Budding artist shares her folk art gift

By Roz Weis,

Thirteen year-old Lia Vsetecka demonstrated her talents at Nordic Fest this summer. Vsetecka began rosemaling when she was just 9 years old. Lia is the daughter of Joe and Lisa Vsetecka of Fort Atkinson, her grandparents are Gerald and Virginia Leidahl of Ridgeway, and Pat Vsetecka of Lawler and the late Alvin Vsetecka. (Driftless Multimedia photos by Denise Lana)

The beautiful and unique Norwegian art of rosemaling reaches all corners of the globe, but it has an especially strong presence throughout the Upper Midwestern United States. 

Originating in Norway in the mid 1700s, rosemaling, or rose painting, is the art of painting with flourishes, scrollwork, floral design and curves. Different styles were born from various regions in Norway, and those styles thrive among talented artists across Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and the surrounding area. 

One such budding artist is 13-year-old Lia Vsetecka, who has been rosemaling since she was nine years old. 

Lia’s rosemaling hobby began four years ago, when Lia’s grandmother, Virginia Leidahl, gifted Lia an art class for Christmas. Leidahl knew Lia loved art and signed her up for a class with long-time church friend, Sally Stromseth, an instructor at Vesterheim Museum in Decorah, who boasts more than 40 years of rosemaling experience. Under Stromseth’s tutelage, Lia’s love and talent for rosemaling was immediate. 

“No-one in the family did it before I started,” Lia explained. “I just enjoy the type of painting.” 

Over the next four years, Lia continued painting and learning. At first, she completed wooden discs and plaques for simple decorations. As her talent progressed, Lia branched out and tackling larger projects. 

“My favorite thing I have done is a birth plate for my niece,” Lia expressed. “I also just finished a big clock for my older sister. I started it at the beginning of this year, and I did it for a housewarming gift.” 

According to Lia’s mother, Lisa, she has yet to sell any of her creations but has been receiving more and more requests for pieces.

 “She has been asked to do an order of three garden signs for a classmate of mine,” Lisa said. 

Lia usually paints in Rogaland style, which is very symmetrical, but is rosemaling the garden signs in Telemark style, which is asymmetric in design. 

Lisa added, “It has been a challenging project, but she has taken it all in stride and has completed one of the three signs so far.” 

Recently, Lia joined Stromseth at the 2023 Nordic Fest in Decorah, demonstrating her rosemaling talents at the Vesterheim Museum alongside her teacher. The young soft-spoken artist explained to visitors the extensive process of rosemaling a piece – using oil paints to complete the design, waiting several weeks for the design to dry before she adds painted dots, then varnishing the piece and allowing time to cure. 

“From beginning to end, including drying and varnishing, a piece could take more than a month to finish,” Lia said. 

Lia, an eighth-grader at St. Teresa of Calcutta Catholic School in Ossian, aspires to visit Norway one day and is interested in pursuing a career in healthcare when she gets older. But according to Lisa, her daughter has no intentions of stopping her craft. 

“Lia wants to continue rosemaling as a hobby and for extra income,” Lisa explained. “She is interested in taking orders in the future as she continues to perfect her craft.” 

According to Lisa, the entire family is very proud of Lia’s talent. Lia takes private lessons three to four times a month, depending on her schedule, and gives all the credit for her rosemaling success to one specific person. 

“I wouldn’t have made so much progress and success without my amazing teacher, Sally Stromseth,” Lia declared. “She is an amazing friend, teacher, and mentor and has known me my entire life. She is the best rosemaler and painter I know, and I couldn’t be where I am now without her.”

Lisa summed up Lia’s talent perfectly: “I think it’s unique what Lia does, and I am so glad she loves to do it – her gift is definitely a gift to others.”  

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Ardith Nierling
10 months ago

It is wonderful to see young people doing the crafts of our ancestors that otherwise would be becoming extinct in a few years. Lia looks like she is very talented & I hope she will continue & be able to pass on these skills like Sally has to her. I’m blessed to have a Stromseth piece in my home that I cherish & love.