I have always like to draw vining forms. But Karen Jenson and other rosemalers' fiery enthusiasm for this art took decorative painting to a whole new level. Rosemaling teachers were eagerly sought as practitioners threw themselves into it body and soul. I loved the hotly contested Gold Medal competition at the Nordic Fest in Decorah, and how people poured into exhibit halls to see the new work of master painters. It was a golden age.
Rosemaled trunk by Karen Jenson & Gene Tokheim
We got to know Karen Jenson as a fellow crafts person at art fairs in late 1970's. Early on she took on large interior projects for churches and banks and became interested in architectural contexts for her work.
Rosemaled Platter with verse from "Per Smevik"
I began adding Norwegian folk art designs to Gene's pottery with calligraphy and rosemaling. Milan, Minnesota was a hotbed of good rosemaling which eventually led to the Milan Village Art School.
Bowls with incised, carved and chipped designs 1987
Rosemaled Porcelain Series
Sigmund Aarseth was the premier Norwegian rosemaling teacher visiting the US, and I learned the free form of his Telemark transparent style.
This was done on new wood with a thin background of white oil wash, very fast with a big brush.
Traditional Swedish Decorative Swag
I painted this Swedish flower design in my kitchen from a design that Karen Jenson drew out for me.
Decorative Sponge Painting on Plaster Board, Oil
Sponge painting my dining room walls in 1994 showed me how thinned oil paints created subtle interaction with shades of yellow ochre on a warm gray background.
Painting a Swedish tapestry design in Karen Jenson class, Milan
Woodcarving Inspired Pottery
Norsk woodworking, weavings and metal work done by common people before 1750 have a mysterious nobility. Norway was isolated from the rest of Europe by cold, distance and mountainous terrain so they retained their folk culture longer.
Researching wood carving that we could adapt to clay forms is a shared interest for Gene and me. Norway had no clay tradition and we often got the comment, "But this should be done in wood!"
Setesdal Bowl, 2007
We were delighted when Vesterheim gave one of our Setesdal bowls to Crown Prince Haakon and Mett-Marit Tjessem Holby in honor of their 2001 wedding. The piece is part of the permanent royal art collection.
Lidded Tankard with incised design, 1985
Vesterheim Museum Director Marion John Nelson organized prestigious Norwegian American Folk Art Exhibits that traveled nationally and to Norway.
Dragon Style with Runes Bowl, 1994
Setesdal Design Bowl, 1987
The motif of interlaced vines and Gothic type chip carving in a fan shape was popular in the Setesdal district of Norway.
Tureen set, 1987
Bridget's Bowl, 1990
Brass Rimmed Setesdal Bowl
Hadeland Pitcher, photo by Jim Johnson
I was excited to an example of Iron Age Norwegian pottery since Norway did not have rich clay deposits or a tradition of pottery making. The shards of pottery were dated 550 A.D unearthed at Gammelgård, an ancient farm site near a fjord in Gran, Hadeland. The original pot was 13 cm, hand built and decorated with stamping and incised lines. It can be seen in the University of Oslo Museum.
Vesterhem Museum Director Marion Nelson saw the ethnic folk crafts revival as a reaction against mass culture because it removed the presence of the human hand from objects of every day use and reduced the possibilities of self-expression.
Viking Interlacing Trees Bowl with Hardanger
When I am doing Scandinavian design work I bump into boundaries that I construct for myself. I want to reference traditional styles even as I translate them into different materials and styles. Using traditional ideas means I represent more than just myself.
Tokheim Stoneware 1973 sign hand-carved by Franz Richter & Gene Tokheim
I learned by observing Franz Allbert Richter's design work. He has great regard for traditional crafts and modern design. Franz often arrived with a stack of Scandinavian and other design books to share with us.
Running with Fjordhorses
When Gene applied horsehead handles to some of the Nordic bowl forms he was making things really took off. I was interested in the more surfaces to decorate with carving or calligraphy. It opened up a lot of possibilities.