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|July 11, 1900
|January 10, 1997 (aged 96)
St. Alexius Hospital of Bismarck, ND
|Lorentz and Martha (Thompson) Lorentzen
Henry Lorentzen (1900 -1997) Pioneer Artist of ND, who was celebrated by Governor George A. Sinner of ND in September of 1989, lived his entire life near Washburn, North Dakota. Henry was strongly influenced by the rich history of the Native American's of his area and the Missouri River bottom land with rugged natural surroundings, unspoiled since Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery. In 1997, USA Today made note of his passing.
Henry Lorentzen was born on July 11, 1900 to Lorentz and Martha (Thompson) Lorentzen, Norwegian pioneers, at their homestead on the Buffalo Paunch Creek three miles west of Washburn. His father and grandfather had been sea-faring folk of Norway. Henry had 7 siblings, 3 sisters, Edna, Estella, Hilda and 4 brother's Emanuel, Louis, Haldor and Osborne. Enamored by his surroundings, Henry lived his entire life along the beautiful Missouri River and was widely known. He married Grace Barlow Sept. 27 1931, at Wallace, SD, in a double wedding ceremony with his brother Osborne and Grace’s sister, Blanche.
As a youth, Henry experienced much of Washburn’s early days including meeting Captain Grant Marsh of the famed Far West Riverboat, news paper man and writer, Joseph Taylor and stunning Native American encampments along the banks of the Missouri River. Henry was in the first Boy Scout troop in the state, which sprang up in Washburn in 1915. In 1996, being the last survivor of that early group, he could remember all 26 of the boys by name. A photo is on display at the McLean County Historical Society Museum in Washburn, ND. He also recalled that in his fifth year of grade school his teacher, Miss Anna Nordin encouraged him artistically. Art Flourished in a country school, while children worked with paints and pencils, Miss Nordin would play music with a Victrola Gramophone. Henry could easily recall the music, one example he cited was Humoresque Op. 101 No. 7, in G-flat major. Music and art lit a fire of creative work in young Henry and a lifelong pursuit began with simple tools; pencils and watercolor paints.
Henry farmed, raised cattle, and specialized in raising Pinto Horses, AKA Indian Paints, descended from the Spanish barb horses brought to America by the Conquistadors. For many years horse raising and showing was of prime importance. He raised two champion stallions; Matador and Hank's Carbine, which were sired by one of the first quarter horses in ND. In later years he went from showing his own horses to being an inspector for different horse registration groups and judging horse shows in this tri-state area. From childhood until the year of his death he had his own horse.
Grace and Henry had 5 children, the first, a daughter named Martha Grace died within 12 days of her birth. Family attributed the death to the incompetency of an inebriated country doctor. This sad reality was haunting to Henry until his final days. Happily, four healthy children were to follow, beginning with two daughters, Estell Lorentzen Torgerson (1934) and Yvonne Lorentzen McGuire (1936) and then two sons, Norman (1938) and Ross (1940). In these, the child raising years, Henry did several things to earn a living in addition to the ranch income. To begin with, there was employment in the underground coal mines located just NW of the old homestead. During WW II he worked at the Ottertail Power Plant just outside of Washburn. He then served as McLean County Tax assessor for 13 years.
Pioneer Artist of North Dakota; A Lifestyle
While local neighbors were busy farming and ranching, Henry juggled a young family and several work situations, which did not deter his consuming interest and driving motivation to paint. Henry was a self-taught artist, who made it his business to study his surroundings and the work of other artists that he admired. At the time of his death he had an abundance of newspaper clippings, art magazine subscriptions, and books that celebrated the work of other artists. It was also discovered that he held memberships for several art associations from state to state. He had a deep appreciation for the beauty of North Dakota’s wide-open space and its Native American people. His aim was to depict the cowboy at peace, not flashing a six-gun. Images of picturesque ranches adorned with cabins in all seasons occupied his canvas.
