Art of rosemaling is alive and well in Wisconsin

Jerry Apps
Jerry Apps' brother-in-law Clarence Olson did rosemaling on this plate. Rosemaling, a Norwegian folk art, is also known as rose painting and brightened many a household in Norway.

I knew next to nothing about rosemaling until I married my Norwegian wife and discovered that both her sister, Pearl Johnson, and her brother, Clarence Olson did rosemaling. (Clarence painted the plate pictured above.)

For others who may know little about this interesting Norwegian folk art, I did a little digging. Rosemaling, or rose painting, goes back to a love for the rose flower. I thought this special folk art surely must have ancient roots in that Scandinavian country. But as ancient art forms go, rosemaling didn’t get started until the mid-1700s. Woodcarving and textile arts are much older.

Before rosemaling came along as a way of decorating often dreary rural Norwegian homes, colorful woven fabrics were used to brighten up homes during the cold, dark Norwegian winters. By the early 1800s, rosemaling—usually done on wood—could be found on plates, tables, cradles, beds, and chests. Anything wooden was a rosemaling candidate.

Rosemaling styles varied from Norwegian district to district. The Rogaland and Hordaland areas appear to have done the most in creating distinctive local styles.

During the second half the 1800s, a vast wave of Norwegian emigrants arrived in the United States, many in Wisconsin. They brought with them items decorated with Rosemaling. But then the art of rosemaling was left behind. That is until Norwegian emigrant, Per Lysne (1880-1947) arrived in Stoughton, WI.

During the Depression years of the 1930s, when Per Lysne was out of work, he once more began doing rosemaling painting. And once more this ethnic folk art took off. Today, workshops are held. Competitions take place. The art of rosemaling is alive and well and flourishing.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Even those of us with sauerkraut backgrounds can learn from Norwegians.

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to