Norwegian Flour Box c. 1850

This flour box was brought to the Decorah, IA area by an immigrant from the Sigdal or Eggedal region of Norway sometime in the 1850s. It was painted in 1871. The painting technique is known as rosemåling, a traditional form of decorative folk art which originated in Norway. The screws holding on the lid would have originally been wooden pegs. The box would have stored flour for baking.

  • Artifact: Norwegian Flour Box
  • Date: c. 1850
  • Museum Location: Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, IA

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Jennifer Kovarik, Registrar, Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum: So this is a flour box, and a long time ago people would have kept flour and their sort of staple goods in boxes. Today, we would keep them in plastic, perhaps not something that looks quite like this. It's also quite large. Much larger than containers that we might have today. Bread, things made with flour were staples in people's diets, so you used a lot more flour than perhaps many of us use today. Baking was just a regular thing that you did, and you had to do, to be able to eat.
On the front of it, it says the date is 1871. And so that's probably the date that this piece was painted. And this particular style comes from the area of Siggedal or Eggedal, Norway. And we can sort of compare and contrast the colors, as well as the style of the painting, to other pieces from that area. If we look at some older pieces in Norway before 1870, the blue will not be quite this vibrant, you know, sort of intense color of blue. And this red, it's a little more red than some of what we sometimes see with our Norwegian red. So it looks more like the colors that you might see here in the United States. And also colors or paint pigments that would be available later on. So you could look at something from 1750 and it would look very different from this piece. But we know it’s from the 1850s, 1870s, somewhere in that time period.
Until railroads were more prevalent in this area, a lot of communities would have their own mills because you had to haul the grain in. And that just wasn't possible to do over longer distances. And so, especially here in Northeast Iowa, where you have a lot of water power available to you, for example the Upper Iowa River, and all of these sort of tributaries or little streams that provided a lot of power, and a lot of opportunity to have mills available. And so they could be close. And so communities in Northeast Iowa you will see sort of remnants of those mills. Like I said, we happen to have one here at Vesterheim itself. So they were very important in the community. So you could take your grain there, you could go there to buy your flour, you know, whatever you needed.

Artifact provided courtesy of the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, IA.