Marte Marie Forsberg has gathered an impressive 272,000 Instagram followers, who love her stylish landscape and food photography images and stories. Expect to see more visitors in town from this autumn, when Marie encourages her loyal fans to visit her new Shaftesbury High Street business.
Former Scandinavian Airlines employee Marie Forsberg has travelled the world through her former cabin crew work. She’s also spent most of her life working or studying away from her childhood home on a Norwegian island. “I grew up with a world map outside my bedroom. I just always felt the world was so small and there was so much to discover. My family encouraged me to travel and they travelled a lot as well. The travel bug bit me quite early,” Marie said.
“I went on to Middle Eastern Studies and the languages of Arabic and Hebrew in Malta. And I studied in The States. Before that, I lived in Italy and studied fashion design. I clearly didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do but I just loved exploring the world,” she added.
Chatting with Marie, I would not have guessed her nationality. She has no identifiable trace of a Norwegian accent that I could hear. And when I had flicked through her enchanting Instagram images, her scenic shots would suggest that she’s local. “I love living in the English countryside. Maybe that’s my story. I sprinkled it with food and travel but mainly it is the English countryside and my life here.”
After decades of global discovery, Marie has decided that Shaftesbury is the place where she wants to stay and base her new business. “It doesn’t have any flaws to me. I am absolutely smitten and I love coming here. It gives me a sense of peace. You’ve got the rolling hills. You’ve got the vista. You’ve got Gold Hill. You’ve got the people that are incredibly friendly. You have the market. There’s so much going for Shaftesbury. And there’s the history, which is quite enchanting. There would have been a big, old, beautiful Abbey,” said Marie, before she paused then added, “King Henry the Eighth. Tosser!” and she laughed.
For a woman who has travelled so widely to consider Shaftesbury ‘the perfect place’ is high praise indeed. “Obviously, it’s an incredibly beautiful place. I also feel very connected to this place. That makes all the difference. There are a lot of beautiful places in the world, but I think it all boils down to that connection that makes you want to stick around. I feel a resonance here,” she said.
Much of Marie’s success in storytelling and cookery has stemmed from her distinctive and artistic photographic work. It wasn’t her first career choice. “It took a long time until I landed on photography. I was in my mid-30s. I remember calling my dad from San Francisco and saying that I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I did not want to work with what I had studied. He said, ‘come home, and we’ll figure it out.’ I barricaded myself in my apartment with determination to figure out what I want to do with my life,” Marie said.
She ended up with three words – food, travel and design. “And then I wept a bit because I thought, ‘That’s not a job, what can I do with that?’ I packed my bags, moved back to Norway and then I just got to work in creating what that could become work-wise for myself.”
Marie is close to her family, particularly her mother who features in her Instagram posts and who will visit Shaftesbury to assist with Marie’s new business when it launches. Even though they get on, Marie didn’t stay with her folks in Norway for long.
“It is sad when you come back to where you’re born and you don’t feel at home anymore, because you’ve changed so much. I did some work in different places around the world and then I got a photoshoot job in London. I ‘Googled’ ‘houses for rent in England’. I discovered a little cottage, about twelve pages in. It was a little, thatched, whitewashed cottage.”
Number 9 Butts Knapp, Shaftesbury, was Marie’s home until three years ago. “Literally, the next day I went on a train. I signed the contract right there to rent it and I moved in. I just felt so connected to that picture of that cottage. I didn’t know anything about Shaftesbury. I just discovered myself and this place at the same time.”
Marie had started posting her pictures to Instagram as she travelled and worked on photography assignments. “I started quite early on. My audience was 300 followers. I remember calling mum and saying, ‘there are 300 people wanting to know what I’m doing. They’re not family and friends!’ I just remember feeling a bit baffled. Shortly after that, because of work, the number escalated quite quickly. I had 10,000 followers and I remember asking my mum ‘what do I do now?’ She said, ‘you just keep doing exactly what you’ve been doing. You are sharing something that you are passionate about. Some people are finding it a place that they’d love to be inspired by’.”
Marie continued to post pictures and stories and her numbers of followers grew day-by-day. Then, after she relocated to North Dorset, Marie’s fanbase soared. “When I moved to Shaftesbury, all of a sudden I had a story to tell. I had a home and I told that story about going to the market and buying produce and then cooking in my cottage. I acquired a beautiful rescue dog, Mr Whisky. All of a sudden, I had a friend to go for walks with and that story became visual. I photographed all this and shared it. I was really lucky that an American publisher, after quite a few features in different magazines, asked me to do a cookbook.”
