original matted signed gelatin silver print depicting leading oyen artist axel edward soderberg positioned on ladder with brush against a building mural in progress

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UR #:: UR-21032-14

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Product Description

the oyen decorating firm traces its roots to company founder odin j. oyen, who arrived in the city of la crosse, wisconsin at the suggestion of ori sorensen (of sorensen and davis contractors) in february of 1888. the opportunity in la crosse for a painter and interior decorator was seemingly unlimited during around this time period in the late 19th century. the upper midwest building boom of the 1880's and 1890's was well underway - fueled in part by the immense profits generated from the lumber industry. wealthy lumber barons across wisconsin and minnesota were rapidly building large mansions that often required extravagant interior decoration. at the same time, newly-built churches (and many existing ones) were undergoing interior remodeling, including scenic and symbolic wall murals, stenciling and other design applications. additionally, courthouses and other civic buildings were being constructed to serve the new communities formed from immigrants and travelers moving west for new employment opportunities. recognizing the need for a wide clientele, odin j. oyen quickly became involved in bidding on several contracts for these large public buildings, residences, churches and even movie theaters throughout the upper midwest. as his design firm rapidly grew to national prominence, oyen found it necessary to devote more of his time to the business aspects of his decorating firm, which included the formation of a talented staff of artisans to execute the commissions he was securing. oyen drew on the talents of skilled european artisans migrating to america for executing several of the commissions he was awarded. around 1895, he hired his first full time artist-designer joseph erickson, who was born and trained in norway. oyen had met erickson in chicago - possibly at the world's columbian exposition, while working on one of the fair's buildings. the continued growth of the oyen firm demanded a larger and more prestigious location to conduct business. on december 1, 1895, the firm moved to 114 south fourth street, where later the firm added a third floor to the existing building to accommodate his need for additional studio space. the first floor of the extant building is now a restaurant, but the second and third floors remain largely unchanged from oyen's time. in 1902, looking for opportunities to continually broaden his business operation, oyen purchased a sign and bill-posting company, calling it the oyen-ad sign system. this newly developed ad-sign system purportedly controlled the outdoor advertising space within 500 miles of la crosse, wisc., and with it, gave oyen an additional opportunity to place his name before the public. a coca-cola contract for outdoor advertising (e.g., large advertisements were painted on the sides of buildings) provided the sign company with most of the upper midwest territory for advertisement sign boards promoting this brand. in 1903, axel edward soderberg was hired as the firm's primary artist, who would go on to execute the majority of the firm's interior installations (e.g., painted murals, etc.) throughout the early 20 century. oyen enticed soderberg away from andrews decorating company of clinton, iowa, who was his chief rival in this area. another important contract was secured around 1912, when oyen was responsible for decorating the friedman brothers and finklestein and ruben theaters (both firms had offices located in the minneapolis and st. paul). the oyen firm was for designed the interiors of these theatres beginning around 1912 through 1925. another pivotal moment occurred during the fall of 1912, when odin j.oyen firm's constructed a new building (located at 507 main street) that housed a showroom, offices and an art studio on the top floor. interestingly, odin j. oyen was heavily involved in the building's overall design, perhaps influenced by his exposure to various commercial structures popular in new york during this time period. the extant building is essentially, a composite of three different buildings odin had observed in numerous architectural record magazines. oyen's friend, the local architect percy dwight bentley, gave the design its physical form. the new oyen building, illustrated in the november 1913 western architect, is stone faced on the first story with brick above. the projecting cornice consists of a unique assemblage of green glazed terra cotta tiles and painted wood brackets. the site at 507 main street was originally purchased from wm. doerflinger and j. c. toeller for $9,000. the building's exterior facade and interior floor plans remain largely intact to this day. the oyen firm continued to prosper well into the 1920's until the death of the company's founder, who died of lung cancer on july 31, 1926. the business continued on under the name "odin j. oyen studios" for less than a decade under the direction of his son, leighton oyen and brother louis oyen. the depression years coupled with the untimely death of louis oyen in 1931, contributed to the decline and eventual closing of the oyen firm.