Meeting the Masters: Gold Medal Rosemalers

The hardest thing about viewing an exhibit of rosemaling artifacts, for me, is that each seems to outshine the next in my very unschooled estimation. I have fairly strong preferences in color combinations, style, and form for my home and clothing (tending toward the denim tones in that last category). When it comes to rosemaling pieces I admire and enjoy every possible combination of flowers and swirls, colors and contrasts.  I am “schooled” enough to know that the techniques, designs, and interpretation demonstrated are judged in categories and reflect everything from novice to gold medal masters of the art. Moving from one category to the next takes years of lessons, practice, competitions, and determination. It’s a good things people do it for the love of it.

This weekend’s event, the 44th Annual Rosemaling Show, was presented by the Norse Rosemaler’s Association at Norway House. I’ve shared photos of just a few of their jaw dropping examples here. On the left is a first place winner (blue ribbon). On the right is a collection of works by beginners, which are judged in their own category. I suppose even the unschooled can appreciate the difference, but I do’t envy the judges of of any category.

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The skill needed to produce such beauty is beyond impressive, and I found each item to be a work of art in its own right.

Beginners entries- impressive, aren't they?

Beginners entries- impressive, aren’t they?

Rosemaling grew out of a folk tradition in times when travel through Norway’s rugged, sprawling countryside presented even more challenges than it does today. As a result, there are regional patterns and styles in the art, easily recognized by trained artisans.






While there I was pleased to see several of the members wearing bunad which also reflects the traditions of various regions. As I snapped pictures I was given permission to include several members of the association. The pair on the left graciously  answered  a few questions about  themselves. Andrea L. Herkert, who recently earned her Gold Medal status as a rosemaling expert, is in the gold and white bunad. Nancy Schmidt is in the red with black apron.

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Andrea reached that  esteemed status through mentoring by Nancy, a Vesterheim Gold Medalist. Nancy is considered a leader in the field, one of the few who is accomplished in multiple regional styles and also produces innovations in the art, taking it to new levels.

The morning was stormy and gray, but everyone at this event was wreathed in smiles. The authentic food offerings were a bonus, of course, and the warm reception by hostesses and spontaneous chats with visitors made the experience a rich and rewarding one. While snapping a shot at the beginners’ display someone passing by asked if I planned to make my own. Yikes! The closest I can come to that is to share a few more photos here.

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I encourage you to check the links above to learn more about this nearly lost art. Much of what I learned  about the culture of the rosemaling community, their years of dedication, mutual support, and intense competitions, was acquired while reading Heritage of Darkness. It’s the third in the historic sites mystery series written by Wisconsin author Kathleen Ernst, and featuring fictional character Chloe Ellefson, a history and curation expert.If you are reading this early Sunday, make it a point to visit. At 1:00 there will also be a folk dancing demonstration. If you missed this glorious gathering, there’s always next year.


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