Norwegian Rosemaling

Milan artist paints Norwegian heritage on wooden plates, tine boxes

Photo by Mike Lamb Ava Fitzkappes, left, watches as Betty Wanke of Milan paints a paper plate using the Telemark Rosemaling technique during Ole and Lena Days in Granite Falls.

GRANITE FALLS — Ava Fitzkappes, 7, smiled as she looked down at Betty Wanke’s paint brush moving with each stroke of paint.

Wanke, was just painting on a paper plate. But just off to the side of Fitzkappes were colorful wooden plates on display inside Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Granite Falls during Ole and Lena Days. They are examples of Wanke’s handiwork.

When Wanke finished painting the paper plate, she handed it to Fitzkappes. It was an artistic gift using the style of Telemark Rosemaling.

“That kind (of art) was done in the valley of Telemark (Norway),” Wanke said. “All the different styles are from all the different valleys or different areas.”

Wanke, 85, lives in Milan where she has been making Telemark Rosemaling art since 1975. Before that, Wanke said she wasn’t really much into art.

“When I was in grade school I did none,” she said. “I had absolutely no talent, but got more into the arts in town (Milan). I felt I could draw. Then I found out I could paint and I love it,”

Wanke eventually moved into teaching Rosemaling classes and got involved with the movement to establish the Milan Village Arts School. She described how an old country school house was moved into downtown Milan to establish the school.

“It really doesn’t take that long,” Wanke said on learning Rosemaling. “I have had students in a class and I can start them out on paper for one day. After four days they would go home with two nice pieces, maybe three.”

Wanke’s husband, John, made tine boxes for her to paint. These are small boxes made with wood by the Norwegians. After 67 years of marriage, Wanke’s husband died in August.

But Wanke still keeps going with the plates and boxes.

“I’ve got more wooden ware in my house that I will ever paint or my daughter will ever get painted,” she said. “John made a lot of tine boxes and trunks for me. He probably made 4,000 of them in 25 years. I have a lot to keep me going for a long time.”

Wanke went through chemo treatment for colon cancer last year, but she says she’s recovered and ready to keep on painting.

“I nap at noon, but I get up at five in the morning. And I get out my paper and I read. Then get set for the day. I’m early to bed and early to rise,” she said.

And Wanke just loves the world of art.

“It’s something about the people who are interested in art,” she said. “They are all a little bit different and their world is wider because of it. It’s something I get all excited about. The difference it made in my life is tremendous.”