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The History of Solvang, the Heritage of Denmark  


By Jean Nandi and David Brandt-Erichsen

Martha Mott Brandt-Erichsen

Martha Mott Davis was born in 1906 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the second of five daughters of a colorful and wealthy tycoon, Charles Henry Davis, and his second wife, Grace Bigelow Davis. Martha’s middle name was passed down from the distinguished 19th century Quaker ancestors on Charles Henry’s side, James and Lucretia Mott. Both were famous abolitionists, and Lucretia, an early feminist and suffragette, has been honored by a statue in the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C.

This statue of Martha Mott’s great, great grandmother, Lucretia Mott (center), is in the U.S. Capitol building. Lucretia Mott will also be on the $10 bill released in 2020 in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote.

Martha Mott acquired the nickname “Pattie Mott” (later known as  just “Patt”), and soon was reputed to be the “black sheep” of the Davis family. Wayward and stubborn, she loved music intensely, but was thwarted in her demands for music studies. Opting for art instead, the family acquiesced with approval. At least it kept her quiet!

Many summers were spent on Cape Cod, in an enormous house big enough for five active young girls and all their friends, plus Charles Davis’s entourage of secretaries, relatives, and hangers-on. There were other summers when Patt with various sisters were taken by their knowledgeable mother to Europe. For one entire year Patt and younger sister Anna (who eventually would marry artist Gordon Samstag) were placed in a Swiss boarding school. Both had an interest in art, and frequented all the major European museums as they were growing up—a background which Patt utilized later in developing a History of Art course to present to high school students.

Apart from her remarkable knowledge of Western art history gleaned from the years of travel throughout Europe, Patt spent four years studying every course provided at the famed Boston Museum School of the Arts, becoming a thoroughly trained artist.

Not long after completing her art training, she met and married a musician—surely not approved of by her family! This struggling musician’s name was Alan Hovhaness, but it was only much later that he attained fame and respectability as a composer of modern classical music.

Pat became pregnant and during her pregnancy they traveled to Finland to meet renowned composer Jan Christian Sibelius. They hit it off so well that Sibelius asked shyly if he could be the godfather of the child, who ended up being named Jean Christina in his honor (now Jean Christina Nandi). 

Although Patt had grown up in affluence, she spent much of her life struggling financially. When the market crashed in 1929, Charles Henry Davis had lost practically everything and could no longer be a source of support. After Patt’s marriage to Alan ended in divorce, she tried to eke out a living for herself and Jean with odd jobs at a publishing house, including some illustrating. But it wasn't enough, and although she did use her art training here and there, it was also not very satisfyingly utilized. 

By 1940, she applied for a job in Rochester, New York, at a private school for girls, grades 1-12.  Hired to teach art—drawing, painting, some sculpting, and art history—she found a cheap couple of rooms in a house near the school. Jean’s tuition was deducted from Patt’s salary, but it saved on child care, and Patt scraped together a meager living. She began to supplement her wages with portrait painting—parents with children at the school were pleased to pay extra for portraits of their children.

By 1945, Patt had accumulated a little savings, and felt a strong urge to go back to Cape Cod during the summer school vacation. They had many visitors—family and old friends—but one of those old friends became the highlight of a truly eventful summer. This was the Danish sculptor Viggo Brandt-Erichsen, widowed a year earlier, who had known Patt for ten years and had developed a fairly close friendship with her during the time that Viggo's wife had been taking composition lessons with composer Hovhaness. Viggo now had a charming 6-year-old son, Thor, and felt the need of a wife and a mother for his boy. Jean, now 10, gave the stamp of approval for Thor, and the feeling was mutual: Thor wanted a big sister like Jean so much that he threw his arms around Patt and asked her, most seriously, “Miss Patt, can I buy Jean?”

Patt and Viggo in 1949, just before leaving New Hampshire.

Viggo offered Patt his hand in marriage, and she accepted. On Thanksgiving day they were married and Viggo took her back to his home in New Hampshire. A couple of years later there was another Brandt-Erichsen child, David, and two years after that Viggo and Patt decided to pull up stakes and move west—all the way to California.

One of Patt’s sisters lived in Los Angeles, and one of their Jaffrey friends had visited the Santa Ynez Valley north of Santa Barbara. This friend was one of the Rancheros Visitadores, who annually travel on horseback through the mountains between the Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez Missions. Viggo, eventually, was himself to join the Rancheros, and Patt painted a spectacular large picture of him all dressed up in his Ranchero outfit with a background of the beautiful Valley.

They spent several weeks roaming through southern California without finding anything affordable or even enticing. Disappointed, and needing to get Jean and Thor into school, they said farewell to Patt’s sister’s family and started north, thinking they would go to some other state next summer if they really weren’t happy in California.

It was a fateful day in 1949 when, rounding a corner into the Santa Ynez Valley in pursuit of an advertised rental house in the tiny village of Ballard, Viggo suddenly cried out “That's a Danish country church!” Very excited, they drove into the town of Solvang. Wonder of wonders, people were actually speaking Danish on a main street lined with a hodge-podge of Danish- and Spanish-type buildings! Viggo had not spoken his native language for 25 years since moving to America. This family had definitely found its home!

With clever bargaining, Viggo purchased a strip of land on the southern edge of town, spending his last dollar from the sale of the house he had sold in New Hampshire. But he divided half the land into lots, and sold these for the price of the original piece. But not having enough money left to have a house built, he decided to build one himself. He designed a Danish country farmhouse he called Elverhoy, with a large studio on one side for his ceramic creations, and space to build a large-size kiln.

It did take time. People laughed at this outrageous family who had decided to build an old ruin at the edge of town. But neighbors began to move in on the plots he had sold. Having created space at the edge of the original lot, a street was created, known as “Elverhoy Way.”

After four years the family moved into the new Elverhoy. But sadly, within just a couple of years Viggo was dead—dying of cancer, but dying still full of hope and with love on his lips for his dearest Patt, who has written movingly about her life with Viggo in her own book, The Four-Leafed Clover.

Pat was left with a huge, half-finished house and a mountain of medical bills and other debt. She was uncertain if she would even be able to keep the house, but she barely managed to get by from selling off the remaining adjacent land and using Viggo’s studio as a large space for teaching art to students of all ages. She also taught art to children in a private school in the Valley for a number of years.

Patt continued to live in Elverhoy until her death in 1983. Her loving hands created the beautiful grounds that surround Elverhoy, and she eventually was able to completely finish the house inside as well. She made many friends in Solvang, raised her three children and sent them out into the world. As a final legacy to this town which had become her true home, she bequeathed the unique and beautiful building to the town as a Museum and a gathering place for community events and exhibitions of art and memorabilia.
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