Barneblad: Discover rosemaling, a creative Norwegian adventure

A monthly feature to share with kids and grandkids


Image: Wikimedia Commons
Rosemaling has a special history, both in Norway and in America.

Brought to you by Lori Ann Reinhall

Almost all Norwegian Americans have heard of rosemaling. Maybe you even have a piece of it in your home: an old trunk, a wooden bowl, a decorative picture, a tea towel—just about anything, really.

But did you know that this colorful art form that we associate with bestefar and bestemor has a special history, both in Norway and in America?

Long ago in Norway, around the year 1750, the wealthy city-dwellers wanted to beautify their everyday lives, so they started to have their rooms and furniture painted. They were inspired by styles that were popular in other parts of Europe, the fancy, ornamental decorative lines found in what we call Baroque and Rococo. Think of scrolls and flowing lines, and flowers, all in beautiful colors. In fact, rosemaling means “rose painting.” Its main stokes are “C” and “S” with their swirls.

The first rosemalers would travel from town to town to paint churches and houses. They started along the coast of Norway and worked their way across the mountains to the western part of the country. With time, different regions developed their own special styles.

Soon more ordinary people wanted to bring the same beauty into their homes, so they started painting smaller things, like pitchers, bowls, and boxes. The colors could be very vibrant, just like the colors you find in a traditional Norwegian folk costume.

rosemaling - chest

Photo: Nasjonalbiblioteket
An example of a rosemaled trunk like one that might have made the voyage from Norway.

Rosemaling made its way to America when thousands of Norwegians moved here in the middle of the 1800s. They painted the trunks they brought with them, and those became the beloved antiques of today. Rosemaling became less popular in Norway, but it never really went out of style over here: there was too much love attached to these treasured objects from the old country.

Try it yourself!

The folk art of rosemaling is something that everyone can do! Even with a few crayons you can get started on something special.

1. To get started, all you need are some coloring crayons of the primary colors and their various variations or a simple set of paints.

2. The easiest way to get familiar with the rosemaling style is to work with a pattern. You can get a book at local Scandinavian store, online, or you can even download free coloring templates. Just search for “rosemaling coloring.”

3. Once you’ve found your pattern, it’s time to get to down to work. Remember that rosemaling is about brush strokes, so if possible, when coloring try to color with swirling strokes. But don’t worry: with time you will develop your technique. The main thing is to make something that is special for you.

It’s so easy to enjoy this traditional Norwegian folk art, and there are so many opportunities to learn more about it and take your craft to  new level. Check out the various classes offered in your community, order a book, or just let your imagination run free, and most all, have fun!

rosemaling pattern
This article originally appeared in the August 24, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.