gifted cartoonist and caricaturist.
His works were shown in many exhibitions both in the United States and
Norway including the Norse-American Centennial exhibition held at the
Minnesota State Fair Grounds in 1925. He also exhibited at the Art Institute
of Chicago between 1900 and 1912. His paintings and drawings decorated
many Norwegian-American institutions in Chicago including Normaendenes
Sangforening, Chicago Norske Klub, and the Norwegian Children’s Home.
Recently his works were included in the 1980 exhibition organized in Northfield,
MN, "Scandinavian Paintings in Northfield." In 1989 his paintings
traveled to Norway for the exhibit "Norway in America" sponsored
by the Norwegian-American Museum. He also provided illustrations for a
number of books including Erling: a Tale from the Land of the Midnight-Sun
by Ola J. Saervold (1898).
The Luther College Fine Arts Collection contains a number of paintings
by Biørn. Chief among them are works depicting significant events
in the history of Norway which he donated to the Norwegian Children’s
Home in 1916. These 13 paintings hung for many years in the reception
room at the Home located in Edison Park, an area of Chicago. In 1961,
they were donated to Luther College when the Home was closed and the building
demolished. (As an aside, one the paintings was cut in half, perhaps when
reframed after being donated to the College.) These paintings were placed
on the Inventory of American Paintings at the National Museum of American
Art, Smithsonian Institution, in 1994. An additional oil painting on board
by Biørn was donated to the Fine Arts Collection in 1993 by Dr.
Harold Hanson, Luther alumnus and biologist, entitled "Viking at
Signal Fire on Mountain Top."
Strand, A.E. A History of the Norwegians in Illinois. Chicago,
IL: John Anderson Publishing Co., 1905;
Sundby-Hansen, Harry. Norwegian
Immigrant Contributions to America’s Making. New York, NY: Independent
Hanson, Carl G.O. My Minneapolis. Minneapolis, MN:
Standard Press, 1956;
Erickson, Rolf H. "Norwegian-American Artists"
in Essays on Norwegian-American Literature and History. Northfield,
MN: Norwegian American Historical Association, 1986;
Lovoll, Odd S. A
Century of Urban Life: the Norwegians in Chicago before 1930. Northfield,
MN: Norwegian American Historical Association, 1988;
"Chicago Kunst: Christian Abrahamsen and the Norwegian-American
Community." Vesterheim. 3:1 (2005), 4-25;
Nordics in America: The Future of Their Past.
Nelson, Marion. ”Norwegian-American Painting in the Context of the
American Art.” Northfield, MN: The
Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1993.