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Bowls for Creative Rosemalers

August 14, 2011

I received a call a couple of years ago from Vesterheim, the Norwegian American Cultural Museum in Decorah, IA, who also run the Folk Art School there. They specialize in Scandinavian folk arts and teach people to carve, make knives, weave and all the other unique folk arts. They teach a lot of rosemaling too, the Norwegian “rose painting.” They called me because Turid Fatland was coming from Norway to teach a new style of rosemaling. In her painting she does not try to recreate forms and painting styles of long ago, but she paints on unusual and distressed bowls, often with natural bark edges, in a free style way. They needed over 100 bowls for the painting classes and wondered if I could turn them. I had plenty of lead time and was fascinated by the idea so I said yes and began to prepare. I emailed Turid Faland in Norway and visited her web site to get a better idea of the style she wanted.


She wanted basswood, which I do not use often. It is soft and difficult to cut cleanly, especially green. I determined that I would need to to “twice-turn” these bowls, which means to first turn them green and then, when they are dry, turn them again. This way they are really round and have a more consistent finish. But even to turn these green is difficult. My friend Dick Enstad gave me the clue. “Turn the wood frozen,” he said. That gave it enough stiffness and body to cut more cleanly.  It also meant that I could store them outside frozen, turn them quickly and then dry them very quickly in the shop so that there was  little chance for “spalting,” fungal growth that would discolor the bowls.


So I did. It was some of the most enjoyable turning I have ever done. I used my largest bowl gouge, a ¾ inch Ellsworth grind gouge, with the corners ground back 1 ¼”. In this soft wood I found I could cut over 1” thick with each pass and I could rough them out quickly. Sometimes the woodshaving that came off the tool was 50 feet long before it broke off. I’ve done two batches of these bowls, both over 100 bowls, and the picture shows the result of one of the roughing out weekends, 50 bowls or more with a mountain of ships. In my new shop I overwhelmed the ventilation with all the wet chips and had moisture everywhere. I learned that you need to get the wet chips out of your shop ASAP. 

Dozens of basswood bowls to be rosemaled

I coated the end grain with paste wax or end grain sealer right after they were turned and then I waited a month or two until the blanks had reached equilibrium with the air. Then I returned them on my lathe, usually with a padded disc on a faceplate to center and support the out-of round bowl until I could turn the outside and then onto the chuck for the inside. On the table below you see a batch of the almost finished bowls. I used a vacuum chuck to hold the bowl finished off the base and then I spray them all with flat lacquer, several coats with sanding between each coat. Then they are ready for the rosemalers.

This is an example of a bowl by Ken Magnuson, perhaps Turid’s most prolific student in America. He does extraordinary work and I am very proud to see what these rosemaling painters can do with my bowl blanks.



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  1. Karna naker permalink

    Was thrilled this turned up.on Pinterest! Have been admiring these bowls for years and wondered who made them. Do you sell to individuals or would vesterheim have these available? What talent you have!

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