- Historic Sites
A Prarie Dream Recaptured
The Utopian Swedish colony at Bishop Hill, Illinois, lasted only sixteen years. But in Olof Krans’s strange and evocative paintings it has a kind of immortality
October 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 6
There is no evidence that he painted any of his pictures during these busy years. Not until 1896, apparently, when he was convalescing from a fall that left him partially crippled for a time, did he begin putting on canvas the scenes of Bishop Hill that he remembered from his childhood—the long lines of men and women sowing or reaping in the fields, the gently rolling landscape, the strong faces of the early settlers. Among them is his own portrait as a young man when his uniform was spanking new and when, full of hope, he set out to fight in Mr. Lincoln’s army.
By the time of his death in 1916, Krans had finished more than no paintings. Fittingly, most of these now hang in the Bishop Hill church, where, during those three days so long ago, the Jansonists waited for their prophet to rise from the dead. There, captured forever, is the serene world that flourished for so brief a time. Looking at the pictures—at the plowboys, the farm women, the sowers—one can almost hear Eric Janson say, as he reportedly once did when rain threatened the colony’s haying: “H you, O God, do not give good weather so we can finish the work we have at hand, I shall depose You from Your seat of omnipotence.” One can almost believe he could have done it.