Drawing on Her Heritage Rosemaling Artist Rhoda Fritsch Travels the Globe to Share Her Expertise in This Cherished Norwegian Folk Art

By Gerlach, Pat | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), September 20, 1998 | Go to article overview

Drawing on Her Heritage Rosemaling Artist Rhoda Fritsch Travels the Globe to Share Her Expertise in This Cherished Norwegian Folk Art


Gerlach, Pat, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Pat Gerlach Daily Herald Correspondent

When Rhoda Fritsch enrolled in her first rosemaling class more than 20 years ago, she may have suspected that her growing interest in the charming ethnic folk art might lead to an eventual trip to her ancestors' home in Norway.

But the Aurora woman had no way of knowing the expertise she would develop would lead to teaching junkets in Alaska and Japan.

A former operating room nurse who grew up on a small northern Minnesota farm, Fritsch signed up for a tole painting class at a craft store more than two decades ago when her daughters, Susan and Carol, were small.

Before long, she was studying with Joan Johnson and JoSonja Jensen, both nationally known master teachers, and ready to tackle rosemaling (pronounced rose-mahl-ing), a stylized art form derived from methods and design begun by artists in Norway in about 1700. Rosemaling, a Norwegian word, means flower painting, and is characterized by flowing lines, imaginative, fanciful flowers and subtle colors.

Fritsch's work, which has won numerous awards, will be shown at the 17th Annual Autumn Country Folk Art Festival Friday through Sept. 27 at the Kane County Fairgrounds in St. Charles. See story on Page X for show details.

Each of her pieces is individually signed and numbered. Prices vary widely, and depend on the amount of work that goes into a piece.

Fritsch remembers coming away from her first rosemaling class with unbridled enthusiasm for the art.

"I loved rosemaling," she recalls. "I enjoyed the colors and the graceful lines."

Instinctively, she knew one class was not enough to satisfy her. Since then she has studied with a number of American rosemaling teachers, such as Eldrid Arntzen, Thelma and Elma Olsen and Dorothy Peterson. As part of her art education, Fritsch also spent time at the Norwegian American Museum (Vesterheim) in Decorah, Iowa, where she earned several ribbons in national

exhibitions as well as being awarded the prestigious Vesterheim gold medal for rosemaling in 1991.

And because both of her grandmothers were born in Norway, Fritsch believes her love for the art and the country are inherited. She has traveled to Norway to take classes with an impressive list of masters and study old pieces in museums, homes and churches.

Fritsch paints in a style that is as easily recognizable as her work. Her first classes in rosemaling were in the Rogaland style, which is known for its stylized flowers, an influence that is still obvious in her art. But more recently, she has been influenced by the Telemark artists with whom she has studied. This method features stems, scrolls and flowers.

Fritsch was featured in the book, "A Collection of Norwegian Rosemaling in America." Her work was also published in the winter 1994 issue of The Artist's Journal and profiled in the March 1995 issue of Midwest Living magazine.

Fritsch's reputation as an American rosemaling authority took her far afield this year when, in May, she was invited to Alaska for three days of teaching in a Norwegian settlement in Petersburg, south of Juneau.

While Rhoda Fritsch taught her art to a dedicated group of students, her husband, Al, fished Alaska's cool, productive waters.

"He participated in a salmon derby one day and another day got honors for catching the largest halibut on record," she said.

Accompanying Rhoda on trips and assisting with the family rosemaling business is not new to Al Fritsch, who retired earlier this year from his career as an air traffic controller. In fact, the entire family participates in what they consider not only a cherished art form but a Norwegian family tradition since the couple's daughters were involved when they lived at home.

The work force expanded when their sons-in-law were recruited, although Rhoda Fritsch remains the chief designer and takes responsibility for all the "stroke" work. …

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