Forest Wood Rosemaling Art & Craft

Amanda's Rosemaling and Traditional Crafts (Husfliden)


What is Rosemaling? Norwegian Folk Art:

Rosemaling or "Rose painting" is a traditional style of art from Norway painted by artists with limited training. Evolving first from the Renaissance religious paintings, such as an early example pictured here, Rosemaling later became a popular form of decoration and embellishment in private homes in many regions of Norway.

Characterized by stylized flowers such as tulips and roses, this traditional form of painting developed following the Renaissance movement and is grounded by 'c' and s' shaped scrolls. Walls and ceilings were deliberately decorated in order to brighten the dark interiors and walls of the 'Stave' churches.
 Later, this style of painting was used
on common household objects to create a festive mood in the ordinary Norwegian home and "hytte" (mountain cabin).

Styles vary greatly according to the geographical area in which they were originally painted due to the relative isolation of the valley communities in rural Norway where Rosemaling developed. The dearth of outside influences facilitated the individual interpretation and development of Rosemaling, so that there is much variation to be found in each style and corresponding geographical area. Some are bright cheery geometric designs whilst others are predominantly floral symmetrical designs and still others are filled with swirls and C strokes.

Today this style of art is not only found in Norway, but also in mid-western America and by devoted enthusiasts, throughout the world, who are attracted to its sense of  movement, history and also its significant place in Norwegian culture and art.


How did Rosemaling evolve?

From quite rudimentary beginnings in the woodcarvings motifs and religious art of the Middle Ages, Rosemaling emerged in Norway during the Renaissance and Baroque periods of 1550 –1700, primarily as stylized plant motifs and acanthus scrolls in larger churches.  International trends in religious art filtered slowly into the rural areas of Norway, as it was only when church furniture and fittings, (manufactured by the fashion-conscious urban craftsmen), were installed in the country parishes, that new designs and ideas were introduced. 

In their relative isolation, rural folk artists adapted the religious motifs to suit their own
purposes, and over time, developed an original style.  Slavish copying was almost never used. For example, the symmetrical designs of acanthus vine elements, so popular in the Renaissance era, were heavily influenced by international Rococco trends, then later adapted by folk artists, finally emerging in the Telemark region of Norway, as the distinctive ‘C’ curves and ‘S’ scrolls, on an asymmetrical central root. This is the very popular style that we now identify as Telemark Rosemaling.


Between 1700 -1850, lavishly painted objects were often seen as status symbols in Norway. Rosemaling artists were in demand painting cupboards, dressers, saddles, harness parts, sleighs, and even clocks. Trading with other countries in the Hanseatic League provided the opportunity for Eastern Asian influences to reach the shores of Norway and this provided a further source of inspiration for Norwegian folk artists.


Well-to-do farmers and Government officials had their homes decorated according to international trends established by the fashion- conscious, upper middle classes.

However, Rose-painters were not always quick to abandon the older styles and patterns, and in rural districts, motifs from a particular style continued in use, often after they had become unfashionable with the urban elites. Today it is even possible to identify the origins of a piece of Rosemaling based solely on the design itself.


As the twentieth century approached, Rosemaling declined in popularity and it was only the political situation in Norway that saved it from obscurity.  Once Norway gained its independence, there was a groundswell of interest amongst the public, in all things Norwegian, particularly crafts and painting. The revival continued throughout the 20th century and ensured Rosemaling had a promising future, both in Norway and in immigrant communities around the world, especially in the United States.


An opportunity to see the rich heritage of Norway should not be missed. By studying the Rosemaling in the Stave churches, museums and contemporary exhibitions in Norway, a folk artist can, like those painters in centuries past, become inspired to create individual masterpieces and hopefully, their own original style.

Here is a one of the finest examples of public rosemaling in the southern hemisphere.
It is the doors of the former Norwegian clubhouse at Newmarket, Brisbane.


