In-depth Object Studies

65 The Rosemaling of Patricia Edmundson: Expressing Norwegian-American Folk Art in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin

by Jared Lee Schmidt

Whether they take the form of Easter eggs, musical instruments, or national costumes, the folk arts practiced by members of Wisconsin’s ethnic communities symbolize the continuing importance of ethnic identity within America’s mass culture.  They help create a sense of continuity and belonging.”

~ John Michael Kohler Arts Center (1987:55)


Patricia “Pat” Edmundson (1929-1993) and her husband, Wallace, moved to Mount Horeb, Wisconsin in 1974, after being drawn from their home in Monona, Wisconsin by the community’s “Norwegian charm.”[1] Throughout her life, Edmundson was a prolific, award winning, and diverse self-taught artist who left a significant impact on both her family and adopted community’s ethnic identity through her artwork.

Edmundson was skilled in multiple mediums, several of which are currently on display at the Mount Horeb Historium, while others are preserved in the archives, they range from writings to drawings and painting on various surfaces and of distinct character.

One folder in the biographical storage units dedicated to Edmundson contains a series of eight hand drawn troll images. [2] Edmundson was known for her passion for these folk creatures and contributed greatly to the image of Mount Horeb as the “Troll Capital of the World” and the development of the “Trollway,” several of which were featured as paintings for local businesses. Three of these painting as currently on display at the exhibit, demonstrating her range of artistic talent and repertoire.[3] A second folder contains a collection of her original poems which was assembled following her death and range from the poignant and heartfelt to the humorous and scandalous.  The cover poem, “Thinking of You” by Steve Edmundson, printed on pink paper, introduces the reader to the collection, Pat’s passion for friends, family and artwork.  He concludes the poem by writing that,

Someday we will join you,

And again you’ll show you care.

We’ll be greeted with poems and paintings,

And Rosemaling everywhere.

It is in rosemaling, a style of Norwegian folk painting, that, as the poem suggests, best represents the passion and expression of Edmundson’s work with Norwegian-American heritage and her artistic talents.

Considering the scope of Edmundson’s work, the current study will focus on her Norwegian and Norwegian-American ethnic art, centered on the objects rosemalled by Edmundson displayed and archived as critical lenses through which object biographies can be constructed.[4] Utilizing a folkloristic approach and drawing from material culture studies, these objects and their biographies will be contextualized in relationship to not only Edmundson’s life and career as an artist well versed in rosemaling, but the immigration of Norwegians to Wisconsin and the revitalization movement of this folk art in “America’s Dairyland.”  This analysis will shed light on the role of craft in the development and performance of created ethnic identity and heritage among both the individual artist and their community.

Heritage and the Production of Norwegian-American Ethnic Identity

At the center of this study focusing on the life and career of Edmundson is the concept of heritage.  According to folklorist Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, heritage is an ascribed value determined by communities or folk groups through whose actions geared towards preservation and performance provides an item or lifestyle a “second life.”[5]  She suggests that, “Heritage not only gives buildings, precincts, and ways of life that are no longer viable for one reason or another a second life as exhibits of themselves.  It also produces something new.”[6]  This notion of producing “something new” will be important to the story of both rosemaling and Edmundson’s practice in the craft, particularly when considering that she did not claim any Norwegian, nor Scandinavian ancestry but descended from English and Irish immigrants.  Edmundson’s husband, Wallace, was the family member who claimed Norwegian ancestral identity.[7]

Heritage as that which is performed is particularly significant with regards to the notion, practice, and vernacular transmission of “craft” as folk art.  Bruce Metcalf notes that

…most people agree that a craft object is made largely by hand, in a small studio setting and in fairly modest numbers.  Studio crafts are clearly distinct from objects made by machines, or in large numbers in factory settings.  On the ‘art’ side of the field, craft objects cannot be dissolved into pure thought the way conceptual art can.  Crafts must remain handmade, more or less.  If it doesn’t have the imprint of the hand on it, the thing ceases to be craft in any meaningful sense.[8]

Craft, therefore, provides artists an opportunity to apply an “imprint of the hand” into their art.  This “imprint,” regardless of the distance between the creator and craft brought on by sale, exchange, or even death, is perpetuated for fellow members of their folk group to connect with the messages being transmitted within a particular tradition of folk art.  Rosemaling, through its painting by an individual artist utilizing brushes dipped in rich, vibrant colors skillfully guided by their hands, produces a craft upon the (typically wooden) surface which it is applied. However, before examining the construction and enactment, or in Edmundson’s case, adoption, of Norwegian heritage through craft, it is critical to briefly discuss the push/pull factors of Norwegian emigration to the United States. It is there that we see the source of this heritage, and the manner through which rosemaling was transplanted to Wisconsin.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Norway was amidst an economic crisis following the Napoleanic Wars coupled with a population boom and a scarcity of resources, spurring what Robin Cohen calls a “proletarian,” or labor diaspora. [9][10][11][12]
The first major wave of Norwegian emigration began in 1825, spurred by religious motivation. Over the course of the next three decades migrants largely consisted of families from the impoverished agrarian population.  They had “caught” what historians refer to as “America fever.” Emigration from Norway began in the country’s southwest coast, followed by those from the northern coast, and eventually “spreading” to the interior, resulting in the arrival of eighty percent of all Norwegian immigrants in the United States. While emigration dropped as a result of the American Civil War and Dakota-US War of 1862 in Minnesota, by 1865, 77,873 Norwegians had moved to the United States.  Of the approximately 885,000 total emigrants, 41 percent of whom were women, the dominant proportion were working class peasants with backgrounds in agriculture, fishing, and logging arrived during these periods of largest Norwegian immigration to America.  These largely Lutheran practitioners established ethnic enclaves, particularly in small rural communities, throughout the Dakotas, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.  By 1930, Wisconsin had a first- and second-generation Norwegian immigrant population of 135,953 individuals. [13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24]

