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.
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.
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 specifications.
By 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 plate.
He 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 the strokes.
Per Lysne continued to paint his distinctive designs until his death in 1947. His 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."
The 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 evolution.
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