And it all started with a Community Ed class
Patti Goke of St. Cloud has her husband, Jim, to thank for her ascension into the top tier of rosemaling, the painted folk art of Norway. About 37 years ago, Jim told her he thought she would enjoy rosemaling. “I saw the potential in her,” he said. “After seeing a rosemaling class offered by community education of St. Cloud, and knowing that she enjoyed all sorts of arts and crafts, I thought she might enjoy rosemaling.”
One problem: Patti didn’t know what rosemaling was. “Though I am partially of Norwegian descent, I didn’t know what rosemaling was. Our Norwegian consisted of lefse, lutefisk, and rømmegrøt. So I decided to find out.”
That entailed a community ed class. “I started there, and it slowly began to grow.”
At first, she said, she wasn’t very good, and everything was difficult. “Controlling the liner brush was very difficult for me, and is for any rosemaling students. If I wasn’t careful the lines could become misshapen, which affects the entire piece. But that class opened the door for other rosemaling classes, from American and Norwegian artists.” Patti’s rosemaling skills kept advancing... and eventually they took her all the way to Epcot Center at Walt Disney World in Florida. More on that later...
History of Rosemaling
Patti said all countries have folk art, and later artists in those countries are influenced by the work of earlier artists that they‘ve seen. “In Norway, early on, I think untrained peasant painters just wanted to bring color and beauty into their homes, so they painted.”
Despite Norway becoming Christian, many people still held onto past superstitions, Patti said. “They painted and carved symbols of protection, as on the ends of logs on the homes, often a six-pointed maria flower to protect people in the home. Symbols were painted and carved in different places in the house to aid in fertility, or on wood pieces containing butter, porridge, or dried fish to protect them, or on a barrel of beer to prevent a witch from ruining it.”
That the rural and remote valleys believed in so much superstition might sound odd today, Patti said. “But it was just to bring color and beauty to them--maybe not our aesthetic of beauty, and maybe not so different from early cave people drawing on the walls of caves, which may have been symbolism for protection.”
Additionally, early rosemalers were influenced by motifs in old rural churches, she said, which were full of really naive amateur motifs. “That gave the congregation something to look at while they were standing, or sitting in some god awful pews, while the sermon went on and on and on. You can imagine their minds wandering, thinking, ‘Okay, I can paint that flower on a box at home.’”
Rosemaling in Norway
In the summer of 1991, Peter Lodoen was working in his family’s Raftevold Hotel in Hornindal, Norway, when his mother Eunice said she wanted to come over. Peter said, “She was getting older, so I suggested she ask Patti Goke as a travel companion in coming to Norway, and that’s what happened.”
Patti said so much happened during that trip with Eunice Lodoen. “I stayed at the historical Raftevold Hotel, and painted some rosemaling on a couple of doors and part of a wall of the hotel. I visited museums to examine different kinds of rosemaling. Unfortunately, when the hotel was sold to a German, the paintings were taken down.”
Vesterheim Norwegian Museum in Decorah, Iowa
Besides having a piece of her art by the Vesterheim in 1994, Patti has worked with the museum. “Because of my interest in researching old pieces of rosemaling I have been asked to consult on pieces that Vesterheim might want to purchase, or have donated to their collection. So they ask me what I know about it, because I’m in the world of rosemaling.”
Patti has earned a Vesterheim gold medal in rosemaling by earning points in national exhibitions. “I also had a grant from the Minnesota Arts Board to study with Vesterheim gold medalist Karen Jenson, a rosemaler from Milan, Minn. Twice I’ve had the incredible experience of being a tour guide for Vesterheim with the folk art in Norway. I learned a lot of things, taught a lot of things.”
But this was just the beginning. One day in 2015, Patti answered the telephone to find a call from a Head Imagineer at Epcot Center in Florida. “He said they were renovating the Norwegian Pavilion at Epcot, and they wanted me to design and paint in the new Anna & Elsa’s Royal Sommerhous in the Pavilion.”
