Information from The Viking, May 2002. Published by the Sons of Norway
Translated literally, "rosemaling" means painting roses. The term refers to the folk art of decorative painting characterized by vine foliage and flowers, and is typically found on everything from small bowls, plates, and wooden chests, to walls, ceilings, and furniture. In the 18th century, artisans belonged to urban guilds that set and abided by strict guidelines, but in the rural areas of Norway where it was practiced mainly by tenant farmers and itinerant craftsmen, there was much more creative freedom.
Each region of Norway developed a unique style of rosemaling. To the expert eye, it is easy to identify rosemaling from Telemark, Rogaland, Hallingdal, Vest Agder and other regions of Norway. The Telemark designs are asymmetrical with a root center from which a scroll branches out with leaves and flowers that are varied and irregular. This style is known for its freedom with graceful lines, elegant stems, overlapping scrolls, and imaginary, fantasy-like flowers, and is usually presented in warm, earthy colors.
Rosemaling was brought to the United States by Norway's earliest immigrants, and as beautifully rosemaled trunks were unloaded from the ships, they certainly caught American's eyes. However, the art form went out of style in the later 1800's.
Rosemaling was reborn in America in the 1930's when Per Lysne immigrated to Stoughton, Wisconsin. He was employed as a wagon painter there, but when business slowed during the Depression, he started rosemal. Norwegian-Americans were drawn to this old but familiar art form. In the 1960's, Master Rosemaler Sigmund Arseth began teaching and publishing books on the subject through the Vesterheim Museum in Decorah, Iowa, featuring his personal Telemark rosemaling style. Rosemaling has grown to become a mainstay of Norwegian-American culture.
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