In addition to community proximity near fellow Norwegians, members of this ethnic group experienced high rates of intermarriage, producing a distinct sense of identity within their enclaves.[11]  Cohen suggests that within these communities there tends to develop, “a strong ethnic group consciousness sustained over a long time and based on a sense of distinctiveness, a common history, the transmission of a common cultural and religious heritage and the belief in a common fate.”[25]  South Central Wisconsin became a dominant site for Norwegian immigration during the mid-1800s, particularly in Dane County.  By 1900, approximately 35,000 residents of Dane County claimed Norwegian ancestry.  By binding together through their traditions and shared cultural narratives, a sense of individual and group ethnic identity was strengthened in opposition to those which were similarly being developed around them.[26][27] This pattern of settlement, rural localities, and intermarriage, would provide the groundwork for what Scandinavian Studies Scholar B. Marcus Cederström refers to as folkloristic koineization, which, coupled with the concept of heritage, provides another theoretical lens through which Norwegian-American identity and the expansion of rosemaling in the United States can be examined.

Folkloristic Koieneization and Rosemaling among Norwegian-Americans

Folkloristic koineization draws from linguistic koinés to examine the formation and expression of ethnic communities (i.e. Swedish-American). Cederström defines this as,

…an amalgamation of forms of folklore and practices which have been simplified in some cases, complicated in others, practiced, celebrated, and observed in somewhat different ways, all the while invested with meanings somewhat different than the original. What emerges is a unique culture and ethnicity that is often performed or celebrated with the involvement of various audiences, even participants who are cultural outsiders to the original.

He then suggests seven guiding principles which may produce an “amalgamation” of ethnicities:[28]

Principle 1: Cultural traditions found only in one region or country, i.e. marked regional traditions, are disfavored. Traditions found in two or more regions or countries, i.e. traditions which are unmarked, are favored by community members for whom social integration is paramount.

Principle 2: Culturally simple features are more often adopted than complex ones.

Principle 3: Adults, adolescents, and children influence the outcome of cultural contact differently.

Principle 4: The adoption of traditions by a community member depends on his or her social network characteristics.

Principle 5: There is no normal historical continuity with the locality, either socially or culturally. Most first- and second-generation immigrant community members are oriented toward traditions originating elsewhere.

Principle 6: From initial dissemination, focusing takes place over one or two generations.

Principle 7: Because of cultural maturation, the structure of the new immigrant community is first discernible in the traditions of native-born adults.[29]

These principles can be utilized to describe the construction and perpetuation of folk groups through which ethnic identity is a unifying factor.  This framework is useful because it can be extended to examine any ethnic group one may seek to understand in the United States (and beyond) and observe variation within the performance of ethnic identity within similar ethnic groups.

The material culture to which rosemaling has been applied tell the stories of thousands of Norwegians as they immigrated to the United States, their struggles to recreate their way of life in diaspora, the development of ethnic folk group identity among their descendants, and the revitalization movements of folk art in the State of Wisconsin.  Due to their capacity to tell narratives of rich, emotional depth which connect people across space and time, these items, such as those by Patricia Edmundson, become what Rachel P. Maines and James J. Glynn refer to as “numinous objects.”  Numinous objects, the authors suggest,

…are examples of material culture that have acquired sufficient perceived significance by association to merit preservation in the public trust. They are the objects we collect and preserve not for what they may reveal to us as material documents, or for any visible aesthetic quality, but for their association, real or imagined, with some person, place, or event endowed with special sociocultural magic.  The "numinosity" of an artifact or place, the intangible and invisible quality of its significance, consists in its presumed association with something, either in the past or in the imagination or both, that carries emotional weight with the viewer.[30]

The “sociocultural magic” attached to Edmundson’s pieces are derived from multiple sources.  Throughout her career, Edmundson directly participated in the production of Norwegian heritage in Mount Horeb, donating pieces of artwork for display, sale and competition at numerous community events, like The Song of Norway play, and the popular tourist attraction Little Norway.  As a result, her objects attained a status of significance to the MHAHS which denoted the necessity for preservation of these pieces of folk art.  During discussions with Scott Edmundson, one can hear the fondness of his memory for his grandmother when sharing information about her rosemaling. Such memories associated between Patricia and her paintings which the family has carefully preserved in their own homes and offices imbued these objects with a “numinosity” derived from connection to an extended family which still resides in Dane County.

