A Brush with the Past

Photo: Christina Keune

Music & Arts

A Brush with the Past

Award-winning heritage artist and historian Christina Keune has been making Nordic and Scandinavian art and teaching others the craft for more than 30 years.

IMG_5979Her business, Rosemaling by Christina, produces a variety of Swedish and Norwegian folk art, specializing in Rosemaling (flower painting) and Dalmålning (a concept of wallpaper painting on fabric or paper).

You can find her work at a number of Nordic and Scandinavian festivals held throughout the year in the United States, museums and even showcased in her Arlington, Va.-based studio. Her paintings typically are done on wooden furniture, bowls, plates, boxes, small kitchen items and a number of items.

Rosemaling and Dalmålning have more than 300 years of history and are very functional forms of art used to beautify homes, churches and more. Paintings often tell biblical, cultural and historical stories.

Keune, a half-Swedish, half-Norwegian born in Washington D.C., has won a number of awards for her dedication to this style of art. Some awards include the Award of Excellence in the Preservation of Scandinavian Culture from the American Scandinavian Association in Washington, D.C.; a Blue Ribbon for Best of Show in Rosemaling from the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum; and the Crystal Award from the Gammelgården Museum.

In this Q&A, Keune tells us about her work, affiliations with local Scandinavian organizations, experiences learning the craft and her inspiration for choosing this career path.

bowlWhat inspired you to pursue Nordic/Scandinavian folk art?

I was always interested in art and earned my undergraduate degree in fine arts from George Washington University. Unfortunately, my Norwegian mother wasn’t too impressed with my degree and coerced me to “do something decent.” I attended some local classes that offered lessons in painting unfinished woodenware, a Nordic, ethnic art dating back to the 1700s, and immediately fell in love with it.

How did your career get started? 

After learning I wanted to pursue an art career in this specific area, I wanted to learn more from classes offered at the Norwegian-American Museum. At the time I was a stay-at-home mom and didn’t want to burden my family’s finances on trips to Iowa [where the museum is located], so I decided to pursue local opportunities.

I reached out to the D.C.-chapter of Sons of Norway Lodge – a community of people dedicated to helping each other and celebrating the heritage and culture on Norway – to see if they were interested in acquiring a vendor who painted traditional Norwegian art for their annual Christmas bazaar. They agreed to take me on as a vendor and each year I sold my work, earning enough money to visit the museum, study with professional instructors and even with master painters in Norway.

How did studying abroad influence your work?

One thing led to another and I ended up taking 10 trips to Norway on work-study tours. The more I saw and the more I experimented, the more I began to appreciate what those people could do with no formal training and no materials (unless they hand made them). The depth of knowledge and creativity artists in Norway had to offer continued to inspire me, and I was fascinated in learning more about the history. They used this form of art as a way to decorate their homes and tell stories. This style also aligned with Swedish culture, and I took trips to Sweden to learn Swedish styles, where I was introduced to Dalmålning.

bowl 4What are some of the most popular items people request?

Trunks seem to be a current trend. People will bring me old trunks they’ve purchased and have me paint them. Another popular request is custom-painted bowls for special events like weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and more. 

Are you affiliated with any Swedish groups or organizations?

Tons! December is always my busiest month. I participate as a vendor for a number of Bazaars hosted by the Swedish Embassy, American Scandinavian Association, where I am also involved on the board, Swedish Women’s Educational Association and several more. At other Scandinavian festivals I do the Rosemaling as a demonstrator to teach guests about the art.  

It’s so great to have such an active community here in the D.C. and surrounding areas. It’s our only chance to really celebrate and teach our culture since there are not a lot of Swedish businesses around.

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