Addition on Jan. 5, 2022:

Congratulations to the People’s Choice Award winner, Greg Akre, Waukesha, WI, with his piece “Dragons,” a dragon-style deep relief carving made from basswood.

Greg said he was inspired by Philip Odden who created the original piece, and he enjoyed taking time for the old Norwegian folk art of his forefathers. Greg used several different stains to add character and depth, and he enjoyed pulling the dragons out of the wood’s natural grain. Greg’s first class at Vesterheim was in 1981 in relief carving, and his father Ron Akre took many classes at Vesterheim, too, passing along knowledge and tools of the trade.

Vesterheim is pleased to announce the Best of Show Award and Jurors Choice Awards for Socially Distanced, Creatively Connected, a special juried folk-art exhibition highlighting creativity during the pandemic.

The Best of Show Award goes to Jane Laurence, Jim Powell, Fred Livesay, Ryan Toot, Tom Dengler, and Eric Erdahl who collaborated on a Norwegian lafted log sauna. The sauna is 7 x 7 feet and made of hand-hewn pine logs. Some of the artists had studied Norwegian-style timber framing together and had been planning to spend two weeks in April 2020 making structures for the North House Folk School campus in Grand Marais, Minnesota. When that was canceled, they decided to build something close to their homes (St. Paul, Minnesota) where they could be outside, working separately but together, and sharing their knowledge with observers. In lieu of being able to host the sauna in the gallery, this work was represented through two photographs and a short video representing the process produced by the artists.

Artworks and awards were selected by a panel of four jurors including jurors with a connection to artistic practice and the healthcare field. Jurors were Linnea Carlson, representative for sponsor Decorah Bank and Trust; Karen Misseldine, registered art therapist, licensed mental health counselor, and visual artist; Norma Refsal, certified college health nurse (retired), tradition-inspired folk artist, and teacher; and Kevin Sand, MD, retired physician, naturalist, and frequent folk-art class participant.

“The jurors were so impressed by the diversity, creativity, and quality of the work in the exhibit, but they were also moved by the stories behind the artworks,” Lea Lovelace, Vesterheim Director of Folk Art Education, said. “We hope many people will visit this exhibit and experience the sense of shared connection expressed in these pieces even during a time of isolation,” she continued.

Juror’s Choice Awards are:

• Bergen Fretex 2018, a quilt by Mike Ellingsen, Decorah, Iowa. Artist statement: “Visiting friends just before the onset of COVID-19, I noticed a woven tapestry on their living room wall. It had been purchased at the Fretex (Salvation Army) store in Bergen, Norway, in 2018. I took a photo for future inspiration. The world then stopped. I designed a quilt based on the photo, and created it totally from fabrics I already owned – no new purchases! The quilting patterns are based on rosemaling designs.”

• Returning to Finish the Fana and Feel Loved, a Norwegian Fana knit sweater by Maree Hampton, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Artist statement: “With lockdown, stress ensued. Knowing knitting calms the mind, I eagerly took to my needles. As pandemic projects became popular, I turned to finish a sweater. My mom died of a stroke in 2017. While by her side, I reached to knit my Fana project. Tears streamed down and were absorbed in the wooI. Swallowed by profound grief, I put it aside. Lockdown allowed me to finish and feel the love of my mom.”

• Rococo Dance, a canvas painted in the classical style of Rococo and covered with rice paper by Diane Edwards, Fort Collins, Colorado. Artist statement: “I am expressing the classical style of Rococo painting in a new and exciting way compared to the present day. Using 21st-century paints on old handmade paper that has been made for hundreds of years in Japan and China, I wanted to show a ‘Happy Dance’ out of the pandemic.”

Trunk painted with rosemaling in the Gudbrandsdal style by Judy Ritger, River Falls, Wisconsin. Artist statement: “I worked on this piece during the time that my husband was dying and at home in hospice care. My studio is located so that I could be close to him and still work. Not only did the pandemic keep me quite isolated, but also the fact that I needed to be near him.”

There will be a People’s Choice Award, selected in December by popular vote from exhibit visitors. Come out and vote for a favorite! We are also planning a video presentation of the exhibit and an online People’s Choice selection this fall for those we can’t make it to Decorah. Check back for more info later.

Carrying forward the spirit and mission of Vesterheim Folk Art School, the exhibition includes over 70 pieces representing woodworking, rosemaling, knifemaking, blacksmithing, jewelry, weaving, and fiber art, and is open through December 31, 2021.

This exhibit is sponsored by The Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs; The National Endowment for the Arts; and Decorah Bank & Trust Co.