Rosemaling comes to America

After flourishing for more than 150 years, the art of Rosemaling almost completely disappeared in Norway around 1870 and was revived only by Nationalistic sentiment to all things Norwegian,  which brewed around the time of Norway's political separation from Swedish and Danish control. Meanwhile the appearance of Rosemaling in America can be traced back to the efforts of one man.

During lean financial times at his father's wagon factory, Per Lysne of Stoughton, Wisconsin remembered his father's rosemaling back in Norway, and began rosepainting wagons, other items of Norwegian furniture, and some home interiors. Sometime during the 1930's he painted a smorgasbord plate that later became his trademark.
Per was assisted in restoration of Norwegian relics and specialist woodwork by several Stoughton woodworkers including Andrew Kvalheim, Donavan Wake, and Haakon Tholo.

Immensely popular with the women in America, Lysne's Rosemaling sparked a revival throughout the country; particularly in areas of Norwegian and scandinavian immigrants.
Lysne's palette of bright colours on white or pale yellow backgrounds reflected the trends of the times and his smorgasbord plate became popular as a wedding gift. Plates such as these were often sold in the Marshall Field's Department store in Chicago, ironically in their "Swedish Department". The pre-eminent collection of American rosemaling, including one of Lysne's three legged chairs, is to be found in the Vesterheim collection in Decorah, Iowa.

Many fine examples of American Rosemaling are exhibited in the Vesterheim Museum in Decorah,  Iowa.


A JOURNEY to NORWAY - "Discovering Norwegian Rosemaling"

  • Norsk Folkemuseum


You can reach Norway from many routes but you might, as I did, arrive after a delightful day’s journey by train from the Copenhagen airport in Denmark

Travelling firstly through picturesque wooded farmland dotted with lakes and red barns on the Swedish east coast, one reaches Norway’s capital city of Oslo, home to the Norsk Folkemuseum. From the city centre, a short ferry ride will take you to the island of Bygdøy, to the open air Folkemuseum, which is the place to view folk art. Guides dressed in traditional costumes usher you about the collection of 150 traditional Norwegian Stabbur (log homes), relocated from rural districts of Norway, like Telemark, Sestesdal, and Numedal. Many of the interiors are decorated with original Rosemaling; some examples dating as far back as 1670. 


A Telemark cottage, especially commissioned by a farm owner to accommodate a V.I.P. guest, in 1800, is completely adorned with the rich scrolls of Telemark Rosemaling on the ceiling, walls, and the furniture.

Like the Uvdal and Røldal Stave Churches in Norway, there is more “rosepainting” in the Folkemuseum’s 13th century Stave church, which has been relocated from Hallingdal, (another valley renowned for its Rosemaling style).


If the weather turns nasty, the Folkemuseum has an indoor exhibition that will keep a Folk artist’s jaw well and truly hung open. Documenting the evolution of Rosemaling as an art form, this exhibit contains many historic examples of the different styles, such as hutches and turned bowls from the Hallingdal valley, hanging cupboards from Telemark, as well as mangle-boards and tankards from Valdres and other districts.


The pieces are very old, and the artist’s palette was obviously limited to the pigments available in rural areas. Despite this, the old masters were able to achieve stunning colour harmony and magnificence in their work. Don’t miss the splendid trunk from Romsdal dating from 1834, as well as ale dippers, and pretty “sending baskets” (used in olden times for carrying a food hamper to a neighbour who had fallen ill)  which are decorated in Vest Agder and Os Rosemaling.


“Os” style is distinguished by strong bright florals on white, red or black backgrounds, accompanied by leaves with visible veins. Occasionally houses or churches are used as focal points in Os, whilst objects painted in Vest-Agder style are geometric patterns with symmetry. The teardrop details complement the floral motifs, but the leaves are painted in the simple technique of each half a different colour.



* HUSFLIDEN (Norwegian handicrafts)


If you are enthralled with what you have seen at Bygdøy museum, go to the Husfliden (traditional handicrafts) store in Oslo. They stock painted items and decoratively edged trays and even magnificent (kubbestol) chairs carved from a single tree trunk, unstained and awaiting decoration.

