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Hallingdal Rosemaling


Fri, Dec 17th, 2004
Posted in Norwegian Ancestry

The authors great-great-great-grandparents trunk. Bjrn Olson Sata and Sidsel Nilsdatter Nubgarden, brought the trunk from Garns (Garness) farm in Norway to rural Mabel, Minnesota in 1853. Pictured is Deb Nelson Gourleys aunt, Glorianne Knox, the proud owner of the Hallingdal trunk rosemaled by Nils Bra.

During April 2004 I had the pleasure of meeting my distant relative, Nils Ellingsgard, from Norway for the first time. Nils was one of the keynote speakers at the first international rosemaling symposium, The Art of Rosemaling: Tradition Meets the Creative Mind, hosted by the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, Iowa.

I am very grateful to Nils for his identification of the trunk that my great-great-great-grandparents, Bjrn Olson Sata and Sidsel Nilsdatter Nubgarden, brought from the Garns (Garness) farm in Norway to rural Mabel, Minnesota in 1853

Nils Herbrandson Bra decorated the outside of the trunk; however, the rosemaling on the inside of the lid is unknown. Bra, along with his father Herbrand Sata, created a rosemaling tradition generally referred to as the Sata-Bra school, the very core of the Hallingdal style. The trunk, which is five-feet long by three-feet wide by three-feet deep, is now owned by my aunt Glorianne Knox.

The following information about Nils Bra and Herbrand Sata is taken from Norsk Rosemling: Dekorativ mling i folkekunst en by Nils Ellingsgard. (Translated by James Skurdall)

The Sata-Bra School

Herbrand Sata (1753-1830) from Sando in l is one of the most distinguished names in Norwegian folk art. As an independent artist and the creator of a regional style, he held a special position at the height of the classical period. His earliest known work dates from the end of the 1770s, so he was close to thirty years old before he emerged as a mature painter. His technical proficiency and his intimate knowledge of rococo style suggest that he had come in direct contact with urban artists.

The 1790s were a particularly active and important period for Herbrand Sata as a painter. That decade was a golden age of rococo in Hallingdal and other rural areas. One is struck by the large number of decorative paintings dating from the 1790s, whether as room interiors, or on trunks, cupboards, and bowls. In Hallingdal it was above all Herbrand Sata who set the standard. He cultivated his rococo style on trunks more than room interiors, and the trunks most easily allow us to study his development in the years that followed. An examination of old church walls reveals that he did decorative painting in the stave churches in both l and Nes as well.

After the turn of the century, Herbrand Sata had settled into a style that was well-established in its main features. But it never became rigid. He continued to experiment with new ideas in motifs, colors, and techniques. He might produce one painting in bold and vigorous strokes, then take great pains with the next, embroidering the pattern with droplets, dots, and small flowers. Characteristic for Herbrand Sata is a technique he began using around 1805 believed to be particular to hima kind of floral pointillism, in which each petal is created from an abundance of small white flecks closely packed in a shiny base color.

Nils Bra

It was Herbrand Sata who shaped the Hallingdal style, and his sons, Nils and Embrik Bra, who perpetuated and continued to develop it.

Nils H. Bra (1785-1873) had been a rural schoolteacher as a young man, and he was called School-Nils for the rest of his life. He is remembered as a unique and colorful character, a man of eccentric qualities and a genuine artist temperament. No doubt he began learning from his father at an early age, and around 1820 he emerged as a painter in his own right. At that time he was still under the influence of his fathers style, without the tidy lines and greater attention to detail that he later developed. Toward the end of the 1820s, he cultivated his own distinctive rococo style. Using blue as the primary color, he framed his wall and ceiling pictures in large laciniated cartouches (for example, Myking, 1827, and Sand, 1828, Norwegian Folk Museum). He did this twenty to thirty years after his father, Herbrand Sata, had abandoned the style forever, and forty to fifty years after it had gone out of fashion in Norwegian towns. Rococo elements became visible again in Nils Bras later work as well, but in a radically altered, almost schematic form, arranged symmetrically around the vertical central axis.

What especially distinguishes the style of Nils Bra from that of his father, Herbrand Sata, is the highly developed calligraphic play of lines in outlines and ornamentation. Nils was a matchless calligrapher and brush virtuoso. The fine, supple writing brush was an extremely important tool for his decorative art. He was the technical master par excellence and he set the standard for other painters in Upper Hallingdal. Today, when we examine the hundreds of registered works of School-Nils, we must acknowledge that he looms large in the world of rose painting, both as technician and colorist. Equally impressive is the fact that he seems never to have painted two things alike, something certainly difficult to avoid in the course of a long career. This is true for his cupboards and trunks, and even more so for the countless ale bowls he decorated. His imagination was seemingly inexhaustible, yet he confined himself to the limits of the Hallingdal style, and in particular to its strict symmetric and concentric principles of composition. He must have poured his soul into every little piece.

One of the great surprises in the search for my family history was discovering the story behind this ancestral trunk decorated by one of Norways finest rosemalers.

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