Bringing the garden inside
The revered art of rosemaling flourishes anew
Spring in Norway awakens all the senses: the lush gardens filled with enormous spheres of hydrangeas in shades of pinks, blues, and purples cast against green tones; the wildflowers scattered across front lawns, town roads, and wooded paths; and the scent of sweet strawberries ripening.
What happens when days get shorter and the air fluctuates between damp and dank for so many months? Well, the Norwegians found a way to bring the outside inside, especially the lost flowers of spring, through the art of rosemaling. The name even contains a flower, as it translates to “rose painting.”
Rosemaling is believed to have originated in the 1700s. Decorative indoor painting was not unique to Scandinavia, but specific forms, techniques, and styles evolved in the Nordic countries and even splintered more throughout their regions. It gained enough popularity and prestige to have guilds formed, further elevating the craft.
It is especially enticing when you see a cacophony of surfaces painted in old farmhouses, from ceiling beams to walls, windowsills, cupboards, and chests. No surface is safe from the paint brush, much to the delight of the residents and their visitors.
And, of course, Scandinavian immigrants took this art with them to the United States. Norwegian American Lise Lorentzen’s pieces are especially fine. I first came upon her work, a plate, in her parents’ kitchen. I inquired about the piece, as it was so unique. Her mother explained that she had combined Swedish style on the surface and Norwegian over that layer. I was so impressed that I commissioned a plate for a friend’s daughter as a wedding gift. She was half Norwegian and her fiancé was half Swedish, so it was very apropos.
Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Lise about her work. Below is what she shared.
Victoria Hofmo: You have the ability to paint realistically. I remember the large plate you donated to the committee for the 17th of May parade in Brooklyn. It was that famous painted scene of Norwegian emigrants leaving their fjord home on a small boat. Yet, you choose to focus on rosemaling rather than to work as a traditional painter. Why?
Lise Lorentzen: Realistic painting vs. rosemaling. The painting that you are referring to is actually the “Bridal Procession on the Hardangerfjord” [Brudeferd i Hardanger, 1848, by Hans Gude and Adolph Tidemand]. I was a child who always played with paints. At age 11, I had the opportunity to take a rosemaling class with Jon Grondahl at Nansen Lodge [in Staten Island, N.Y.]
It was something I very much enjoyed but didn’t focus on until I was about 15, which is when my father and I started a rosemaling business. Before that time, I still played around with landscapes and such, but once we began the business, my main focus became learning as much about rosemaling as I could.
I was asked by the 17th of May Committee of Greater New York to paint a piece for them. The question was asked by my brother, David Thorsen, “Do you think Lise could paint this scene for us as well? His response was, “Of course she can!” I hadn’t done a landscape in many years, and I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off, but in the long run, I realized how much I liked painting them and I have been including them ever since!
VH: You have been offering wonderful online classes. Why did you decide to do this and how have they been going?
LL: I am a teacher by profession, having been a special education teacher in New York City for many years. This made it very easy for me to begin teaching in person many years ago. I had been asked over the years to teach online, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that it kicked into full-blown action to moving teaching online.
This has been a wonderful experience not only for me, but for so many people that are not close to areas that provide in-person teaching. I have had students from all over the country, Canada, and as far as Australia and India in my classes. They have been a great success. I love to teach rosemaling! The only way that art forms can continue is if they are art taught and when your God gives you a gift, you need to use it!
VH: What’s coming up for you and your art, your rosemaling work?
LL: Currently, I am working on my pieces for Nordic Fest at Vesterheim in Decorah, Iowa. I am halfway toward a Vesterheim Gold Medal, and I hope to send my three pieces out there later this week. [VH: Best of luck on that, Lise.] In addition to teaching, I am continuing my commission work on a regular basis, including many wedding plates.
Lately, I try to post as often as I can on my YouTube channel, Rosemaling with Art of Lise. There is also an Etsy site, artoflisecreations.etsy.com, and I continue my artistic licensing partnership with Gift Chalet Auburn (etsy.com/shop/GiftChaletAuburn). You may find me on Instagram and Facebook at Art of Lise. More on rosemaling may be found at rosemalingclasses.com. On Facebook there are many great sites to follow.
Like a greenhouse, rosemaling can preserve flowers through the dark, dank days. Rosemaling also adds warmth, color, and light to sunless spaces and leaden rooms. It is so nice to see this beautiful art form continue. Having a piece of rosemaling in the home is a way to preserve this tradition. So, why not bring a piece of the garden into your home and enjoy spring all year long.
All photos courtesy of Lise Lorentzen
This article originally appeared in the May 27, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.