Preserving the houses at Helleren in Jøssingfjord

The large number of visitors

The houses beneath Helleren have stood there for 150-200 years. They were left vacant in the 1920s, and have since then stood with their doors open to the public. Helleren is the single most visited attraction in Dalane with over 20.000 visitors a year. This is a number to be proud of, but can the old houses handle so many visitors?

Careful restoration

All maintenance and restoration work is about making choices. We wish to share some of the choices we have made so far – and our reflections regarding these choices. When the museum took charge of the houses, they had stood abandoned for nearly 80 years. Dalane Folkemuseum has chosen to let the houses keep this expression of abandonment – of having stood derelict for so many years.

Excerpt from the guestbook at Helleren. Photo: Jon Ingemundsen

Excerpt from the guestbook at Helleren. Photo: Jon Ingemundsen

What do we do with the houses?

Dalane Folkemuseum has made as few changes as possible to the houses, because we wish for them to be as authentic as possible. Therefore, we have only done careful and necessary maintenance work so far. In managing these unique buildings, the goal is to do a minimal amount of modifications, to preserve the original building parts. But how do keep and care for the original parts of the houses, at the same time as we keep the houses available to visitors? This is a big question Dalane Folkemuseum needs to answer.

Door and chair at Helleren. Photo: Jon Ingemundsen

Door and chair at Helleren. Photo: Jon Ingemundsen

In the Norwegian Year of Cultural Heritage 2009, we tested various restoration strategies in Helleren. Our main principle is what we call careful restoration. This means we progress slowly and carefully in our restoration work. Careful restoration is about both process and time. This work began in the Norwegian Year of Cultural Heritage and will continue after.

Which colours did the houses have?

In 2007, experts from the Museum of Archaeology in Stavanger took colour swatches from the painted facades. Now we know the original colours of the houses, one was red and the other blue. Today, the houses stand weather-beaten with worn paint. We can choose to paint them again, but then maybe people will perceive them as newer or less authentic than they appear today. Paint flakes and colours fade through the years. How strong have the colours been?

We have treated the houses with clear linseed oil paint. This functions as waterproofing, binds the old paint and saturates the colours that are already there – the houses gain a deeper red and clearer blue colour.

It has been, and still is, a problem that people carve their names and initials into the walls – especially for the red house. This is something we want to discourage. Every inscription is painted over with a thin brush. The colour is made at the museum and is called English red. Time will tell if we have to go over new inscriptions with another coat of paint.

Dilapidated stairs

The staircase up to the red house is worn out. It is probably very old and has served its purpose for many years. The staircase, as it stood, could not take the many visitors using it each year. Should we reinforce it or build a new one?

We wish to replace as few elements as possible. The staircase has been heavily reinforced from below and attached to the wall, and is now standing steadily. It can serve for a while longer, but the reinforcement is just a temporary reprieve.

The dry stone wall

The red house stands on a dry stone wall. A dry stone wall is made without any mortar to bind the stones together. The southern part of the wall has been repaired and straightened so that it stands as it did when sheep lived in the basement beneath the house. The wall was drawn out from the house wall so that it was easy to feed the animals.

Doors and frames

Picture of the blue door at Helleren, from the inside.

Picture of the blue door at Helleren, from the inside.

Historic paint analysis of the blue door

Historic paint analysis of the blue door

Historic paint analysis of a green door

Historic paint analysis of a green door

Inside the red house, a door has been painted in one of its previous colours. In the blue house, the same has been done to a cabinet door. There have been done historic paint analyses of the doors, where the oldest colours were chosen.

The doors stand in stark contrast to their surroundings. Precisely this contrast can be a good vantage point for further reflections. How comprehensive should our interventions be?

The window frames are also marked by the passing of time. For now, we have chosen to paint one of the window frames of the blue house anew.

Types of paint and colour shades

Finding the right shade of colour involves a great deal of experimentation. The museum’s craftsmen mix all the colours we use in the traditional way. The paint used both inside and outside is an older kind of paint. We are unsure of which binding agent was used, but choose to use linseed oil paint. Linseed oil was a common binding agent in the past.

Outside area

The grounds of Helleren are protected by law. The museum, in consultation with Rogaland county municipality, has cleared the area around the houses and restored stairways and paths. A firm layer of gravel now covers the path to the houses, to keep sand and dirt from being transferred from shoes to floors.

North of the houses, tofts from outbuildings have been carefully cleared to make their contours more visible.