Through attributing the numinous of family and community, heritage as that perpetuated through craft creates an “imprint.” This is found on both a physical and intangible level through Edmundon’s artistic manipulation of material culture.  Odd Lovoll demonstrates the intimate connection between craft and the meaning of heritage in rosemaling, stating that,

Even given the appeal of rosemaling on purely aesthetic and decorative grounds to Norwegians and non-Norwegians alike, its striking visible call to a unique heritage, in its artistic as well as in its more spurious  presentations, speaks to an individual search for roots and identity with the past that is evident in many areas of Norwegian-American reinvention and reinterpretation of tradition.  Rosemaling, even on caskets and grave markers, discloses a deep emotional component in ethnic identity.[31]

One of the most important aspects of “numinosity,” according to Maines and Glynn, is the interaction between these objects and a claim to authenticity.  Regina Bendix notes that to be considered authentic means to be “original, genuine, or unaltered,” however, “the semantic domain the term invokes has grown so broad and elusive that one is tempted to place it in the catalogue of ‘plastic words’…words that have come to mean so much that they really mean very little while nonetheless signaling importance and power.”  When the “ideal” of authenticity is invoked, Bendix notes, it becomes “increasingly intertwined with sociopolitical, aesthetic, and moral aspects with market concerns.” [32]  This is important to take into consideration when remembering that Edmundson was not Norwegian-American, but adopted this folk art through a passion for the craft, a talent for painting, and association with Norway through her husband.  Does this make Edmundson’s rosemaling no longer “authentic”?  Maines and Glynn, through declaring that Edmundson’s rosemaling are numinous objects, would argue otherwise.  “The force of belief in numinous objects,” they suggest, “transforms artifacts and places for believers with great power and persistence, even when their authenticity is denied by authorities.”  I agree with Maines and Glynn, and to demonstrate a claim to the authentic through the numinous, we must briefly engage in the development of rosemaling in Norway and the revitalization of the craft in Wisconsin.

Rosemaling emerged during the eighteenth century and proliferated in Norway, developing distinct and representative stylistic variations as practiced in specific regions by villagers in country sides and valleys.  This folk art is derived from an infusion of influences from the Viking’s use of interweaving patterns, mainland European “zig zag” boarders and motifs centered on geometric shapes during the Renaissance, and rural folk carving designs.  Bertha Mitchell Whyte further observes that, “Baroque scroll forms based on the acanthus leaf were popular throughout Europe in the eighteenth century and were incorporated into the rosemaling designs also.  In Sweden, designs featured figures, animals, and realistic flowers. In Norway the flower designs were more imaginary and stylized.” [33]   Rosemaling is a folk painting characterized by two-dimensional floral designs and typically features roses, geometric shapes, tendrils, and the use of several colors, especially reds, blues, whites and greens.  This art form was originally applied to wooden surfaces which had been carved or on the interior walls of churches, but predominantly came to represent art in the home, and was eventually expanded to be applied to any wood surface of various size and purpose and is utilized in print form for various commercial or decoration.[34]  According to artist Nils Ellingsgard, the name rosemaling, “is probably derived from the name of the flower, even though in some dialects in encompasses a great deal more than merely flora painting.  In Norwegian the verb rose can mean to decorate, and rose painting means quite simply decorative painting.”[35]  As Norwegians immigrated to the United States, many, like Per Lysne (1880-1947), brought this painting technique with them across the Atlantic in the form of learned skills.  Thousands of others would bring the artwork of their homeland with them via heirloom items, such as ale bowls, tinas (wooden food containers) and the trunks donated by Guri Jeglum and the Ole Vingi family currently here on display.[36]

Rosemaling has distinct stylistic variations bearing the name of the region from which it developed largely through the artistry of talented individuals from lower socioeconomic status who incorporated the design influences brought to Norway by those of higher class structures.  The two most prominent forms of rosemaling, both in Norway and the United States, are Telemark and Hallingdal, which Ellingsgard refers to 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.”[37] The significance of Telemark and Hallingdal cannot be overstated in the narratives of rosemaling in America and the artistry of Edmundson.  These regions, located in the south and the eastern portions of Norway, experienced a vast population drainage to the United States through diaspora.  As such, many of these immigrants brought with them their renowned, highly marketable, and lavish variation of rosemaling to their new hostland.[38]  As a local example, the rosemalled water tower in Mount Horeb is located on Telemark Parkway.  Folklorist Janet Gilmore observes that this water tower “rises at Mount Horeb’s eastern border alongside the major northeast–southwest freeway, alerting travelers that they are entering a territory with a heightened sense of Norwegian–American heritage, and denser Norwegian–American settlement. It reveals emphatically that specific design motifs have been adopted as badges of Norwegian–American identity in the greater Upper Midwestern region.”[39]

