Learning, teaching Scandinavian art

By Carol Stender


Carol Braaten of Farwell, Minn., claimed she can’t draw a stick figure, but with her oil paints and and the right brush, she creates amazing rosemaling designs on wood and Swedish Dalmalning on canvas.


Carol Braaten learned about rosemaling about 20 years ago and has entered pieces in competition and taught courses on the art form. Photo by Carol Stender

She’s not only created art pieces for her farm home, but, for several years, has sold her artwork at the Thorson Memorial Library in Elbow Lake.


Braaten’s interest in rosemaling has prompted her to, over the past 18 years, take three to four classes per year. This amounts to about 100 classroom hours annually.


“That’s a lot of rosemaling,” she said.


She has also taught classes in rosemaling as well as Swedish Dalmalning.


Although she has exhibited a talent for the art form, rosemaling wasn’t something she grew up with, Braaten said.


She grew up in Cyrus, Minn., one of five children, and learned how to knit, crochet, embroider and do counted cross-stitch.


Braaten graduated with a general home economics and design degree from Minnesota State University-Mankato. She said she could do it all, except painting.


After college, Braaten worked for a short time in a furniture store before marrying Farwell farmer David Braaten. The two settled into a small trailer house on the farm where they milked cows and raised crops.


When she experienced two bouts of cancer in the early 1990s, Braaten decided to build a house. With the help of family and friends, they planned and built the structure. Her love of design and color is evident in the home’s decorating.


As a member of the Pope County Homemaker’s group, she shared her interests by teaching homemaker’s group classes. One year, she taught a course on faux finishes and a fellow homemaker, Avid Brandt, asked to use her visual aides to share with her club.


When Brandt visited Braaten’s home, she noticed the wallpaper.


“Why, that looks like rosemaling,” she said.


At the time, Carol was unfamiliar with rosemaling and thought of it as a Norwegian art form.


Brandt suggested she co-mingle her talents of color and design by doing rosemaling. Braaten was certainly interested.


Following her friend’s suggestions, Braaten studied the art and joined the Terrace Mill Foundation-Rosemaling Association of Terrace, Minn. Later she joined the Prairie Renaissance Cultural Alliance of Morris, Minn., and has taken up to 75 hours of classes each year.


It’s more than painting swirls and flowers. In the Norwegian rosemaling design, for example, there is a specific style for different regions of the country. Telemark is the most common style with its asymmetrical design with a root center. The scrolls come from this root while flowers and leaves of different sizes and colors branch off from that base design.


The second most commonly painted type is Rogaland. The style is very symmetrical where each side is a mirror image of the other. Different flowers and colors depict each of the various styles. Os is a design from the Hordaland region around Bergen, Norway. The background of this style is often block, white or red. Then there’s Valdes which features bouquets of flowers strung from a rope. Other rosemaling types include Gudbrandsdal, Hallingdal and Vest Agder.


While rosemaling is a Norwegian art form, it’s a popular style of art learned by many ethnicities including Japanese and Russian, she said.


Norwegian rosemaling is usually painted on wood while the Swedish Dalmalning is created on canvas.


Carol Braaten paints a variety of Norwegian rosemaling styles representing the various regions of Norway as well as Swedish rosemaling. This picture is one of her Swedish rosemaling works. While the Norwegian rosemaling is usually painted on wood, the Swedish form is painted on canvas. The Swedish scenes usually have people, animals and houses in them as well. Photo by Carol Stender

Swedish Dalmalning is generally a happy scene with a castle, animals and people based on Bible stories. In earlier times, the Swedish Dalmalning was painted on a large canvas which was rolled up to protect it from the soot of the open fireplace. When company arrived, the canvas was unrolled for all to enjoy the scene.


Braaten, who is half Norwegian and half Swedish, enjoys painting both styles. Her artwork is displayed throughout her home. Door crowns of rosemaling are placed above the doorways. There are also various rosemaling wooden hangings on the walls as well as Swedish canvas art. She even completed a wooden chair of rosemaling. It blends in well with the one’s decor.


“It’s an outlet for me,” she said as Braaten turned to her studio area. There, in the couple’s sunroom, she works on a desk in front of a large window. The lighting is perfect and her paints and brushes are just inches away.


She said it’s a learned art form and a lost art form as well, but over the last 100 years it’s made a comeback more in America than Norway. It is a way to connect with ancestors.


Each stroke in rosemaling is built on the next with the use of good brushes. Artists typically use oil pints mixed with walnut alkyd. The paints dry slowly, making it possible to erase and try again, if necessary.


The process starts with preparing the background of raw wood, which is a solid color on the Norwegian designs. Then a light tracing of whatever design the artist chooses. When she lints, she will paint all of one color before starting on the next, due to the slow drying process.


Rosemaling courses she has attended are taught by Vesterheim Gold Medalists who come from throughout the U.S. as well as local instructors like Clarice Dieter and Avis Brandt, both from Morris. Braaten has entered exhibits which was included rosemaling on plates, clocks and candleholders and more at Rosemaling events including the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa.


The Vesterheim is known around the world for its collections of both Norwegian and American rosemaled artworks as well as other forms of Norwegian art like weavings, carvings and woodworking.


At a Terrace Mill Rosemaling competition, she earned sufficient points towards the “Bedrift” award which means high achievement.


While she’s worked to perfect her craft, Braaten has found joy in creating her own designs while staying true to the different regional art forms.

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