A Verona-based artist practicing an 18th century art form has been awarded a grant to pass on her knowledge to the next generation.
City of Verona artist Jan Norsetter is a master rosemaler, a distinction she earned studying under another master artist in 2015. Norsetter also works as a landscape painter, often creating her oil-based still lifes “en plein air,” a French term for outdoors.
Rosemaling is a folk art where artists paint decorative floral ornamentations on wood.
Now, through a $3,500 grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the legacy of rosemaling will continue. The funding provides Norsetter with a small hourly wage and will support a trip to the Vesterheim National Norwegian-American Museum and Heritage Center in Decorah, Iowa, for her and a mentee to study the museum’s archives and collections.
The grant will allow Norsetter to take on her own apprentice. Norsetter said she will teach that apprentice all that she knows, including putting a personal touch on the traditional folk art. For example, she said a lot of rosemalers use acrylics, but she prefers oil paints.
“Oil paints are king as far as I’m concerned,” she said.”They blend together better than acrylics do.”
Rosemaling, despite its name, can depict all sorts of flowers – both real and fantasy, Norsetter said, and she particularly loves to paint tulips.
Norsetter was approached in late 2019 by Neenah resident Jorunn Davies, whose parents are Norwegian natives, to help her become a master rosemaler so she can teach in her area.
“Jorunn felt she was not equipped yet to teach, but is hoping one year will give her confidence,” Norsetter said.
Norsetter said that rosemaling began in Norway around 1750, developing in different isolated valleys in different ways, Norsetter said.
“Today, different rosemalers are attracted to distinctive styles,” she said.
A century later, the heyday of rosemaling came to a close in its home country – falling out of style in Norway by around 1870, Norsetter said.
She said Stoughton is credited as the home of rosemaling’s revival, when Norwegian immigrant Per Lysne, who was working as a wagon painter, needed another source of income during the Great Depression. He taught women in the community, and a legacy of rosemaling in the United States began.
Norsetter learned her skills from Oshkosh-based Pam Rucinski, who has been rosemaling since 1974.
“I spent a year studying under Pam and felt that one-on-one time is absolutely critical and just so enriching,” Norsetter said. “You can get further faster by learning one on one with someone who has been there, done that.”
Prior to studying as an apprentice with Rucinski, Norsetter got into the art form when she was much younger, inspired by her family’s Norwegian heritage.
Norsetter’s great great great grandfather, who immigrated with his son to the United States, was a rosemaler.
That genetic connection inspired her to keep the art form alive, she said.
“I thought it was cool I had a genetic connection to this art, which is an incentive to keep it alive,” she said. “To preserve that heritage and style of painting I just think is so worthwhile.”
Her own positive experience as an apprentice led her to become a mentor.
“I had a fantastic year with Pam, I was completely enriched by the experience and it was important to me, so I decided to give back,” Norsetter said. “I am sowing a small seed now that I hope will be cast wider in the future.”
Since June, Norsetter and Davies have been meeting every other week in Norsetter’s studio on the third floor of her home in Verona and will meet through May of next year.
“It’s a really different painting genre to learn – I can’t imagine anything more difficult, but it seems so simple,” Norsetter said.
If Syttende Mai in Stoughton happens in 2021, Davies will show her apprenticeship work at an exhibition for folk artists set up by the arts board.