The major challenge of the Oleana project is to find a way to visually recreate the parts of the story that are buried deep in the past. Oleana was founded in 1852 at a time where photography was in its infancy and it was still quite rare to see photographs reproduced in newspapers. In addition to this, the colony lasted only a little over a year, which made it difficult to find some time to document it. This is why there is no photographic evidence of the existence of the colony.
In the early 1900s some photographs were taken of the ruins of what once was Ole Bull’s castle. The violinist’s home turned out to resemble more a log cabin than a royal abode. In my project I make use of old photographs found in archives and historical society to re-construct and provide a visual representation of what is lost in time.
The first week has been spent driving on the roads of Minnesota and Wisconsin meeting the descendants of the Norwegians who lived in Oleana, the utopian colony founded by Norwegian violinist Ole Bull in Pennsylvania. Their forebears came in 1852 intending to settle in the Midwest. However, after disembarking in the New York harbour, they were sidetracked by Bull with promises of land and of a good life. The area around Blair and Whitehall in Wisconsin attracted a group of 8 families after the colony failed. For some of the descendants of these eight families the stories of how their ancestors came to America have been handed down, while others know very little other than they are connected to Norway. I met with descendants young and old in their homes and at the country fair of Black River Falls. I listened to their stories and looked at old family pictures.
Oleana – once a utopian colony founded by Norwegian violinist Ole Bull in 1852 in Pennsylvania – is now a visual journey into the Scandinavian emigration to America.
Documentary photographer Giulia Mangione traces the story of Oleana to describe the will, vision, hopes and desires that have united Scandinavian emigrants to America for over a century.
Through archival images, photographs from private family albums and contemporary portraits, Giulia will tell this beautiful and important story of how Scandinavians reinvented themselves at a moment in time when oil had not yet been discovered and life’s conditions were miles from today.
Follow Giulia’s upcoming trip to the US, searching for the forgotten history of Oleana, on Instagram @giulia_mangione.