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Nathan Bowe, Forum News Service, Published May 02 2014

Vintage painting finds home in new Detroit Mountain lodge

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – When the new lodge opens at the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area, visitors might be surprised to find a throwback to the old lodge – a large painting of two Viking warriors on skis, with one carrying a small child.

The painting is based on historical fact from medieval Norway: A near-miraculous 34-mile flight through a blizzard to save the 2-year-old son of a king from enemies who were out to kill him.

That the painting survived to tell the tale in the new lodge is a near-miracle in itself.

The painting hung in its place on a wall while the abandoned lodge leaked and molded and in some places, literally fell down around it.

But the picture itself somehow came through with shining colors.

“I’m so thrilled that it has survived the weather,” said Karen Selberg-Lavelle. The Fargo woman is the daughter of the artist, Norm Selberg.

They both served on the ski patrol at Detroit Mountain, and Norm’s whimsical touch could be seen on many of the signs and maps that adorned the walls of the old lodge.

He worked in the art department at WDAY-TV in the 1950s and, among many other things, created the little black-and-white drawings that his daughter calls “the potato-head people.” One sat on a fence playing the guitar. One drove a sports car around the screen. There was even a potato-head couple.

“They played them over and over across the screen for years, and whenever they came on I’d think, ‘That’s my dad’s original artwork,’ ” she said.

He went on to become a sign painter, specializing in hand-lettering, and his distinctive style was popular at the old Detroit Mountain lodge.

“Any artwork that needed to be done there, he did it,” she said.

As for the Viking painting, it was plucked from the old lodge before it was demolished, and has been sent to Trump Framing in Detroit Lakes to be suitably decked out.

“Everyone is very interested in it being a major part of the new lodge,” said Sara (Bekkerus) Kiedrowski. “A spot has been picked out for it.”

A granddaughter of one of the former owners, Gordon Bekkerus, Sara used to work at Detroit Mountain and is interested in its history and future.

Norm created the Viking painting in 1978 at the request of owners Gordon and Rose Bekkerus, Sara said.

“That year, work was being completed on a new lodge designed by my dad, Gary Bekkerus,” she added. “There was a large wall at the far end of the cafeteria that it was thought would be a good place for a painting of Norm’s, and Gordy asked him to create a depiction of the rescue of the Norwegian heir. He painted it in the downstairs area of that new lodge while they were completing the upstairs.”

The painting was done on canvas, she added.

“One of the things that stands out to several family members is how quickly he painted it, considering how large it is,” Sara said. “He was such a talented artist; he actually painted it in just a couple weekends at the most. It really didn’t take him all that long.”

Rescue of a future king

Here’s the story of the ski rescue of the child who would become King Haakon Haakonson IV:

It occurred during the civil war era in Norway, between 1130 and 1240.

During this period of conflict, Haakon was born in Folkenborg (now known as Eidsberg) to Inga of Varteig in the spring of 1204. She claimed he was the illegitimate son of King Haakon III, the leader of the Birkebeiner faction in the ongoing civil war against the Bagler.

In a twist worthy of Shakespeare, Haakon III was dead by the time Haakon was born – most likely poisoned by his stepmother.

But Inga’s claim was supported by several of the dead king’s followers, and the Birkebeiner recognized Haakon as the king’s son.

Eventually Inga was forced to perform a “Trial by Ordeal” to prove her son was the child of the late king.

Because Haakon was born in territory controlled by the Bagler faction, his mother’s claim that he was a Birkebeiner royal son placed them in a dangerous position.

In 1206 the Bagler started hunting Haakon, and a group of Birkebeiner warriors fled with the child – heading for the protection of King Inge II, the Birkebeiner king in Nidaros (now known as Trondheim).

On the way, they were overcome by a blizzard, and only the two mightiest warriors, Torstein Skevla and Skjervald Skrukka, continued on skis, carrying the child in their arms.

After a grueling 34 miles, they reached their destination. Haakon lived in the care of King Inge II until the king’s death in 1217.

After his death, there was a dispute as to who should be his successor. There were several candidates vying for the position, but 13-year-old Haakon had the support of the majority of the Birkebeiner and eventually was proclaimed king in June 1217.

It turned out to be the right call: Under the reign of the king who came to be known as Haakon the Old, medieval Norway reached its golden age. He ruled until 1263.

And the epic flight that saved the boy-king’s life is still remembered by skiers in Norway – participants in the annual Birkebeinerrennet ski race there must travel the same distance the soldiers traveled and carry a backpack weighing at least 7.7 pounds, symbolizing the weight of the young child.