Rosemaling in the Upper Midwest Collection, 1987-1995



Philip Martin, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Folk Museum during this project, was the project director and chief fieldworker. Jean Johnson, assistant director, administrative coordinator, and chief exhibits curator of the Folk Museum, assisted throughout the project, and participated in some of the fieldwork. Photographer Lewis Koch, who had previously worked with Martin on several rural and ethnic documentary projects, joined Martin in producing the ethnographic field photography, while professional photographer Jim Wildeman shot the studio photography used in the exhibit catalog, Rosemaling in the Upper Midwest. Koch and Johnson assisted Martin in designing Rosemaling in the Upper Midwest, while Johnson and folklorists Janet C. Gilmore and James P. Leary provided editorial advice.

Project History

Soon after Phil Martin and Jean Johnson opened the Wisconsin Folk Museum in 1986 in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, they began a documentary project on the traditional Norwegian-American folk art of rosemaling. They focused on Wisconsin and the surrounding Upper Midwest region, which are at the center of a resurgence in this form of floral decorative painting. Martin and Johnson interviewed and photographed rosemalers and their work; borrowed, commissioned, and purchased artifacts; and produced several versions of a rosemaling exhibit, “Roses in the Upper Midwest,” from 1988 through 1992. The most ornate version of the exhibit remained on display into 1995.

Funding from the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission supported the establishment of an exhibit at the Wisconsin Folk Museum in 1989. The exhibit focused on the role of Per Lysne of Stoughton, in Dane County, Wisconsin, and Vesterheim, the Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, in the art form's revival. It featured the work of the Dane County area's locally-inspired “community” rosemalers as well as 20 of the then 31 Vesterheim Gold Medalist rosemalers from the Upper Midwest.

A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (Folk Arts) resulted in the publication of Phil Martin's Rosemaling in the Upper Midwest: A Story of Region and Revival in 1989, which fleshed out the exhibit's format. Additional funding was received from the Sons of Norway Regional District 5, the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Evjue Foundation, and the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission. The book received the 1989 Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association for “literary merit as well as the quality of writing, editing, printing, and publishing.”