It was in the 1930’s during the Depression that he started painting with the idea of selling to provide additional income. North Dakota Ranchers commissioned paintings depicting their ranches, these paintings were often done in water color, framed under glass for protection and with a dreamy pastel glow. In later years Henry became a master of oil and acrylic work that dripped with vibrant paint. Embracing his ability to put forth the beauty of the ND landscape in vivid color, Henry was confident in monochromatic works and the Northern Lights became a muse. Suddenly what began as a boyhood past-time would be his life work. He often told his family that he had to work his craft on a daily basis. “To stay in practice, to improve and to grow as an artist.” He kept this mantra until the end, and in the process put forth hundreds of depictions. Landscapes of the beloved Missouri River with blue buttes in the background, a prairie scene with a Meadowlark in the foreground, to name a couple. His love for the native people led him to a heroine, Sacagawea. You will find her form overlooking the bluffs and the Missouri River, with baby, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, on her back.
Lewis and Clark was also a great fascination for the artist, so much that he and his older brother Louis :Lorentzen, struck a deal for prime Missouri River Bottomland with the McLean County Historical Society. They sold for under market price, or more accurately, for the price of the legal paper work. The goal, to support the vision of local historians. Local Lutheran Pastor Elmer Odland and Henry’s cousin, Joe Thompson (mill operator) undertook the project to place the Fort Mandan replica in just the right spot beside the Missouri River so that future generations could enjoy the rich history of the expedition. The dream was realized as Washburn commemorated the new Fort Mandan Replica with a Pageant in 1972, in which Henry's own friends and relatives took on historical roles.
Countless Lorentzen paintings hang in homes throughout North Dakota and the nation, some overseas. One such example of a purchase was by the Bismarck Chamber of Commerce. In 1952 they presented Governor Shivers of Texas with a watercolor depicting a snow-covered badland’s ranch. Because of the severe winter that year, he was forced to walk in deep snow into Washburn and place the painting on the train bound for Bismarck in order to make it in time for the presentation
Collaborating with the Arts
Music, drama, poetry lived in the minds eye of Henry. It was a natural partnership for him to help Alfred G. Arvold  the founder of the “The Little Country Theatre” and General Director of speech and theatre at North Dakota State University. Arvold’s vision was a match for Henry as they partnered together to bring forth a “Patriotic Spectacle”. west of Washburn at the wintering site of Lewis & Clark expedition, the site aptly named The Lewis and Clark Bowl. Staged with 200 volunteer “actors” on Flag Day of 1946, the play, “In Old McLean”. had over 3,000 people in attendance and used the local talent. On horseback, Henry carried “the Stars & Stripes”. His brother Emmanuel had his magnificent draft horses pulling a covered wagon, that he built himself. The out-door theatre event celebrated the grit and determination of the nation’s pioneers. And the beauty of it was that the “actors” were the descendants of those brave people, Henry’s neighbors, friends and family members.
Through the years, Henry had many supporters. Among them were Governor Art and Grace Link who often chose Lorentzen art for the ND Governors’ mansion. Frequent guests in the Lorentzen home were Harold and Shiela Schafer, founders of Medora and the Medora Musical. Their love for North Dakota’s rugged beauty was expressed and promoted in Lorentzen artwork. Henry loved people and was invited to demonstrate at various Art Show’s in which he was exhibiting. His easy banter and storytelling made him a crowd favorite. He often carried a small painting in his pocket which he would refer to as one of his “little gems”. When he met someone that tickled him, he would present them with the miniature.
For many years he exhibited his paintings in the annual Bismarck art show (now known as BAGA, Bismarck Art and Gallery Association ). He had a reputation for excellence, and often his work was selected to hang in the State Capital and Governors Mansion in Bismarck. In 1957 he was honored to be named North Dakota’s state artist of the year, and was included in the 1958 edition of “Who’s Who for North Dakota”, which was written by Alfred G. Arvold and published by North Dakota State University.
He was one of Washburn’s first artists to gain state-wide recognition, and continued to be regularly exhibited in the Washburn Art Association’s Annual exhibit. The Washburn Art Association published this statement in 1986. “Henry holds the distinction of being a collectable artist in his lifetime. “
Governor George A. Sinner honored him by proclaiming Sept. 17, 1989, “Henry Lorentzen day.” The proclamation read in part: "Henry Lorentzen of Washburn has gained nationwide recognition for his excellence in art, concentrating his work on the land and people of North Dakota. In this year of our Centennial, I urge all north Dakotan's to join the Washburn Art Association in honoring this outstanding native artist."
