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"Elsebeth 1932" by David Ject-Key (Photo courtesy of Mary Jo Thorsheim, Ph.D.)

ANYONE FROM RINGSTED? Information needed for book about Danish-American artist and her artist husband


August 8, 2015

By Mary Jo Thorsheim, Ph.D. —

Ester Fesler in Minneapolis suggested that I contact The Danish Pioneer Newspaper and its readers for help seeking information for a book I am writing about a fascinating Danish-American artist and her artist husband.

The book is about Elsebeth Kjaersgaard (1899-1985) and her Chinese-American husband, David Wu Ject-Key (1890-1968). It would be wonderful to be able to include information about her family and background in Denmark, the cultural climate there, etc. before she immigrated to New York City in 1923 and subsequently met David. I have quite a bit of material already for the book, and am in the midst of writing—but there are gaps that should be filled.

Elsebeth was born in Koege, Denmark in 1899, but the family moved to Ringsted a few years later where her father was a prominent businessman. His name was Peter Kjaersgaard, his wife was Magda. They had three children: Elsebeth, Torben and Espen.

Following is a brief description of the book. “David and Elsie’s Art: East Meets West” is the working title.

Colorful and fascinating, this is the true story of noted artists David Wu Ject-Key and his wife Elsie (as she was known in America; in Denmark, “Elsebeth”, “Else”) . David was an established artist and teacher of art and Elsie was a ballerina and artist when they met after Elsie arrived from Paris with the famous Ballets Suidois for their American tour, in 1923. David and Elsie married in New York City in 1927.

Research suggests that their acclimation to a new and very different culture and setting was remarkable, yet they were able to simultaneously honor their heritage(s) by making ethnic connections and including symbols of their roots in their daily lives. David and Elsie became leaders of the art community in New York. They established meaningful friendships. (I am in contact with a couple they met in the early ’60s; the wife also came to New York from Denmark so they had that in common, as well as shared interest in art.)

Their story of shaping a new life in America is inspiring and it expands our world to learn about them. The book documents their lives and contributions. Primary and secondary sources were  studied to locate information, assemble, interpret and synthesize the elements of the story. Readability and interesting presentation will engage a broad audience of readers, and the story will fascinate them as it develops. Richly illustrated, the book will gather selected images of the paintings of David and Elsie into one publication, for the first time.

My interest in them began when I did research on David because he had created a portrait of his wife dated 1932 that I purchased some years ago from Denmark. As I proceeded with learning about their lives and work, I was repeatedly struck with how this couple must have been able to break barriers of discrimination as they became recognized leaders in the art and ethnic communities of New York. Chinese discrimination was huge at that time in New York. After they married they settled in Greenwich Village, later moving Uptown. Their story is fascinating, I think. Furthermore, there are lessons to be learned from how they expressed their identity and kept true to their heritage(s)–all the while, they acclimated to the new culture as well as the problems and opportunities it presented.

David Wu Ject-Key’s paintings have received recent renewed interest on the art market in the US and in Asia.

Any information you could provide would be deeply appreciated, if you think of any clues.  Thanks again!

Please contact: Mary Jo Thorsheim, Ph.D., Owner and Founder (estab. 1979), NORWAY ART®, 1455 West Lake Street, B-20, Minneapolis MN  55408-2648 USA, Phone: 612.339.7829 or 612.871.2236, Fax: 612.871.2236, E-mail: mjtmng@gmail.com or mjtmn@aol.com and Websites: www.norwayartonline.com and www.eaglechildrensbook.com

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