Grand Forks painter preserves folk art from her ancestral homeland of Sweden
Grand Forks painter Pieper Bloomquist is the essence of calm as her small hands lay down delicate black lines of paint, turning a few broad strokes of color into an intricate dance of leaves, blooms and buds.
Bloomquist’s preferred style of painting is Swedish dalmålning as she is of Swedish descent, though she also does Norwegian rosemaling, which is better known in the area.
“I’m going to have to really concentrate and hold my breath,” she said as she dipped her brush to begin painting a kurbits flower, which is a symbol of protection in most dalmålning paintings that stems from the Biblical story of Jonah and the Whale.
These styles of painting were born about 200 years ago. Both are similar in that they feature small, rounded brush strokes, but Swedish dalmålning stemmed from an illiterate peasant class that used it to communicate biblical concepts visually. Bloomquist paints reproductions of these intricate and ornate scenes, but mostly works on telling her own stories.
“I chose to tell stories from the experience I have living in North Dakota or Minnesota or stories from my childhood,” she said as she pointed to a painting she did of her grandpa making breakfast for the family.
Bloomquist’s work can be seen at art festivals around the country, including Grand Forks’ Artfest, and a 30-foot mural that she painted in 2004 at Ben Franklin Elementary School in Grand Forks.
She also contributes to the “Sweden: Visions and Verse of a Land and Its People” calendar, which features photos of Sweden and Swedish paintings. Her paintings frame photos in the 2013 and 2014 calendars and will be used in the 2015 and 2016 calendars.
A nurse by trade, Bloomquist began painting 20 years ago when she was pregnant with her first child and was put on bed rest.
“My sister gave me a book on how to paint German flowers and wanted me to do some decorative painting in her house,” she said. “I didn’t have anything else to do, so I figured I might as well practice brush strokes.”
While her painting wasn’t very consistent for the first five years, she eventually found her niche.
“It’s not an easy thing to learn to do this,” she said. “You can’t take a class and go home and start doing this. You have to practice the brush strokes. It’s like playing the piano; you can’t take a two hour lesson and expect to put on a concert.”
Now, Bloomquist mostly paints on request and uses it as a way to relax, but her passion for the art form hasn’t subdued over the years; her own house has a “graphic arts version” of a Swedish and Norwegian hybrid painting on the shutters and she has considered painting the siding Falu red, a famous Swedish paint color made from the copper mines.
“Maybe I should have done that, but then I would need a grass roof,” she said, laughing.
Her own style
On Thursday, photographer Mikael Forslund came to Bloomquist’s house all the way from Sweden to photograph her for several Swedish magazines and newspapers. The two have also worked together long-distance on the “Visions and Verse” calendar, which is published in Brainerd, Minn.
“You need to come to Sweden and teach them how you do this,” Forslund said while watching Bloomquist paint.
Bloomquist said her entire family is artistic, but she is the only one passionate about the traditional style of dalmålning and rosemaling. While she prefers to follow the rules of dalmålning, her personal style does deviate slightly from the more heavy-handed painters of two centuries ago.
“I can stay within the traditional style because that way I’m true to the tradition, but I can change how much paint I put on my brush, for example,” she said “My style is very light.”
More info: Calendars featuring Bloomquist’s art are available at most Scandinavian gift shops, including Velkommen in downtown Grand Forks. They’re also online at Amazon.com and Scandinavian-South.com.