Here Cederström’s first principle, wherein immigrant ethnic communities produce their koineized culture through practicing traditions that represent a wider “old-world” regionalism as opposed to specific political localities becomes particularly salient.  Rosemaling in all variations operate as representatives of this folk art which is prevalent throughout both countries, and Lovoll observes that, “The folk art of rosemaling is the most emblematic of a Norwegian-American identity and the most popular expression of a transplanted, and, if you will, reinvented folk tradition.”[40]  Yet through immigration from and the influence of the Telemark and Hallingdal regions, they operate as the dominant expressive form of this art among Norwegian-Americans.  Drawing on the widespread practice of rosemaling among Norwegians represents Cederström’s second principle wherein ethnic groups express identity through traditions which may be considered “culturally simple features,” while those deemed more complicated are left behind.  With so many individuals knowledgeable about Telemark and Hallingdal, it would not be surprising to observe that individuals not only practice these more commonly, but pass them along via vernacular exchange.  These principles help denote the development and expression of a Norwegian-American ethnicity and the role rosemaling, particularly among these two distinct variations, play in creating heritage.

Figure 1 (Accession 2014.56)[41] of this study, which is currently on display, can be identified as Telemark due to the stronger emphasis on calligraphy that is formed around the C- and S-shaped Rococo stems.  Meanwhile, items in the museum’s archive, like item 1994.015, a rosemalled wooden plate with rust coloring (Figure 4), fall into a unique category as it appears to blend design elements from both Telemark and Hallingdal due to the muted degree of calligraphy and the style of the flower in the center, which are characteristics of Hallingdal.  Due to the fact that this plate was among one of Edmundson’s earlier pieces (1973), she may have still been experimenting with styles, learning techniques per each variation, and refining her brush strokes as opposed to the wooden plaque she painted in 1984.  However, and this may be more the more likely answer, the case may be that Edmundson was enacting her own artistic perspective onto this wooden plate.  Scott Edmundson suggests that his grandmother, “intentionally deviated from technically ‘correct’ techniques and/or colors out of personal preference.  For some of those pieces, she would sometimes win ‘most popular’ awards.”[42]
In Harley’s to Hardangers: A Survey of Wisconsin Folk Art, a collection of folk art gathered by folklorists Jim Leary and Janet Gilmore collected by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, the scholars make the following commentary which contextualizes not only rosemaling, but folk art more broadly and the role Patricia Edmundson played in this tradition,

Within Wisconsin communities, most folk arts are passed from generation to generation by informal means.  Novices acquire their skills by observing and imitating the work of more senior artists, through loosely structured apprenticeships or more casual review and criticism.  Through this direct interaction, artists learn the techniques and processes necessary to the making of a costume, fiddle, or fishing fly.  They also master the vocabulary of forms, designs, and decorations which gives the object meaning and significance within the community.

Other methods of passing on folk arts have emerged recently. ‘Revivals’ and ‘revitalizations,’ for example, are deliberate efforts to reclaim folk art forms no longer actively practiced within a particular community.  Workshops, classes, and publications devoted to teaching traditional arts have also grown in popularity.  Such efforts sometimes permit the reinstatement or continuation of a particular folk art form within the original community.”[43]

Rosemaling in Norway was similarly passed along through vernacular exchange, particularly among the peasantry as they sought a living.  However, Lovoll notes that when Norwegians arrived in the United States, many who were trained in this art were unable to continue practicing it as an income producing craft due to the demands of building their new lives.  Furthermore, the necessity to produce one’s own goods was dramatically reduced in the United States due to readily available mass produced items necessary to settle and build a homestead.  As such, folk arts like carving and rosemaling slowly began to fade from practice yet remained significant through heirloom items brought from Norway.[44]

During the 1940s, an American revival of rosemaling began spurred largely through the intricate and public paintings of the “father of American rosemaling,” Per Lysne.[45]  Lysne had immigrated to the United States from Laerdal in Sogn, Norway in 1907 and moved to Stoughton, Wisconsin, thirty miles to the east of Mount Horeb.  In Wisconsin he began quickly producing artwork in a struggling economy, but this high production gained him accolades and recognition across his new country, as well as followers and students through whom his influence can still be felt within the rosemaling community.  In Norway, rosemalers were predominantly men, but due to the nature of social structures in the United States and the allure of craft, this art style was largely picked up by women who utilized it as both a hobby and an opportunity to express identity.  During the 1960s and 1970s the folk art revival for rosemaling truly took off in the United States, and during this period Edmundson began practicing rosemaling.  Due to a lack of initially available teachers, the majority of these women, and men, were self-taught artists who joined together in community.[46]  This, Gilmore observes, “promoted a community identity that acknowledged a strong Norwegian–American component while honoring the region’s tradition of ethnic pluralism.”[47]

