Person to Person: Communicating Identity
Through Wisconsin Folk Objects
Some individuals are inspired to uphold a tradition by making thorough replications of objects, emphasizing precise execution of established forms, styles, and materials. Other artists borrow key motifs, colors, and materials and place them in new contexts, thus bringing old ideas into the present.
Norwegians distinguished their trunks from those of other 19th century American immigrant groups by decorating them with colorful painted designs, names, and dates. One common technique was rosemaling, the Norwegian tradition of painting functional objects with floral and acanthus leaf motifs.
Mette Larsdottir brought the 1845 trunk featured here from Luster, Sogn, Norway, to the Readstown area of Vernon County, Wisconsin.
Contemporary artists are inspired by historical objects and seek to sustain ethnic material traditions. Featured here is a 1989 miniature trunk from an accomplished rosemaler, Pat Virch of Marquette, Michigan. She replicated the Norwegian immigrant-style trunk on a smaller scale (7 inches high), and then decorated and dated the object as an original trunk would have been.
Decorated Norwegian Immigrant Trunk, ca. 1845
Gift of Ellen Byers.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 2000.77.1
Rosemaled Trunk, 1989
Created by Pat Virch.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1996.118.177
Rosemaled Bedroom Set, ca. 1949
Elkhorn, Wisconsin. This bedroom set includes a trunk painted by Thelma and Elma Olsen. Source: Wally Schulz and Thelma Olsen, Wisconsin Folk Museum Collection
Rosemaled Log Chair (Kubbestol), ca. 1844
Gift of the Wisconsin Memorial Union.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1956.1656
Rosemaled Log Chair (Kubbestol), 1989
Created by Philip Odden and Karen Jenson.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1996.118.133
Carved from a single piece of log, the traditional Norwegian log chair (kubbestol) has a round shape that fits easily into a corner, making it ideal for small peasant cottages. As with immigrant trunks, the chairs often possess colorful rosemaled decoration.
The 1844 log chair featured here is believed to have arrived in America in 1844 on board the "Salvator" from Porsgrunn, Norway. It made its way to Walworth County, Wisconsin with the family of Anders Jensen Skibsnæs, known as Anders Jonson in America. Mrs. Carl Johnson, the wife of Anders' grandson, gave the chair to the University of Wisconsin's Memorial Union in the 1940s. What happened to the chair in the interim is a mystery. The current surface painting is likely not original. Note the different paint colors showing through where the outer paint has fallen off. In addition, the seat back interior bears a mark of E.S. and the date 1929. Why was the chair repainted in 1929 and what was the original decoration? Regardless of the details, this object was a significant family heirloom representing a material link to Norway, and its 1929 decoration sustained a distinctive ethnic tradition.
Philip Odden of Barronett, Wisconsin, carved in a traditional form the 1989 log chair featured here. Odden, an accomplished carver, left the surface plain so that it could showcase extensive rosemaled decoration by Karen Jenson of Milan, Minnesota.
Pendleton Trade Blanket, 2003
Designed by Truman Lowe. Gift of Bob Birmingham.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 2004.60.1
Ho-Chunk artist Truman Lowe designed the trade blanket featured here to honor the National Museum of the American Indian. The design includes appliqué ribbon-work patterns used by Lowe's mother, Mabel Davis Lowe, and is named Sauninga (The Shining One) after her Native name.
Mabel Davis Lowe of the Black River Falls, Wisconsin, made the skirt and matching leggings featured here. Shirley Lonetree of Madison, Wisconsin, wore the skirt and leggings at dances.
HoChunk Ribbon-work Leggings, 1950-1960
Created by Mabel Lowe.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1981.57.2
HoChunk Ribbon-work Skirt, 1950-1960
Created by Mabel Lowe.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1981.57.1
Calendar Stick Symbol for October 14 (Winter Nights)
The mitten represents the beginning of winter, a pagan fall festival. Good weather on this day forecasted the same for the upcoming winter.
Each side of these sticks is divided into 26 sections with seven notches representing the seven days in a week. The winter side begins with October 14th and the summer side with April 14th. Both faces are incised with numerous symbols representing three layers of cultural identity — pagan, Christian, and secular agricultural.
Ole Knutson Dyrland brought the 1773 calendar stick featured here to Wisconsin from Seljord, Telemark, Norway, in 1843. By that time printed almanacs had replaced this type of object, but Dyrland treasured the stick as a family keepsake. A memento of his old home, it kept the company of a treasured Bible, a hymnbook, and his wife's spinning wheel.
Intrigued by the Dyrland calendar stick, Thorbjorn Vick of Stoughton, Wisconsin, created an exact replica around 1890, long after calendar sticks had gone out of use. The second image featured here shows the winter side of Vick's replica calendar stick.
Norwegian Calendar Stick (Primstav), 1773-1799
Gift of Anna Dyreson.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1972.153
Calendar Stick Symbol for November 23 (St. Clement)
The anchor symbolizes Clement, the fourth Bishop of Rome, who was drowned with an anchor around his neck in the Black Sea by persecutors in 101 AD. All ships had to remain anchored in harbor on this day.
Norwegian Replica Calendar Stick (Primstav), ca. 1890
Created by Thorbjorn Vick. Gift of Adolph Bredeson.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1955.248