Celebrating Solveig: a Sami Arts Legend

Artist Solveig Arneng Johnson Turns 93

DULUTH, Minn.- To understand the impact Solveig Arneng Johnson has made on the Sami community, you don’t need to look far.

You need only look at the people who enter the room, approach her, take her hand and graciously thank her for all she’s done.

This made Sunday’s celebration as much for the community as it was for the birthday girl.

The small room of the Sami Cultural Center was packed with respect and honor.

In one corner, a birthday cake sits waiting to be devoured, with a slight misspelling (“Sloveig” rather than Solveig) bringing a chuckle to all that pass by.

Northlanders gathered there to watch a documentary, and pay homage to an artist who has firmly rooted herself in the Northland.

“She’s just been a wonderful part of our community for so long,” said Marlene Wisuri, Chair of the Board of the Sami Cultural Center. “She, and her husband, were really instrumental in what we call the Sami North American Reawakening.”

Solveig was born in the Sami lands of Kirkenes, Norway.

During WWII, she witnessed her town become occupied by Nazis.

That, coupled with the hardship of Norwegian winters, became the subject of many of her paintings.

Two years later, Kirkenes decimated by air raids, Solveig moved to Oslo.

There, she met her husband, Rudolph.

The two then moved to Duluth, the winters still paint–worthy.

“I think it was a good move,” Solveig said. “I liked Norway, but I have no regrets.”

Rudolph, or Rudy, was the Library Director at UMD from 1958 to 1975, then Head of Reference until his retirement in 1981.

There, with Solveig’s help, he created one of the largest Sami collections in the country, according to the Sami Cultural Center.

The Sami community truly came out in support.

From as far as Canada, California, and Seattle, they joined in on the festivities virtually.

When asked how she felt about her birthday celebration, a smile beams across Solveig’s face.

“I’m so impressed with all the people that came here, and I’m having a good birthday.”

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