Marie’s book, ‘The Cottage Kitchen: Cozy Cooking in the English Countryside’ explained how she used foraging skills, taught by her mother, to create delicious food. The book featured her Shaftesbury story and beautiful images of recipes. “A lot of work came from that in the beginning. That’s when I moved from Shaftesbury, because I needed a cottage that I could work in more,” said Marie.
I asked Marie how she would describe her signature photographic style. “I think I’m always drawn to natural light and corners where there’s one directional light. It creates a little bit of a mood. I love rain. I love the fog and the wind. So all of that is in my photography – the English landscape, cottages, I’m really drawn to that. And so that’s what I photograph,” said Marie.
Soon Marie started offering her online followers a chance to learn how to capture beautiful images of their own. “I got emails from people wanting to do photography workshops. They wanted to learn about how to photograph in that kind of light. One of them was held in a flower shop in the basement here in Shaftesbury. Now, after five years of running food and photography workshops in Italy, England, Norway, France and Ireland, we will open a shop and a workshop in Shaftesbury, where we can invite people into our world on a more daily basis, other than just these sort of bigger workshop events.”
Marie is moving into 37 High Street. It is currently the Neighbourhood Plan pop-up shop and was, for years, ‘Fork and Flowers’. She won’t be alone in the new business. “I will be moving in with my fiancé, Theo Maxfield, who’s a mixologist. That means he works with making cocktails. He forages for botanicals, herbs, plants and flowers. He makes syrups. He goes into the root of making an alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink. He will be running that from there and he will have space to recipe test,” said Marie.
Theo and Marie will work together at the High Street premises. “I will recipe test. I write a lot for magazines, but there’s also my photography work. We will be there creating. It will be more like a studio. We will have workshops where people can come just for the day down from London or from here in Shaftesbury. The workshops will be around food, photography and drinks. And once a month we will open up the shop to the general public.”
Marie has been curating a range of stylish items for the home, which she will sell from her new shop on selected days. “Last year, I started up a little lifestyle product company. I just decided to start designing my own products. I have a beautiful potter in Frome. I just bring my design and she makes it in very small batches. We have leather products coming in. We will make our own coffee, using the roastery in Semley, too. It will be eco-roast and our blends.”
Marie has previously worked with Heather Whitehead of The Wonky Cake Company on workshop events and Marie hopes to join forces with more of the talented craftspeople and makers from across our area. “There are incredibly creative and talented people here, like Shaston Boxes, who make beautiful wooden boxes. That to me feels very Scandinavian. We would love to collaborate with people.”
Marie is going to be busy creating, sharing and selling when she opens for business. But she is also planning a second, highly-personal book, too. “I’ve always wanted to do something with my mother. My first cookbook featured lots of her recipes and stories about the upbringing in Norway. My cooking inspiration does stem from her kitchen. I would love to tell a deeper story about the bond between mother and daughter and the letters that she has written to me ever since I moved away from home. Every week, since I was about 17, she has sent me a handwritten letter with recipes, thoughts on life and words of wisdom. And she has always sent a hand-drawn update of the weather and her garden.”
Marie wants to share this in ‘a real and raw way’ so it doesn’t appear to be a glossy image of mother and daughter love. “I want to share more of the real-life that led to the character that mum is, and the letters she wrote to me, through ups and downs in life and all the delicious food that we cooked in between.”
Marie accepts that she will be letting people read private thoughts in the correspondence. “Maybe today, we need to dig a little bit deeper. Life is perfect in its imperfections. That’s life and that’s human. It is so easy to look at someone and say, ‘I wish I had her life or that mother.’ But I want them to realise that they might already have that if they just look at the life they have.”
Marie will share these many projects with her Instagram followers and that’s likely to encourage additional visitors to our town when her readers chose to see the places she writes and posts about. “I hope that we’re just able to share our love for this incredibly beautiful spot. There’s so much going on in Shaftesbury at the moment that I think if there are people coming down because we open the shop, they will discover these amazing little shops, like the Botanical Candle Company, Willow and mine. And the beautiful vista and Gold Hill, obviously.”
The new business will start operating in the autumn, Marie’s favourite English season. “We’re going to be moving in on 1st September. We already have workshops that were booked last year. I think we will have our first pop up in October, which is when we will open the doors to the public. So yeah, I can’t wait,” said Marie.
You can follow Marie at www.mmforsberg.com.