Rosemaling (rose painting)
The Norwegian folk art of "rosemaling"
is a style of decorative painting on wood that
uses stylized flower ornamentation, scrollwork
and geometric elements in flowing patterns and dates back
to the early 18th
century in Norway. Designs were originally
adapted from church carvings and these developed into unique regional styles named
for the region in Norway where the style
developed. Rosemaling was an art of rural
people and self-taught painters traveled from
place to place painting in homes.
Household objects and furniture were decorated
with colorful designs to brighten the dark homes
in the days before electricity. By 1870,
tastes had changed and rosemaling almost
completely disappeared in Norway.
The revival of rosemaling in the
Norwegian-American community is often credited
to Per Lysne. He was born December 8, 1880
in Laerdal, Sogn, Norway. His father,
Anders Olsen, was an artist whose work was
recognized at the Paris Exposition in 1893 and
it was from him that Lysne learned rosemaling.
Lysne immigrated to Stoughton, Wisconsin with
his wife in 1907 when he was 27 years old.
He worked in the Stoughton wagon factory as a
painter and decorator of wagons adding fancy
striping and scrolls to the finished wagon
boxes. When the factory closed during the
Depression, Lysne took up his artist's brushes
and turned to rosemaling.
Detail of lid of 19th century
trunk repainted by Per Lysne
Much of his early work consisted of retouching
the faded rosemaling on old dowry chests that had
been brought from Norway by the ancestors of
friends and neighbors. In the 1930's the
popular press discovered his work and he was
visited by newspaper and magazine
correspondents. In the November 1933 issue
of Vogue magazine, several of his pieces were
featured in an article about Ten Chimneys, the
Wisconsin home of famous theatrical couple
Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. The
publicity created a timely marketing opportunity
which Lysne used to expand his folk painting and
interior decorating business across the region.
Sometime in the 1930's Per Lysne developed the
rosemaled smorgasbord plate that became his
signature piece. The large platters
inscribed in Norwegian and hand painted with
bright floral designs on white, ivory,
cream or light yellow wood plates were his most
popular and successful item. He was able
to produce them in large quantities and with
relative speed. And they could be shipped
easily through the mail opening a national
market for his work. Public exposure
eventually led to orders from Marshall Fields in
Chicago and other retail outlets. He
engaged several Stoughton woodworkers to make
plates and other wood items to his
the early 1940's, his work was in such demand,
visitors to his back yard studio were told they
would have to wait up to a year for a rosemaled
rarely gave lessons choosing only a few to
receive direct instruction. His
daughter-in-law, Louise Lysne was one such
student beginning in about 1935. She
recalled how Per taught her to rosemal by
holding her hand in his and guiding it through
Per Lysne continued to paint his distinctive
designs until his death in 1947.
adaptations of the traditional Norwegian art for
20th century American tastes produced rosemaling
with a fresh, inventive spirit that is enjoyed
more than fifty years later. For his
pioneering artistry and marketing success, he is
credited by those who came after him as the
"Father of American rosemaling."
Stoughton Historical Museum has an exhibit devoted to Mr. Lysne's work, as
well as many fine contemporary pieces by Stoughton artists including Ethel
Kvalheim, chronicling the changes in rosemaling techniques, patterns, colors and paints throughout it’s
Fossum, Gladys H.
Rosemaling - The
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Holmes, Fred L. Old
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The Promise Fulfilled :
A Portrait of Norwegian
Americans Today. New
York: University of
Minnesota P, 1998.
Rosemaling in the Upper
Wisconsin Folk Museum,
Nelson, Marion, ed.
Norwegian Folk Art : The
Migration of a Tradition.
New York, NY: Abbeville
P, Incorporated, 1995.
"Reunion in Genesee."
Vogue 1 Nov. 1933:
Romnes, Bjarne. "Rosemaling
Rosemaling - An Inspired
Norwegian Folk Art
Mar. 1956: 47-48.
Stewart, Janice S.
The Folk Arts of Norway.
Grand Rapids: Nordhus,