Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Rosemaled Norwegian Immigrant Trunk

Wisconsin Historical Museum Object – Feature Story

Rosemaled Norwegian Immigrant Trunk | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeRosemaled Norwegian immigrant trunk

Rosemaled Norwegian immigrant trunk, c. 1845

Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #2000.77.1

EnlargeTrunk's lid

Trunk's lid

View of the top center of the trunk’s lid, made of a single piece of pine, showing rosemaled decoration and two of the wrought iron straps that helped give the trunk its strength. Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #2000.77.1

EnlargeMette Kristina Larsdottir Mokrid

Mette Kristina Larsdottir Mokrid, c. 1860

This portrait from the 1860s, which came to the Society with the trunk, may depict Mette Kristina Larsdottir Mokrid, its owner whose name is abbreviated on the painted inscription on the front of the trunk. Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum accession file 2000.77

EnlargePer Lysne of Stoughton

Per Lysne of Stoughton

Per Lysne of Stoughton, Wisconsin helped popularize rosmaling in the United States after his immigration from Norway in 1907. Source: Image courtesy of Harriet Romnes, Wisconsin Folk Museum Collection

Decorated trunk brought to Wisconsin from Norway by immigrant Mette Kristina Larsdotter Mokrid, c. 1845.
(Museum object #2000.77.1)

Mette Kristina Larsdotter Mokrid brought this painted trunk to the Readstown area of Vernon County, Wisconsin from her original home in Luster, Sogn, Norway about 1845. Over time the trunk became a treasured family heirloom that first passed to her daughter, Guri Olson. Eventually, Olson's husband's niece, Ellen C. Byers, inherited the trunk and donated it to the Wisconsin Historical Society in 2000.

Constructed mostly of pine boards, the trunk's dovetailed corners and wrought iron brackets and strapping provide strength and durability. The domed lid is made from a single piece of wood and the entire trunk is painted black with floral and acanthus leaf accent motifs on top, sides, and front. A painted inscription on the front of the trunk documents its owner a variation of her name, "Metta Kirstine Lars D.. Morkri 1845." Her name appears in numerous different forms and spellings found in historical sources such as her wedding certificate, census records, and information from her family.

Heavy trunks were a necessity for immigrants making the long journey across the ocean to the new world because they served as a secure vessel for transporting valued family possessions. After settlement, the trunks functioned as a piece of furniture in the immigrants' new homes, and were often painted or decorated in traditional symbols that reminded the family of their native land.

Ethnic identity is expressed in many complex and meaningful forms - the spoken and written word, song and dance, rituals and celebrations, and objects (material culture). An object's construction and decoration provide clues about the ethnic identity of its maker or user. The decorated immigrant trunk survives as an enduring material expression of Norwegian folk culture long after their practical need had passed.

In the 1800s Norwegians distinguished their trunks from those of other American immigrant groups by decorating them with colorful painted designs, owners' names, and dates. This trunk features extensive rosemaling, a folk tradition of painting functional objects with colorful floral designs. Begun around 1750, Norwegians painted everyday household items with decorative motifs such as s-scrolls, c-scrolls, and acanthus leaves.

Rosemaling gained popularity in the United States largely through the efforts of Per Lysne of Stoughton, Wisconsin. The son of a tradesman rosemaler, Lysne came to Wisconsin from Norway in 1907. He developed a thriving rosemaling enterprise and instructed the art to a select few. Later generations of rosemalers continued the tradition and introduced new styles and forms. Today, rosemaling thrives as a folk art in Wisconsin and around the country.

Around the time that Mette Kristina Larsdotter Mokrid migrated to Wisconsin in the mid-nineteenth century, nearly 10,000 other Norwegians called Wisconsin home - about 3% of the state�s population. Twenty years later the number reached 60,000. Norwegians became one of the largest immigrant ethnic groups to Wisconsin in the 1800s. Residents of Larsdottir's region, the Sogn district, first emigrated to the United States in 1839 and experienced relatively high rates of emigration compared to other areas of Norway. From 1825 to 1925 more than 800,000 Norwegians came to the United States, a number that represented nearly one-third of Norway's population.

Features more than 100 intriguing expressions of Wisconsin's varied folk culture

See Norwegian and Norwegian-American objects from Wisconsin, including items from the Wisconsin Historical Society.

[Sources: "The Early Emigration from Sogn og Fjordane" website; "Norwegian Immigration in Wisconsin" website]


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Posted on May 11, 2006