Rosemaling for all


Joan’s Rosemaling classes are popular in Korea, where students say the Norwegian folk art is similar to their script for written Korean. Photo courtesy Joan and Thor Dahl.

Joan and Thor Dahl share their love of Norwegian folk art with the world

The first time Joan Dahl was exposed to Rosemaling while in Norway, the art did not appeal to her. Which is surprising, considering she is now one of the foremost Rosemaling artists in the country, and in 2004 was even invited to decorate a miniature piano as a Christmas decoration for the White House. “As a thank you for my gift, I was invited to a White House Christmas party with my husband. It was a huge honor and a fantastic experience to be able to attend the lovely party as well as seeing many of the treasures this famous building has on display. Needless to say, the food was to die for!” says Joan.

Joan and her husband Thor opened their first store in Solvang, Calif., in 1976 called Dahl House Importers. Solvang is a true copy of a Danish village, and Thor and Joan bravely made an entrance as the first “non-Danish” storeowners. They sold only merchandise manufactured in Norway and imported from the “old country.” Joan thought it might be nice to have some rosemaling around the store. “We wanted to make our customers feel like they visited a real Norwegian gift shop when they came through our Rosemaled door!” says Joan. So, with only an instruction book and her own intuition as an artist, Joan went about decorating the store. Well, the customers were impressed, and Joan’s interest in Rosemaling took off.

Since then, Joan has studied Rosemaling with top American and Norwegian artists, including the famous master painter Oskar Kjetsaa, at the Rauland Akademiet in Telemark. “My husband’s farm is less than an hour’s ride from the district of Telemark. Therefore, I got more exposed to that style of Rosemaling. My students in that area also preferred to learn the Telemark style. There is so much in the Telemark designs that I prefer compared with most of the other styles from different parts of Norway. However, I’m able to paint in any Rosemaling style,” says Joan. She even taught the art of Rosemaling in Norway. At first, it was difficult to secure this job. “They didn’t believe that the Norwegians would accept a foreigner teaching them their own folk art!” says Joan. However, she was given a chance to teach at a university, and there were soon waiting lists of students who wanted to get into her class. She taught in Norway for 17 years.

Today, Joan is mostly retired, but still leads seminars at Rosemaling events around the world. Her latest seminar was in South Korea. Though it might seem surprising that people in South Korea would be interested in Norwegian folk art, Joan explains: “When I teach at National Art Conventions there are always a high percentage of Asian students in my classes. Usually they are my best pupils. In addition to many of them having a natural talent for strokes, they are very eager to learn. They tell me that from being used to write in “scripts” (characters) since childhood, the strokes in Rosemaling are relatively easy for them to learn.”

The Dahls with Laura Bush at the 2004 White House Christmas Party.

The Dahls with Laura Bush at the 2004 White House Christmas Party.

Joan has also published three hardcover books: two about Rosemaling and one about Norwegian trolls and Rosemaling. All the books are written in English on one side and Norwegian on the other; this makes the books a great opportunity for Norwegian language learning!

In addition to inspiring students around the world, Joan and her husband Thor run an impressive online store that can be found at Thor and Joan have been married for 44 years, and have been business partners for an impressive 36 years, since 1976. “Most of the time I have been in charge of the art side of our business while Thor has handled the business part. This arrangement has given us both our own space even though we often make more important decisions together,” says Joan. The Dahls are the only suppliers of a full teaching program for beginning Rosemaling. These include kits that provide all the basic supplies, as well as instructional DVDs to help get started with authentic Rosemaling techniques. Joan’s advice to beginners is: “The best way is to find a good teacher. The second best is using DVDs where one can see and hear how the different techniques are performed. This to a fraction of the cost of learning from a “live” teacher.” With the help of the Dahls, truly anyone can begin learning how to Rosemal! “You are invited to come paint with me!” Joan says. Visit to learn more about the classes and other services Joan offers, as well as to see some of her beautiful and authentic artwork.

This article originally appeared in the Mar. 16, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.