Local folk artist gets some posthumous attention

Submitted photo An Axel Lorentson painting of ships, his favourite subject matter.

ST. STEPHEN – Born in 1887 in Sweden and moved to Little Ridge when he was two years old, Axel Lorentson lived all over Canada and the New England area of the United States, and finally settled back in Little Ridge later in life.

It wasn’t until about 1950 that Lorentson started painting. He was entirely self-taught and he never sold his works. Instead he gave them as gifts at Christmas, for birthdays and as wedding gifts. Having little money, this was his way to show his appreciation to people for helping him and to commemorate special occasions.

Small towns being what they are with everyone knowing everyone else, conversations led to conversations and a picture began to be painted of how many of Lorentson’s works people had in their homes.

“I went around the community to the different people that lived out there and I’ve got a collection of 58 pictures of Axel’s paintings,” said Sandra Hanson, who is helping organize a display of Lorentson’s work set for Oct. 1 at the Lower Little Ridge Hall.

Ken Mattsson, who is a grand-nephew of Lorentson and lives in Massachusetts, has also been heavily involved in putting this exhibit and tribute together. Mattsson owns 11 of Lorentson’s paintings himself.

Lorentson worked primarily in acrylics and the style would best be described as folk art. The subject matter ranged from seascapes, to ships to tranquil wooded scenes.

“He tended to do a lot of ships,” explained Mattsson.

There is no true accounting of how many of his paintings do exist but more keep coming up all the time, said Hanson.

“I had three come today,” she said.

Mattsson also has a notebook that Lorentson kept over the years. In the back of the book was family genealogy information that Mattsson found useful as he was trying to trace his family tree.

Included in the book are several songs. Mattsson will speak about Lorentson and his life at the event on Oct. 1. He is also a musician and plans to do a whole album of the songs from the notebook. One of the songs is about St. Stephen.

“I’ve set it to music and at this event I’m planning on singing this song,” said Mattsson.

“We know they’re of no (commercial) value,” said Hanson, but “we know it’s of great value to many of our hearts.

“Everybody appreciated what Axel did,” explained Hanson.

Lorentson continued to paint until about 1970, according to Mattsson, and passed away in 1973.

At his funeral, the reverend who conducted the service noted that ships were his favourite subject.

The exhibit of Lorentson’s work is taking place in the Lower Little Ridge Hall at 799 Rte. 725 from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Postcards of Lorentson’s paintings will be available to buy and proceeds from those sales will go back to the hall. Between 30 and 40 of his original paintings will be on display.