Through the folk art revival brought on by interested individuals like Edmundson, rosemaling experienced an Americanization in how the tradition was transmitted and expressed via folkloristic koineization.  Traditions among koineized groups, Cederström notes in his fifth principle, are not tied to the site wherein immigration took place but instead to where they originated.  Had a large Norwegian immigrant population not arrived and established ethnic enclaves like Mount Horeb, there would be no real reason to identify this folk art with Wisconsin or the Upper Midwest since it did not develop in this region of America.  Gilmore, concerning the spread of the rosemaling folk art revival, states that,

Nationwide, interests in decorative folk painting of varied traditions at first drew women of all backgrounds who liked to paint. But the trend fueled interest specifically in rosemaling among women of Norwegian descent—often second- and third-generation Norwegian–Americans who were beginning to explore their ethnic heritage.[48]

This embodies the sixth principle of folkloristic koineization wherein, “From initial dissemination, focusing takes place over one or two generations.”[49] Specific regional variations of rosemaling traditions may be lost for the sake of the practices continuation and folk group formation and cohesion.  This can further be evidenced by artists adopting styles not typically associated with their ancestral homes and blending styles, as Edmundson frequently practiced.  The seventh principle suggests that traditional expression of folklore is most prevalent in the first generation of immigrant adults.  As their children grow they begin to incorporate American cultural values and practices, which can be observed through the craft movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the leisure associated with rosemaling, and a desire to express an ethnic identity that blends American ideals of e pluribus unum.

Edmundson, Craft, and Tradition

Edmundson was born in 1929 in Janesville, Wisconsin.  Around the age of 19, she married Wallace and, as newlyweds, moved to Monona, Wisconsin in the late 1940s. In 1968, Edmundson enrolled in a rosemaling course due to her curiosity in this art style and demonstrated a natural talent and proficiency.  Scott notes that his grandmother entered one of her pieces into a competition in Stoughton, and, still very new to practicing this craft, placed it into the “Novice” category. Nonetheless she was awarded 2nd Place in the “Professional” category.  This was the very first time she had competed in rosemaling.

The couple moved to Mount Horeb in 1974 where they resided for the remainder of their lives.  Moving to the ethnically expressive Norwegian community of Mount Horeb with her Norwegian-American husband provides the context for Cederström’s fourth principle, in which social networks are required for folkloristic koineization to occur within a community. Edmundson was surrounded by fellow artists performing their heritage in a town which openly embraced this Norwegian-American identity.  The family moved into a four bedroom household, with the smallest room operating as Edmundson’s rosemaling studio.  Scott fondly recalls that during his summertime visits, which lasted from one to two weeks each season, his grandparents’ entire household smelled like oil paint.[50]

Through observing Edmundson’s work over her career, one can observe not only a refinement of her craft, but a development of individual style within the motif structures of rosemaling.  Scott notes that while she initially learned rosemaling from a class, she was largely self-taught.  This is one reason for the confusion among some pieces or rosemaling which may preclude stylistic categorization.  Additionally, objects such as the oval plaque (1984.414) represent her introduction into the economy of the art world through the necessity to purchase brushes, oil paints, wooden materials (she did not carve her own bowls, for example), and the requirement of setting aside a special room as a studio in her home.  As such, funds were continuously needed to be allocated towards her passion and would similarly need to be produced through a reciprocal relationship from her passion as her pieces were sold, commissioned, or received awards.

As Edmundson honed her craft, she also began teaching rosemaling.  Dorothy Noyes suggests that tradition contains a “performative action.”  She states that, “Performers may hope to hand on their knowledge to inheritors authorized by blood or formal affiliation, but above all they look for those who will be willing and competent to do the work. That hand-to-hand transfer we may take as a metaphor for the transmission of metaknowledge along with the practice itself...”[51]  A wooden cutting board archived in the museum’s collection (Figure 6 - 2014.56) is a representative of both this “handing down” of tradition via vernacular exchange through educational opportunities, but the development of community and relationships among members of this folk group.  According to Gilmore, rosemaling as it spread in the United States among Norwegian-Americans was commonly transmitted via vernacular exchange from a skilled teacher to student(s). [52]  Items like the cutting board represent a connection of shared heritage through the “performance” of a tradition, a passionate exchange from one tradition bearer to another, and enacts Cederström’s third principle of folkloristic koineization, wherein the success and perpetuation of an ethnic tradition depends on the involvement of and influence on generations of practitioners over time.

The cutting board Figure 5 (1984.41), along with the oval shaped rosemalled plaque, donated by Edmundson and held in the archives, represent another critical component to the role of rosemaling and the intentionality of folk art in Wisconsin.  According to the folk art guide collected for the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, “Many of Wisconsin’s ethnic folk traditions are intended for use in the home.  Their audience is limited to family and friends.  Many other ethnic folk arts address larger audiences – the ethnic community as a whole and the general public.  These traditional arts serve both as personal expressions and as public emblems of ethnicity.”[53] Neither of these objects were utilized as practical day-to-day items, as is evident through the lack of cut marks on the cutting board.  Rather, they are for decoration and declaration of Norwegian-American ethnicity to family and friends and a reminder of either one’s heritage or passion for artwork brought to the United State through immigration.  Through the application of rosemaling, they become numinous due to the story of rosemaling and the practice of passing along a tradition.