In addition, he was presented an engraved plaque from the Washburn Community, “for dedicating your life to depicting the beauty of rural North Dakota with your many fine paintings”.
On that day he received a message from then-President George H. W. Bush wishing him all the best.
One of the special features of being born in 1900, was that "Henry" collectors have always been able to calculate Henry Lorentzen’s life work with a glance at his signature and “date”. For example in 1950, he was 50. More work was accumulated in his later years, when most people find themselves in retirement, Henry was just getting started. To read’ 1996 and realize he was working at 96 is an exciting perk for the collector.
These later days came with obstacles, one such being Glaucoma. Daily eye drops did not deter Henry from his daily routine and he was quoted to say, Another health issue was Pernicious Anemia”, in which he had regular shots to boost his energy. In the fall of 1996, he began a rapid decline and yet in October of 1996 Henry painted his last painting, a gift to his wife. Interesting to note is that his first painting was also a gift to Grace. He died 3 months later on January 10th 1997 surrounded by his family members in St. Alexius Hospital of Bismarck, ND.
While the state of North Dakota was making national news headlines for bad weather, with 80 below zero wind chill, blizzards and record snow fall, the family put Henry to rest with a “one man show”, planned by family members and orchestrated by his grand-daughter, Vanessa (Lorentzen) Lorentzen with the help of grandson John Lorentzen. Local Washburn residents, private collectors, businesses and family members gave up their paintings for that show in which 100 works were on hand during the visitation period at the Washburn Baptist Church. Each painting was labeled with its title and the story behind the work.
Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, now known as “The Capital Gallery” released an article on June 5th of 2008. The article, Local Talent Revealed in Exhibit, By David Borlaug, President, gave this tribute upon opening an exhibit in honor of two notable Washburn artists, Lorentzen & Bill Reynolds. Of Henry, he said, "Henry Lorentzen left us in 1997 after a long life well lived. Sunday, the Interpretive Center was overflowing with visitors who came to help dedicate “The Art of Henry Lorentzen,” showing in our Bergquist Gallery this summer. Henry is our own Charlie Russell, a man whose love of the landscape and the people who carved out a life here is revealed in paintings that rival those of internationally prominent artists of the West. We are so fortunate that the Lorentzen family has shared many of his pieces with us to display. We know that visitors from near and far will gain a better appreciation for our special place by viewing our world through the eyes of Henry Lorentzen, who captured its beauty unlike anyone else."
In 2012, his own daughter Yvonne E. McGuire of Underwood Indiana, published a book in her father's honor entitled "Daddy Was An Artist". Going into great depth from newspaper clippings and her own memories on her father's life and contribution to the ND art scene, this volume details events, with illustrations. It's been praised as a valuable addition for collectors. She followed up with another volume that explained how the family moved to North Dakota from Norway, titled "Homestead Memories on the Buffalo Paunch Creek". This book proves to be an excellent record and glimpse into the childhood days of Henry Lorentzen.
2020, in the midst of the world-wide pandemic, Henry Lorentzen was on the mind of musical creators Libby Larsen, Clara (Presser) Osowski and Tyler Wottrich of the North Dakota State University Chamber Music Festival. They released their work on 2020-09-01. This would have tickled Henry because of his love of music and poetry. With talent and flair, they set Henry's own poem, ”May I An Artist Be?” to music. Details are as follows: Libby Larsen Clara Osowski, mezzo-soprano Tyler Wottrich, piano of North Dakota State University, Fargo. Libby Larsen, Composer. Because of the global pandemic, the crowd was small, but they were able to record and share using YouTube.
America's Distinguished Artists,  A National Registry of Historic Artists has included Henry in their Resource Library as an artist of note, who created representational art for the State of North Dakota.
- Alfred G. Arvold
- Bismarck Art and Gallery Association
- May I an Artist Be?
- May I an Artist Be? [World Premiere]
- National Registry of Historic Artists
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