By Roz Weis,
Known throughout Northeast Iowa for her award-winning photography, painting, rosemaling, intricate miniatures and her annual modeling of her traditional Norwegian bunad (a traditional ethnic dress costume) at Nordic Fest, Wangsness has most recently spent her time painting stunning images of the popular Decorah Eagles.
Inspired by a sampling of still photographs from Raptor Resources, she set to work in early 2020 on her masterpieces.
The pandemic kept her inside for nearly a year, but she fought the isolation and loneliness with a renewed focus on her love of painting. As the normally very active woman found her social networks shrinking during the COVID-19 shutdowns, her painting became a therapy of sorts.
“I just loved some of the photographs of the eagles from Raptor Resources, and I asked them if I could paint some of the images,” she said. “They agreed and sent me some of the photos to use.”
She completed 20 paintings and rosemaled 20 keepsake sweatshirts during the last year.
“I painted every day during COVID-19,” she continued. “That’s how I kept myself busy.”
But the pictures of the Raptor Resource images of the two Decorah Eagles are the works gaining attention these days.
Raptor Resource Project is a non-profit organization with members working to preserve the health and population levels of falcons, eagles, ospreys, hawks and owls. The project was established in 1988. The organization has helped make the Decorah Eagles a nationally-known online phenomena. The Decorah Eagles have nested near the Decorah Trout Hatchery. The current female is known as Mom; the male is known as DM2.
Her finished works are being praised by administrators at Raptor Resources and by all those with whom she’s shown her paintings.
Some of her prints of the Decorah Eagles are now featured at Agora Arts in downtown Decorah, and at her Decorah home.
Norma and her late husband Willis purchased the Henning Photographic Studio and started their own photography business in the late 1940s. They had moved to Decorah and purchased a house near the corner of West Broadway and River Street.
Wangsness Photography Studio in Decorah became a booming downtown business, earning regional and national awards for their excellence in photography. Willis captured the photos and Norma hand-colored them. They operated the business for more than a quarter century, retiring in 1979.
She studied drawing and painting at Luther College with the late Orville Running. She also studied landscape and fine art portraiture with Maxine Pendry, portrait painting with Daniel Greene, airbrush painting with Sam Bogosian and rosemaling with Sigmund Aarseth.
Norma’s extensive study of rosemaling (traditional Scandinavian painting) was at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum and Folk Art School in Decorah.
As her passion for painting grew, landscapes and portraits became her signature works.
The Wangsness home holds rich treasures illustrating her creativity. The walls and display cases are covered with her original paintings, handcrafted keepsake memory boxes, her extensive rosemaling collections and other heirloom pieces.
A native of Ossian, Norma is a direct descendent of immigrants from Hedel and Telemark, Norway. She has two daughters, Linda and Le Ann. She also has four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. All are looking forward to gathering together for Nordic Fest this summer.