In addition to teaching, competing, and crafting pieces for family, Edmundson created artwork for Little Norway and contributed to the Song of Norway festival in Mount Horeb, both of which operated as strong expressions of heritage and the development of folkloristic koineization in the community and impacted her identity and reputation.   Little Norway was a popular tourist attraction located four miles west of Mount Horeb.  This site was originally inhabited by the Haugen family, Norwegian immigrants who settled and farmed in the valley until 1920.  Isak Dahle, who was struck by the picturesque nature of the valley and its “Old World” buildings, purchased the site in 1926.  Dahle then restored and repurposed many of the available buildings to operate as cobbler shops, storehouses, and other Norwegian immigrant farming structures.  Dahle remained the valley Nissedahle, or Valley of the Elves. In Norwegian, the word would actually be spelled Nissedal, however, Dahle altered the spelling to place a family mark on the valley and harken back to the ancestral home in the Telemark region of Norway.  The most striking and characteristic structure was the relocated stave church constructed in Trondheim, Norway for the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition. After eighty-five years the site closed its doors due to financial constraints. Housed within the ornate structure was 7,000 individual artifacts, many of which were either auctioned off or donated to local historical societies. [54]

Edmundson was among many of the artists to participate in expressing her Norwegian heritage at this site by contributing her craft and hosting rosemaling demonstrations.  Through her rosemaling she was able to participate in the tourism economy by producing works of art for sale. The painting in Figure 2 (2014.050) was painted during the late 1970s, and features a single, simplistic yet elegant rosemaling motif set against a creamy background framed by an egg and dart trim which was built circa 1900. In 1980, the owners of Little Norway removed it from sale and placed it into their collections. This piece is now on display at the Historium. The firkin (Figure 3 - 2014.050) was also painted for Little Norway during the 1970s, but this item was a gift to Little Norway. Firkins are designed to store food and cooking items, such as butter and sugar, but through rosemaling this most basic of household functional items becomes an expression of ethnic identity. Edmundson effectively transformed the everyday into something extraordinary.

Of particular significance to this essay and the contextualization of Edmundson’s rosemaling is the pageant Song of Norway.  Beginning in 1966, this annual outdoor pageant featured local and professional actors presenting a fictionalized account of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.  This play operated as a cultural performance of Norwegian identity and heritage from which Norwegian-Americans could draw inspiration as professional actors and members of the community viewed on stage.[55] Richard Baumann notes that cultural performances “tend to be the most prominent performance contexts within a community.  They are, as a rule, scheduled events, restricted in setting, clearly bounded, and widely public, involving the most highly formalized performance forms and accomplished performers of the community.”[56] This provided a strength to what Norwegian-American identity in the community meant and connected residents to the larger story of Norway.

In recognition of the play’s 25th anniversary, Edmundson painted an intricately decorated bowl (Figure 1) as a gift to Richard “Dick” Horn (1941-1990), who was incredibly active in the success of this play and served as the organization’s president and vice president.  Additionally, he was as a board member for the Mount Horeb Historical Society for fifteen years and operated as a curator for the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison for twenty-six years.  This 12”x13.5” wooden bowl is significant due to its connection with this performance of heritage and the celebration of the role he played, but also because of the intricate work displayed.  The rich blue Rococo C stems delicately interweaves with the red and green floral motifs and delicate flowers against a stark black background.  This central design with Edmundson’s signature tucked into the bottom center, is bordered by a matching print highlighting the artist’s skill with fine lines and contrast as it is situated next to a continuous series of blue blocks at the bowl’s edge. This bowl demonstrates Edmundson’s high degree of skill to complete each intricate brush stroke across the curved surface.

Painted on the outer edge of the bowl in Gothic Norwegian is the (translated) phrase, “The Biggest Happiness One Can Have is to Make Another Happy.”  This not only harkens back to the mother tongue of many of Mount Horeb’s Norwegian-American ancestors, and the language which would have been spoken by the characters featured in Song of Norway, but is reminiscent of the work by artists like Per Lysne who utilized Gothic print to write Norwegian messages on the walls of homes and on other pieces of art.  In this piece one is able to view the culmination of Edmundson’s craft and her embrace of Norwegian-American ethnic identity and heritage passed across generations through a rich craft tradition.


Folk art and craft do not exist in a vacuum but are enacted through the expressive talents of passionate tradition bearers across generations, particularly when they concern the identity formation of ethnicity.  Patricia “Pat” Edmundson was just such an artist who, through her loving adoption and representation of Norwegian-American folk traditions like rosemaling was able to positively influence the material culture of her family, friends, and community.  With each stroke of paint across a wooden surface, whether it be a bold blue Rococo motif, Gothic Norwegian print, or a beautiful flower on the edge of a bowl, Edmundson transmitted the narrative of thousands of Norwegian immigrants as they journeyed to a new life in the United States.


