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Studio Cruise '11: From the pulpit to the studio

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Bob Paulson, a retired minister of the Zion Lutheran Church in Oklee, is turning his avocation into his vocation in a new studio in Shevlin.

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A newcomer to the Bemidji First City of Arts Studio Cruise this year, Paulson said that his neighbor Duane Shoup, another Shevlin artist, told him how much fun the event is, so he is joining the ranks of open studios this year. Although a bit of a drive, it is certainly worth the effort to enter the workshop of a Norwegian Folk Art master for his work in second to none.

Paulson also promises to have authentic Scandinavian cookies for visitors on the Studio Cruise Oct. 21-23.

Paulson started creating functional objects (bentwood boxes, plaques, cookie/cake platters, rugs woven in authentic designs using wools from Norway and furniture) while pasturing his flock in a Lutheran church at Orr, Minn.

"In the late 1970s, a lady from Norway came to teach some classes in Rosemaling and by the time the classes were finished, I was hooked," said Paulson. "Others were putting away their brushes, and I started getting in touch with Vesterheim, the Norwegian folk museum in Decorah (Iowa) and took classes in Rosemaling and then I branched out."

A nice man from the north of Norway showed Paulson how to make bentwood boxes and stave construction and a few years ago he started weaving coverlets that are replicas of the originals in the Decorah museum.

"This coverlet is called the star because of a star pattern within the bigger design which is from the north of Norway," said Paulson. "The wool is the finest in Norway and is from Spelsau, the factory where the wool is processed. And then I learned furniture making from a man from Voss in Norway."

Paulson favors Shaded Telemark Rosemaling as it is blended across the piece from light to dark and the whole design starts from one point which is very organic and it (the pattern) grows. The different areas of Norway developed their own style of Rosemaling in the 1700s. Hallingdal is almost always symmetrical where one half of the design looks like the other half.

"The colors are traditional, the background colors especially," said Paulson. "The blue, red and dark green, but I think the Rosemaling looks best on blue because of the shading."

Paulson buys his best oil paints directly from the museum in Iowa as they are the most authentic colors.

"People know me and know that I paint and sometimes they are looking for something for a gift," said Paulson. "I am hoping to sell my work here at home in the studio and also to gather some commissions. Last year I did take some pieces to the fundraiser for the Clearwater History Center and sold them all."

Paulson also enjoys making bentwood boxes because he likes wood, shapes, and also to experiment," He favors black ash but admits that the most forgiving wood is birch.

The wood is planed down to a specific width, it is soaked in water until pliable and then bent around a form. It takes a few days for the wood to dry. A design can be cut and placed onto the side of the box where the two ends meet and then laced with the roots of a black spruce tree. The bottom of the box is about three quarters of an inch thick and dowels are made to attach the side posts which hold the bottom to the side. Notches are cut in the posts which hold the top to the box. In Norway, the bentwood boxes were used as lunchboxes, butter holders or anything else like beer.

"They are the original Tupperware containers," said Paulson. "About 100 years ago, one of the oldest bentwood boxes found in Norway came out of a Viking ship. The box was still packed with butter and was probably sunk as a sacrifice to some pagan god."

Paulson's interest and talent in the folk arts in evident upon entering the studio built onto his home this past summer. Even the ceiling is painted in yellow and orange shaded Telemark to decorate the new ceiling fan.

For a step back into time and a view of Scandinavian folk art, make sure that Paulson's new studio located on his parent's farm in Shevlin is a stop on your tour.

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