Smaller pieces, already painted in Rosemaling, are offered for sale. some of these are specifically produced for the tourist market, but if you want something special, contact the Rosemaling artists in Norway directly. For a list of Rosemaling artists in Norway refer to:

Master Rosemaler's Exhibition in Fredrikstad Gamlebyen



If that is still not enough to satisfy the artist in you, step back in time by driving south east from Oslo, to Fredrikstad. For many years, this medieval fortress housed the Danish and Norwegian armies and is well preserved with bastions, rampart gateways, trenches, and even a 1667 drawbridge still intact. Moreover, at the small museum in the Old Town, I stumbled across a folk artist’s dream:  a contemporary exhibition of authentic contemporary Telemark Rosemaling.

Bjørn Pettersen is a Telemark Rosemaler, and his works are painted in oils and varnished. Here he is painting a traditional kubbestol in the Telemark style.  Here you see his work.      

Antiquing patina, sometimes popular on traditional pieces in Australia, is almost never used. The exhibition comprised beautifully turned and decorated bowls, tines, ale dippers (ølboller) with carved horse-head handles, trunks, bentwood hat boxes, cake plates, soup tureens, hanging half-bowls and even a Swedish Mora Clock, all of which come decorated with an old Norwegian saying and of course, exquisitely painted in the Telemark style. This sort of souvenir will set you back as little as $35.00 Australian for a wooden match box cover, and up to $450.00 for a 30cm cake plate.(2004)


  My budget extended to a turned bowl, beautifully painted with the words:

 “Den   som vil kliva kvar den klett, skal ikkje undrast um han stundom dett” which  was translated to me as: “He who sleeps in ‘til the sun is on his belly, will have a mountain to climb for the rest of the day.” This reminded me of my teenage sons and their fondness for sleeping in!! The base of the bowl has an interesting faux finish that Bjørn explained, had been dabbed on with kitchen paper and paint thinned to the point of transparency.


 Another saying was delicately painted on a frame: “Lykke hu rømer frå mannen som krev men fytter med rikdom den handi i som give, which is a rhyme but means - The happiness will run away from you if you demand things from others, but will fill you with riches, if you hand is open and you are giving.

FREDRIKSTAD GAMLEBYEN Dragging myself away from the exhibition, I realized there is much more to inspire an artist in the colours of the town itself. Set against the picturesque backdrop of the star shaped moat, Church green and brightly painted wooden houses lining cobblestone streets, the Gamlebyen (or Old Town) is a popular venue for community events and weddings.

If luck is on your side, you might catch a glimpse, as I did, of wedding guests wearing their folk costume. 

The Bunad is comprised of a woollen skirt or trousers, with a richly embroidered blouse and vest, and like Rosemaling, each district has its own style.

It was easy to imagine what life was like for the early painters in Fredriktad as on special occasions, a historic society will re-enact the battle of 1704. Peasants and Norwegian soldiers in full period costume march into a mock battle, with bayonets fixed, bugles sounding and drums beating the march.

Whilst I was there, I also spotted the intriguing Infanterikasermen, or Calendar House, which is a wonder of military architecture from 1788. Constructed as Infantry Barracks, the building comprises 52 rooms representing each week in the calendar year, 12 chimneys for each month, 365 windows for each day, and 24 panes of glass in each window, representing the hours in a day, even 60 doors for the minutes in every hour. The military have since moved out and a school occupies the building.


Amanda McLaughlin copyright 2005


Links pertaining to the content of this article:


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Traditional Norwegian Rosemaling

History and Development of Rosemaling

American Rosemaling

Historic and Contemporary Rosemaling

Rosemaling Gallery

Amanda's Rosemaling Projects.

From topt:

Rogaland style of Rosemaling. A design by an Australian artist, Jo Cavanagh that I painted in 2003.

Telemark - a Nancy Morgan design I painted in 2009.

Gudbrandalen - Shirley Peterich design I painted in 2007.

Rogaland - Vi Thodes pattern I painted in 2008.

Learn more about the fantastic Rosemaling heritage of Norway in an article about my travels: