Genetic talent emerges: DC Norwegians learn about rosemaling

Rosemaling expert teaches Washington, DC

Photo: Christine Foster Meloni Keune, standing, gives the students pointers as they practice basic brushstrokes.

Photo: Christine Foster Meloni
Keune, standing, gives the students pointers as they practice basic brushstrokes.

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

Rosemaling was brought to America by Norwegian immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries. This decorative folk art then became very popular after World War II and continues to be cherished in Norwegian-American communities.

According to artist Christina Keune, rosemaling is no longer common in Norway. It was a popular but rather short-lived art form in mostly agricultural Norway from the early 1700s to the 1860s.

Christina’s career has been dedicated to sharing this unique art form with anyone interested in Norway’s traditions. She demonstrates rosemaling at craft shows and ethnic festivals and has taught classes in the Washington, D.C., area, Iowa, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. She has been to Norway ten times on work-study tours sponsored by the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum in Decorah, Iowa.

She has won numerous awards including the Gold Medal in Rosemaling from Vesterheim and the Crystal Award from Gammelgården Museum in Scandia, Minnesota. Both museums have purchased her work for their collections. She is also the recipient of the Award of Excellence in the Preservation of Scandinavian Culture from the American Scandinavian Association in Washington, D.C.

Keune recently offered an introductory rosemaling class to her Sons of Norway lodge in Washington. The class was designed to show students how to use a round brush to execute curved and straight teardrop strokes and make dots with the end of the brush; prepare a wood surface for painting, using sandpaper; apply a design on paper to the wood using transfer paper and a stylus; and paint the design with acrylic paint, using the teardrop strokes and dots.

Each student was given a packet containing a brush, information sheets about the history of rosemaling, directions to practice the strokes with border design variations as examples, a piece of Loew-Cornell Brush-Up Paper to practice strokes with a water-filled brush, and a base coat painted but unsanded wooden ornament.

Photo: Christine Foster Meloni

Photo: Christine Foster Meloni

The class first concentrated on varying the pressure placed on the brush to achieve wide and delicate weight to the stroke for the classic scroll, or “C” shape, while resting the brush hand on the “free” wrist. This was a challenge or an opportunity, depending on the student.

After an hour of demanding practice, several kindly nisser graciously supplied the bleary-eyed students with a refreshment break that energized them for the great leap forward from practice to painting. After a cup of strong coffee and a piece of delicious Verdens Beste Kake, they accomplished the sanding step and then chose a pattern from a number of color design samples. With the designs boldly transferred onto their ornaments and with paint on their brushes, the rosemalers’ genetic talent spontaneously kicked in with gusto! They finished their artwork.

All class attendees were pleased with their beautiful Christmas tree ornaments. They came away with a greater appreciation for this native art form and for the master painters, and, most importantly, they felt even more connected to their precious Norwegian heritage.

Photo: Christine Foster Meloni Denise taps into the genetic talent that allows any Norwegian to learn rosemaling.

Photo: Christine Foster Meloni
Denise taps into the genetic talent that allows any Norwegian to learn rosemaling.

More info
The purpose of this article was, of course, not to teach readers how to do rosemaling. For anyone who would like more information, some suggestions follow.

According to Keune, Vesterheim is “the true Valhalla of rosemaling information and of the decorative arts of Norway in general.” It offers classes, supplies, and more. Go to its website at Vesterheim members can subscribe to the rosemaling newsletter, which is published three times a year and has articles about the rosemaling pieces in the museum’s collection and information about rosemaling materials and folk art tours.

Many rosemaling groups throughout the country offer classes. Google “rosemaling classes” for links to these groups.

Definitely check out Keune’s website at to learn more about her impressive background and to view the lovely studio pieces that she offers for sale.

This article originally appeared in the June 26, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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Christine Foster Meloni

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.