Rosemaling artist Ruth Green photo compilation - a close up of her hands working on a rosemaling project, Ruth holding a finished project, and her paint pallet

Artist Profile: Rosemaler Ruth Green

by Bryon Houlgrave/Iowa PBS

DECORAH, Iowa – Long before television and the internet, when the winter months grew cold and the nights long, the people of Norway often turned to arts and crafts to pass the time. One art that became popular, and one exclusively Norwegian, was rosemaling. 

The artform, which translates to "decorative painting," began in the 1700s in rural Norway, and was first used as interior decorations, according to gold medal rosemaling artist Ruth Green of Decorah. 

“It was used to help decorate the inside of churches, the inside of homes, and some of the utensils that were used in the homes. Things such as ale bowls, trunks, those types of things,” Green said.

Green, who was awarded the gold medal from the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum in Decorah in 2012, was recently featured on Crafts From the Past, a series on Iowa PBS that showcases folk art and practicing artists. 

Rosemaling, with its ties to life in rural Norway, is considered a folk art. Green’s interest in the craft was piqued years ago, after taking classes at the Vesterheim Museum.

“It got me hooked, and I continue to do it to this day,” she said. She also teaches the craft. 

Coming from a Norwegian family, Green said that practicing rosemaling has given her an appreciation for her Nordic roots. In an artist statement at the Vesterheim Museum, Green said both her grandmothers painted and that she thinks of them often when she’s working on a rosemaling piece.

Recently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have shown an interest in learning about rosemaling. 

Laurann Gilbertson, Chief Curator at the Vesterheim Museum, said that Vesterheim’s Folk Art School has been offering rosemaling classes since the 1960s, and that interest in the craft has grown steadily over the years, especially for people with Norwegian roots.

“By the 1960s there was a big flowering here in the US of people wanting to learn this,” Gilbertson said. 

“Vesterheim started offering classes, people started to learn and teach and it remains very popular.”

Learn rosemaling from Ruth Green in the latest episode of Crafts From the Past.