They had vetted her partially through all the work she had done with rosemaling in the Vesterheim Norwegian Museum, including recommending pieces for the museum to obtain. “It was humbling and a real honor to be chosen from all the rosemalers in the United States to work at Epcot, and I said I would do it,” she said.
Five months later she made her first trip to Epcot. “That was a new experience for me,” she said. “They flew me down, and paid me Disney wages, even for travel days, which had never happened before.”
First she taught rosemaling to a group of Disney Imagineers, designing paintings to do for these scenic painters who can imitate and copy precisely anything they see. “They do a lot of the backdrops at Disney World and Disneyland. I also did some rosemale painting,” she said. Patti also painted display pieces for the new gift shop. “Besides the team of artists I worked with, I had a colorist who gave me the exact color and quantity I needed.”
After returning home, she designed paintings for the Sommerhous ceiling, which had to relate to the Frozen movies. “These designs were 30 or 40 feet long, and three or four feet wide. Then I flew down there again and presented the designs and color examples, using ‘Frozen’ colors, what I called ‘Frozemaling.’” The artists painted the designs on the ceiling. “However, the parent company wanted the paintings to have the stencilized look of ‘Frozen,’ which is not rosemaling.”
Michel den Dulk, head of the world’s Disney theme parks preferred her designs. “Epcot wanted real rosemaling so people could see what it was. Michel flew to California and fought with filmmaker John Lasseter, but Lasseter won out. Michel’s fighting for me really meant a lot. My three artist groups were very very disappointed that they would have to do stencil work, not freehand based on my designs,” she said.
Each time at Epcot, Patti had a driver with a limousine at her beck and call. “Because I was working behind the scenes I needed a security clearance, and because it was a construction site I had to wear a hard hat, safety glasses, and a Day-Glo color vest. The security guys would say, ‘Oh, here comes the princess in the hard hat,’” Patti laughed. “That was kind of fun. I oversaw and painted 32 pieces of furniture while down there, like a library chair, magazine rack, and violin. They put me up at Animal Kingdom Resort so I could watch giraffes and zebras and other animals go by while I was on the deck painting. It was quite magical, and the people I met were incredibly gifted and talented.”
She said the world is a small place. “Wyatt Winter and Jason Grandt from the Epcot team flew to Norway when they thought about remodeling the Sommerhous. Sven, the son of a friend living in the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway, took the men out to see the Northern Lights, northern Norway landscapes, reindeer, and our friends’ house that was on stilts over the ocean. Sven, the reindeer in ‘Frozen,’ is named in honor of our friend‘s son.”
“Working at Epcot was quite an experience. It’s still hard to believe it was my experience.”
What Is Rosemaling?
Patti said many people think rosemaling involves painting just flowers, but it is very complicated, with many styles within styles. “Right now I’m exploring some lesser-known styles, and having great fun working on the more geometric Trøndelag style and Nordfjord rosemaling, which have stayed true to their roots.”She said, “I think a lot of people don’t understand the deep rich history of rosemaling as nowadays it’s a decorative painting movement that many people think it is a craft rather than art.”
What she enjoys most about rosemaling is research and sketching, she said, “Although I do enjoy the painting. And looking at all the pictures. Norway and Sweden are incredible with putting collections of rosemaling from museums online where you can find different artists.” Patti said she hears many people who say encouraging things about her art. “I also hear a lot of ’I wish I could do it.’ My answer to that is, ’Do it. You won’t do it as well as I do with all my experience and practice at this point, of course. But I hear a lot of ‘I can’t do that,’ or ‘Oh, I can’t draw a straight line. You don’t need to draw a straight line to paint.”
“Jim saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, and we had an old trunk that he thought would be nice to have rosemaled. He put decals on that trunk, and I said I would paint it once he stripped the decals, but the decals are still there,” she laughed. “But I’m still rosemaling.”