The art on the walls, the photographs, the entire atmosphere at Nutheim Gjestgiveri speaks of an eventful history. It’s not hard to tune into the ambience of bygone days, from the time when many of Norway’s best known artists flocked to the guest house.
Text: Edda Espeland / Translation: Linda Vikaune / Photo: The hotel
In the first part of the 1900s this is where they came to find something genuinely Norwegian. They were inspired by Telemark’s distinctly Norwegian nature and culture, which to this day fills Norwegians with national pride. Telemark has always offered exquisite carpentry, Norwegian rose painting, jewellery making and characteristically Norwegian architecture. Many of our national folk tales and stories were also collected in this area towards the end of the 1800s, notably by Jørgen Moe and Magnus B. Landstad, who was vicar of Kviteseid in the 1830s. Add the magnificent landscape and wonderful light, and it’s no wonder Nutheim became a natural meeting place for artists like Henrik Sørensen, Erik Werenskiold, Kai Fjell and Harald Kihle, Aage Storstein, Johannes Rian, Eva Bull Holte and many more. Here they could enjoy the peace and quiet, the light, fresh air and fantastic scenery – but also the food, drink and hospitality. Creative forces were unleashed here, forces that have set their indelible mark on Norwegian art history.
In 1946 artists and brothers Erlend and Terje Grøstad came to Nutheim. They found a lively artistic community and met and married two sisters from the hotel. Terje Grøstad built a house and studio and established himself as a painter, graphic artist and church artist. His brother Erlend and his wife Anne took over the hotel in 1957 and ran it for 50 years. Today their daughter, sculptress Ellen Grøstad Barstad, carries on the family tradition with her own daughter Solveig, running the hotel in the spirit of Ellen’s parents. She is both sculptress and hostess, although the hotel takes up more and more of her time. There is always an art exhibition in the basement, the guests expect it.
She has also carried on her father’s tradition of leading a painting school as well as being a creative artist. Today Ellen runs three or four courses during the summer in partnership with the Open University, offering courses for beginners as well as advanced students.
Her daughter Solveig is in charge of the kitchen, a veritable food artist who often draws on old recipes and develops them, and the menu offers everything from great-grandmother’s sour cream porridge to French inspired duck dishes. Solveig and her experienced Slovakian colleague cook everything from scratch and aim to use produce from local suppliers.
Ellen takes us to the Prestegårdstunet, the vicarage, at Nutheim which has three old buildings, among them the old Hjartdal vicarage from the 1600s, which was moved to Nutheim in 1963. She has made guest rooms upstairs and hosts smaller events downstairs, offering exclusive catering for up to 25 guests.
Downstairs is a small chapel consecrated for ecumenical use and big enough for 60 people. Erlend Grøstad decorated the beautiful chapel, and when Norwegian folk music fills the air it creates a magical atmosphere, just like it must have done when renowned artists visited Nutheim more than a hundred years ago.
Today’s hosts have the same clear purpose in their day-to-day work as their predecessors must have had: They want to meet their guests with an open heart.