Wednesday, June 3, 2009

One Idea in Detail: Learn to Rosemal

I'll understand if you find the title of this posting a bit confusing. Did I misspell "Rosemal?" (No.) Does that word have two syllables or three? (Two.) Shouldn't there be an umlaut over one of the vowels or a diagonal line through the "o"? (No.) You're not Norwegian, are you?

Neither am I. I remember distinctly the first time I encountered this word. I was a first-year teacher in a small school district in Wisconsin and Marge, a fourth-grade teacher, mentioned one afternoon that she was leaving for her rosemaling class. I envisioned Marge and her Nordic compatriots running amok in a local greenhouse, grinning maniacally as they wielded sledgehammers.

In fact, I may have audibly chortled.

Marge did not understand my amusement, even after I described the image I had conjured based on the word "rosemaling." In a tone similar, I'm sure, to the one she employed with her slower fourth-graders, she explained that rosemaling was a Norwegian decorative art with a long and distinguished history. She also spelled the word for me so I could stop seeing "rose-mauling" in my head.

After that not-so-auspicious introduction to the concept of rosemaling, I began to notice rosemaled pieces in Scandinavian-themed stores and the homes of friends. We even received a rosemaled plate as a wedding present. And, although I have yet to personally pick up a rosemaling brush, it recently struck me that it could make a fine HarvilleQuarter.

To validate this impression, I ordered all the books on rosemaling available through our regional library system - at least, all those written in English. (There were actually a half dozen or so available in Norwegian.) Interestingly, these books do not all offer the same translation for the word - I've seen "rose painting," "flower painting," "rose designing," and "decoration painting," the latter source declaring that the "rose" part of "rosemal" does NOT mean "rose" in Norwegian.

Several books, including one geared to children, show step-by-step instructions. (Please raise your hand if your children have been begging for rosemaling lessons. . . . I thought so.) On the other hand, one source warns, and I quote, " usually has to be born with the talent for it. It most definitely is not acquired." Although I hesitate to continue, I should note the same source says, "The art of rosemaling is tedious and it is difficult to find those who will take the time the intricate work demands."

Have I discouraged you yet? Maybe the idea of building a tree house doesn't sound so bad now, does it? Well, I'm going to go out on a limb, not to build a tree house, but to suggest that basic rosemaling is not that difficult and it can be learned. In fact, one expert explains that rosemaling consists of combinations of only 6 brush strokes: a C, a Reverse C, an S (which is really a combination of a C and a Reverse C), plus circles, dots, curved lines and straight lines. Now really, how hard can this be? It sounds like a good HarvilleQuarter activity to me. I'm guessing most of us can turn out rosemaled wall plaques, wooden trays and jewelry boxes that will elicit much oohing and aahing when our families unwrap them on Christmas morning.

In addition to several how-to books with lots of photographs, there are of course DVD's - beginning, intermediate and advanced rosemaling, along with kits, paints, brushes, patterns and everything else one might need to get started, all available on the Internet. There are even a surprising number of hands-on classes for the aspiring rosemaler, not all of them in Wisconsin, Minnesota or Norway. So your options are many.

I will warn you that there is a well-defined color palette for rosemaling and it is not a cheery one. Although it includes yellows, reds and blues, the old Norwegians seemed to have found only the most subdued and darkest shades. This probably stems from a national Seasonal Affective Disorder brought about by months of 20-hour nights. However, I will admit that rosemaled objects can be quite lovely and, even after all my snide remarks, I'm ready to sign up for a class to see what this artistically challenged guy can do. How hard can C strokes and Reverse C strokes be, after all?

And this comes from a guy who finds nothing more terrifying than being confronted with a blank sheet of paper and commanded to draw something. I break out in a cold sweat at the very thought of Pictionary. But, rosemaling - that doesn't scare me.

(Note: the photograph of the rosemaled dish at the beginning of this post is from the Website It was created by the artist Unni Marie Lien. Hopefully, including this attribution will prevent me from getting sued for unauthorized use. Unni Marie appears to be a perfectly lovely woman in her photograph and I'm sure she would never consider taking me to court.)

1 comment:

  1. Speaking as one who grew up in Southern MN being exposed to lutefisk, lefse, and rosemaling, I think it's a great idea. And if it doesn't work out, one could always visit a greenhouse, if not to maul, at least to stop and smell those roses :)