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Jan Lee carefully paints flower pedals on a rosemaling project she is working on. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

The art of rosemaling

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Life Detroit Lakes,Minnesota 56501
Detroit Lakes Online
The art of rosemaling
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Dorothy Hoover said she always had an interest in doodling and painting, so in 1978, she started taking lessons. Now, she’s giving the lessons, and turning whatever she can find into masterpieces.


Once a month, a group of painters get together in Trinity Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes to work on their rosemaling, folk art painting and keeping up their Norwegian tradition.

It was in 1978, that members of the local Sons of Norway organization wanted to learn rosemaling. They turned to fellow Vikingland Lodge member Paul Ness, “the go-to” guy on rosemaling, Hoover said.

Fast forward 35 years and Hoover paints around 300 pieces a year, all culminating up to Norsk Hostfest, the fall festival in Minot, N.D., where she sells half to three-quarters of her pieces. This is the 17th year she and her husband, Bob, have sold their creations at the festival.

“Because one time a year I sell my stuff,” she said with a laugh.

For the last five years, a group of friends — who also happen to be Sons of Norway members together — met once a month to practice their rosemaling.

The art of rosemaling

“What rosemaling has that a lot of others don’t is a lot of blending,” Hoover describes of the painting technique.

Rosemaling originated in Norway, and each region was known for a certain style of rosemaling. The most popular is Telemark, which uses “C” or “S” strokes, which all originate from one root in the painting.

“There are 18 styles of rosemaling. I certainly don’t know all of them,” Hoover said with a laugh.

She said she mainly teaches Telemark because she doesn’t feel qualified to teach other styles. She also paints folk art with little characters.

Rosemaling is done in a variety of colors now, but she said centuries ago when rosemaling started, certain rosemalers only painted in certain colors, also linking the colors to certain regions of Norway.

Rosemalers, who were only males at the time, were limited in colors because it was before manmade dye and they had to use whatever berries and natural items they could find to color the paint.

That has obviously changed over the years though.

The basecoat of the piece being painted is done in acrylic paint because it dries very quickly. Oil paints are then used to do the rosemaling because it takes much longer to dry, which makes it easier to blend the colors.

Hoover said it takes her about two hours to paint a folk art scene and about an hour to do rosemaling. And while the others in her group say she’s fast, which she admits it does come easily for her, it’s also because she’s been working on her painting technique for 35 years, she added.

She said that people will look at a rosemaling piece and say that they could never paint because they can’t draw a straight line. But, she insists, that that’s a good thing when it comes to rosemaling because there isn’t a single straight line involved.

“I never thought I could do rosemaling because it looks complicated, but it’s not bad,” Ardys Hanson said.

Rosemaling involves flowers, leaves and scrolls, with small, whimsical lines here and there to bring the finished project to completion.

“The little teeny lines at the end are all pulled together,” Faye Johnson said.

As for what can be painted, Hoover and her fellow painters have found about anything to work. From cream cans to bird houses, sleighs to plates, bowls to stools, jewelry boxes to clocks.

They find treasures at the thrift store and rummage sales to make new with their paintings.

Enjoying rosemaling

“It’s a part of our heritage,” Carol Turner said was the reason she got involved with rosemaling. She started with a self-teaching book and eventually joined classes to learn even more technique.

Hoover said regardless of their skill level, they all can get ideas from each other on painting.

And, she said, she still takes classes because “you can always pick up good tips. You never stop learning.”

Besides painting multiple items for their own house, to give away as gifts and to sell, Hoover said that she has rosemaled a border in her bathroom before. When she got tired of it, she simply painted over it.

“My husband says don’t sit still too long or I’ll start painting on you,” Hoover said with a laugh.

One of her pieces she sold at the festival in Minot became a part of the Church Basement Ladies theatrical performance. The object becomes the center of the play, she said.      

Once the play went on the road, they called her up and requested she make another box for them to use for the traveling show.

“Nobody knows it’s mine,” she said, “but it’s been all over.”

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.