Figure 1: Rosemalled Bowl (1991.047)

Figure 2: Rosemaled board with frame

Rosemaled box

Figure 3- Rosemalled Firkin (2014.050)


Figure 4: Rosemalled Plate (1994.015)

Figure 5: Rosemalled Plaque in Telemark style (1984.041)

Figure 6: Rosemalled Cutting Board (2014.56)

Works Cited

Bauman, Richard. Verbal Art as Performance, Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House Publishers, 1977.

Bendix, Regina. “Diverging Paths in the Scientific Search for Authenticity”. Journal of Folklore Research 1992:29, 103–132.

Bergland, Betty A. “Introduction.” In Norwegian American Women: Migration, Communities, and Identities, edited by Betty A. Bergland and Lori Ann Lahlum. St. Paul: Minnesota State Historical Society Press, 2011.

Cederström, B. Marcus. “Folkloristic Koines and the Emergence of Swedish-American Ethnicity.” ARV Nordic Yearbook of Folklore 2012(68): 121-150.

Cohen, Robin. Global Diasporas: An Introduction, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Ellingsgard, Nils. Norwegian Rose Painting in America: What the Immigrants Brought. Decorah: Scandinavian University Press, 1993.

--- “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.

Gilmore, Janet. “Mount Horeb’s Oljanna Venden Cunneen. A Norwegian-American Rosemaler ‘on the Edge.’ ARV Nordic Year of Folklore, 2009(65): 25-48.

Griffiths, James. Scandinavia: At War with Trolls – A History from the Napoleonic Era to the Third Millennium. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

John Michael Kohler Arts Center, From Hardanger to Harleys : A Survey of Wisconsin Folk Art. Sheboygan:John Michael Kohler Arts Center, 1987.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998.

Kitchell Whyte, Bertha. Craftsmen of Wisconsin. Racine, WI: Western Publishing Company, Inc. 1971.

Leary, James P. “Norwegian Communities.”  In Encyclopedia of American Folklife Volume 3, edited by Simon J. Bronner. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2006.

Lovoll, Odd S.  Across the Deep Blue Sea: The Saga of Early Norwegian Immigrants from Norway to American through the Canadian Gateway.St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press. 2015.

--- “Norwegian Immigration and Women.” In Norwegian American Women:  Migration, Communities, and Identities, edited by Betty A. Bergland and Lori Ann Lahlum. St. Paul: Minnesota State Historical Society Press, 2011.

--- Norwegians on the Prairie: Ethnicity and the Development of the Country Town. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2006.

--- The Promise Fulfilled: A Portrait of Norwegian Americans Today. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1998.

--- The Promise of America: A History of the Norwegian-American People (Revised Edition). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1999.

Maines, Rachel P. & James J. Glynn. “Numinous Objects.” The Public Historian, 1993:1. 8-25.

Metcalf, Bruce. “The Hand at the Heart of Craft.” American Craft, 2000, 60:4. 54-61 & 66.

Noyes, Dorothy. 2009. “Tradition: Three Traditions”. Journal of Folklore Research 46 (3). Indiana University Press: 233–68.

Stokker, Kathleen. Keeping Christmas: Yultetide Traditions in Norway and the New Land. St. Paul: Minnesota State Historical Society Press, 2000.

