Maker, Olav H. Dokka; decorated by Olga Edseth, 1991
Gift of Olga Edseth
This white basket tells the story of two artists separated by an ocean and generations of immigration, yet united in passion for Norwegian ethnic art. In 1988, Olga Edseth visited a folk museum in Boi i Telemark in southeast Norway. While there, she bought this wooden, “weaved” basket from ninety-five year old carver Olav H. Dokka. Three years later, Edseth rosemaled the basket in Mount Horeb. “19 O.M.E. 91” indicate her initials and the date. This basket symbolically joins two artists through their craft, and rosemaling transformed it from a Norwegian souvenir to a hybrid of Norwegian-American folkart.
Ethnic artwork does not exist in a vacuum. It is subject to the movements of time, people, taste and variations in tradition. Each piece is imbued with a narrative, and sometimes these intertwine multiple artists divided by ocean and diaspora who are held together by their passion for art. There is a journey to be discovered, and that is where the story of this basket (Item 45), begins.
Olga Edseth of Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, was incredibly proud of her Norwegian descent, traveling frequently to Norway to visit relatives. In 1988, she made a trip to the Telemark region of southern Norway, a culturally significant area for Norwegian-American ethnic identity. Telemark, and the Hallingdal region of eastern Norway, experienced a vast population drainage to the United States through the 19th c. diaspora. These immigrants brought with them both material culture and skillsets representing their variations of ethnic art and folk identity to regions like the Driftless Area. In particular, they transported their style of rosemaling. Rosemaling has distinct stylistic variations bearing the name of the regional origin. Among these, Telemark and Hallingdal are the most prominent. Historian Nils Ellingsgard refers to them as “the core areas of the art [and where] the most distinctive local styles came into being and here we find the greatest number of painters.”
While in Telemark, Olga visited a folk museum in Bø, Telemark near the Halver and Ragnhild’s farm. There at a bazar she purchased the four-sided flaired wooden basket featured here. Framed by interlocking wooden edging at a bazar, the side panels of the pine box are single pieces accented with a “basket weave” carved into the center of the boards. The skill required to achieve this visual and technical manipulation speaks to the talent of the craftsman, Olav H. Dokka. He must have made quite the impression because after Olga received the basket in the mail from Halver-Ragnhild Haugland, she wrote in pencil on the bottom not only not only where and from whom she bought it, but Dokka’s age, twice! She further includes his birthday, February 6, 1892, and observes that in 1987 he had celebrated his ninety-fifth birthday.
In 1991, Olga applied her own particular craft to the basket, transforming it from a Norwegian souvenir to a hybrid of Norwegian-American folklore. Rosemaling also allowed Olga the opportunity to give older items a new sense of purpose and identity and adding a personal flair to her purchases (see Item 46). By painting the body of the basket white, and the edgings and pegs red, the focus is redirected to the rosemaling which pops out from the flat surfaces in oranges, reds, yellows and blues. Olga has also applied a similar color scheme and motif to the base of the bentwood handle. The red frame, rosemaling and wooden weave creates a rural immigrant aesthetic. Significantly, she painted in black, “19 O.M.E. 91,” across the top of the handle, O.M.E. being her initials. This wooden, now rosemalled, basket symbolically joins the craft of Bø, Telemark and Mount Horeb, bearing not only the craftsmanship of two artists from these respective areas, but their names, linked by wood and paint by their passion for performing Norwegian folk culture.
Gilmore, Janet. “Mount Horeb’s Oljanna Venden Cunneen. A Norwegian-American Rosemaler ‘On the Edge.’” ARV Nordic Year of Folklore, 2009(65): 25-48.
Ellingsgard, Nils. “Rosemaling: A Folk Art in Migration.” In Norwegian Folk Art: The Migration of a Tradition, edited by Marion Nelson, 190-237, (New York: Abbeville Press), 1995.