Nearly every Saturday since May, a line formed outside Bill Amundson’s house similar to the lines outside of Best Buy on Black Friday.
Instead of a 52-inch TV, people waited for the donation-based artistic piece that is inherently Stoughton.
Amundson, a Stoughton native and known artist in the community, alternately terms his creations “rosemaled squares,” “paux folk art” or “rose mauling squares.” The pieces are 16x16-inch birch panels with a combination of the Norwegian art of rosemaling design mixed with graffiti.
He started the project to do something creative to reflect the Syttende Mai that couldn’t be, after the city’s three day festival celebrating Norway’s independence day was canceled. Now, he feels his pandemic project has turned into a community project.
As people drive through the city, they can see the signs displayed in hundreds of yards — something Amundson said you don’t see in other small cities. He said he wanted the pieces to reflect an art form he said seems inherently Stoughton.
“You don’t look at these and say “these are Madison signs”,” he said.
Patrons are welcome to give Amundson and his wife Anita a donation, but none is required and although they are no longer doing the weekly pickups, people can still get a rosemaled square painting by contacting Amundson directly. All he hopes is that people display the signs in their yard so anyone from the street can see them.
The first giveaway event, held Saturday, May 1, was from his garage that doubles as his studio. Since then, he’s given away around 1,000 pieces over 19 weeks. One week, the line of (socially distanced) patrons stretched down the block, with 72 signs gone in just 20 minutes.
The word spread about the donation-based pieces organically, Amundson said.
During the pandemic, people would walk by his house and see the displays in his yard or would find information on the “Stoughton, Wisconsin Neighborhood Group” Facebook page. Once, admirers even interrupted his morning breakfast just to peek at the popular squares. Patrons told Amundson they are sending the pieces to other parts of the country such as Arizona, Massachusetts, California, Minnesota and Florida.
“Anybody that has one somewhere else in the country has a little piece of Stoughton. That is what really makes me happy,” he said.
Amundson said his father always said that since Amundson was a little boy, he had a unique way of doodling and that he should incorporate it into rosemaling somehow. Six years after his father died, Amundson was able to find a way to highlight a Stougthon tradition in a year where traditions have been pushed aside by the pandemic, but he was also able to fulfill his desire to create temporary art that is accessible to all people.
Amundson said he has shown his art in galleries for most of his career, but people have to go into a gallery to look at gallery art, he said. And these paux folk art pieces can be seen by people from the street.
“The people who have a sign — they are now part of something,” he said.