  1. Mount Horeb Historical Society – Scott Edmundson
  2. Accession number 2007.018.0001.
  3. The troll paintings by Edmundson currently on display include one painted for the former Mount Horeb Library featuring Mother Goose, trolls and Nisse (2014.017) in Section 3; Section 4 includes two more of her paintings – one features a troll wearing glasses that was painted for Drs. Guenveur & Sutter (2009.029), and the other (1999.098) features a troll wearing an A&W shirt and balancing the fast food chain’s fares.
  4. Accession numbers 1984.041, 2014.56, 1994.015, and 1991.047.
  5. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998), 150. .
  6. Ibid.
  7. Scott Edmondson, telephone conversation April 20, 2016. Scott Edmundson is Patricia and Wallace’s grandson.
  8. Bruce Metcalf, “The Hand at the Heart of Craft,” American Craft 60:4 (2000): 54-61 & 66.
  9. Robin Cohen, Global Diasporas: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2008).
  10. James Griffiths, Scandinavia: At War with Trolls – A History from the Napoleonic Era to the Third Millennium (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
  11. James P. Leary, “Norwegian Communities.” In Encyclopedia of American Folklife Volume 3, ed. by Simon J. Bronner. Armonk (NY: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2006), 892-895.
  12. Odd S. Lovoll, Across the Deep Blue Sea: The Saga of Early Norwegian Immigrants from Norway to American through the Canadian Gateway. (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2015).
  13. Betty A. Bergland, “Introduction,” in Norwegian American Women: Migration, Communities, and Identities, edited by Betty A. Bergland and Lori Ann Lahlum (St. Paul: Minnesota State Historical Society Press, 2011). Leary, 2006. .
  14. Odd S. Lovoll, The Promise of America: A History of the Norwegian-American People (Revised Edition) (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999). .
  15. ---, Norwegians on the Prairie: Ethnicity and the Development of the Country Town, (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2006). .
  16. ---, “Norwegian Immigration and Women.” In Norwegian American Women: Migration, Communities, and Identities, edited by Betty A. Bergland and Lori Ann Lahlum, (St. Paul: Minnesota State Historical Society Press, 2011). .
  17. ---, 2015.
  18. Kathleen Stokker, Keeping Christmas: Yultetide Traditions in Norway and the New Land (St. Paul: Minnesota State Historical Society Press, 2000).
  19. Betty A. Bergland, “Introduction,” in Norwegian American Women: Migration, Communities, and Identities, edited by Betty A. Bergland and Lori Ann Lahlum (St. Paul: Minnesota State Historical Society Press, 2011). Leary, 2006.
  20. Odd S. Lovoll, The Promise of America: A History of the Norwegian-American People (Revised Edition) (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).[/footnote [footnote]---, Norwegians on the Prairie: Ethnicity and the Development of the Country Town, (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2006).
  21. ---, “Norwegian Immigration and Women.” In Norwegian American Women: Migration, Communities, and Identities, edited by Betty A. Bergland and Lori Ann Lahlum, (St. Paul: Minnesota State Historical Society Press, 2011).
  22. ---, 2015.
  23. Kathleen Stokker, Keeping Christmas: Yultetide Traditions in Norway and the New Land (St. Paul: Minnesota State Historical Society Press, 2000).
  24. Lovoll, 1999.
  25. Cohen, 2008:17.
  26. Janet Gilmore, “Mount Horeb’s Oljanna Venden Cunneen. A Norwegian-American Rosemaler ‘on the Edge.’ ARV Nordic Year of Folklore 65 (2009): 25-48. Lovoll, 1999.
  27. Mount Horeb Area Historical Society, Mount Horeb – Presettlement to 1986: A History Celebrating Mount Horeb’s Quasquicentennial, (Blanchardville, WI: Ski Printers, 1986).
  28. B. Marcus Cederström, “Folkloristic Koines and the Emergence of Swedish-American Ethnicity,” ARV Nordic Yearbook of Folklore 86 (2012), 124.
  29. Ibid, 131-132.
  30. Maines, Rachel P. & James J. Glynn, “Numinous Objects.” The Public Historian 1 (1993): 10.
  31. Odd S. Lovoll, 1999: 233.
  32. Regina Bendix ,“Diverging Paths in the Scientific Search for Authenticity”. Journal of Folklore Research 29.2 (1992):104.
  33. Bertha Kitchell Whyte, Craftsmen of Wisconsin. (Racine, WI: Western Publishing Company, Inc., 1971), 31.
  34. Janet Gilmore, 2009.
  35. Nils Ellingsgard, Norwegian Rose Painting in America: What the Immigrants Brought. (Decorah: Scandinavian University Press, 1993), 12.
  36. Nills Ellingsgard, “Rosemaling: A Folk Art in Migration.” In Norwegian Folk Art: The Migration of a Tradition, ed. by Marion Nelson (New York: Abbeville Press, 1995), 190-237. Kitchell Whyte, 1971. .
  37. Nils Ellingsgard, “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.
  38. Ibid.
  39. Janet Gilmore, 2009: 25-26.
  40. Lovoll, 1998:228.
  41. Accession numbers 1984.041 (a rosemalled oval plaque – Figure 5) and 1991.047 (a rosemalled cutting board – Figure 6) in the museum’s collection similarly display Telemark.
  42. Scott Edmundson, personal communication, April 21, 2016.
  43. John Michael Kohler Arts Center, From Hardanger to Harleys : A Survey of Wisconsin Folk Art (Sheboygan:John Michael Kohler Arts Center, 1987)81.
  44. Lovoll, 1999.
  45. The current exhibit has on display a chair (2014.050.0049) rosemaled by Lysne which can be found in Section 3.
  46. Gilmore, 2009. Lovoll, 1999.
  47. Gilmore, 2009:33.
  48. Ibid.
  49. Cederström, 2012:32.
  50. Scott Edmundson, interview via telephone. April 19, 2016.
  51. Dorothy Noyes, “Tradition: Three Traditions”. Journal of Folklore Research 46, (2009): 233–68.
  52. Janet Gilmore, “Mount Horeb’s Oljanna Venden Cunneen. A Norwegian-American Rosemaler ‘on the Edge.’ ARV Nordic Year of Folklore, (65)2009: 25-48.
  53. John Michael Kohler Arts Center, 1987:55
  54. Little Norway Tourist Promotional booklet (N.D.) – Courtesy of Mount Horeb Historical Society. Little Norway – Mount Horeb Mail. Mount Horeb Chamber of Commerce, The Mount Horeb Centennial Book 1861-1961 (Mount Horeb Chamber of Commerce, 1962).
  55. Jack Holzhueter, Sherri J. Hefty & Andrea Christofferson, “Song of Norway: 25th Anniversary,” Mount Horeb: Song of Norway, Ltd., 1991.
  56. Richard Bauman, Verbal Art as Performance, (Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House Publishers, 1977):28.


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