Holger Cahill

Holger Cahill

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Holger Cahill

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Edgar Holger Cahill (1887 - July 8, 1960) was the National Director of the Federal Art Project of the WPA.


Cahill was born Sveinn Kristjan Bjarnarsson in Skogarstrond, Iceland in 1887 and died in 1960 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts where he is buried in the town’s celebrated cemetery. Cahill’s Icelandic family emigrated to Canada about 1890 and then to North Dakota as homesteaders, anglicizing their name to Bjornson and eventually, Johnson, although they continued to speak Icelandic at home. Extreme poverty, lack of formal education and domestic strife marked Cahill’s early childhood. When he was young, his father abandoned the family and his mother sent the young Cahill to live and work on a farm owned by an Icelandic family 50 miles away where he was mistreated. His mother remarried and together they had another child, Anna. That marriage also did not last. After two years with the Icelandic farmers, Cahill ran away at first to neighboring farms where he found work and eventually to Winnipeg, in search of distant cousins. The cousins refused to take him in and he ended up in an orphanage. A Gaelic-speaking family in a nearby cooperative farm community adopted Cahill and he was able to attend school regularly for the first time. After several years with the Gaelic family, he returned to North Dakota in search of his mother only to discover that his mother and step-sister had moved. Eventually he found them working on a...
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