National Endowment for the Arts Statement on the Death of National Heritage Fellow Eldrid Skjold Arntzen

Eldrid Skjold Arntzen wearing traditional Norwegian clothing and holding a box with her floral designs painted on it.

Portrait of Eldrid Skjold Arntzen by Tom Pich

Washington, DC—It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the passing of Eldrid Skjold Arntzen, recipient of a 2005 NEA National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. Arntzen was a celebrated for rosemaling, a form of decoration on wood that flourished in 16th and 17th-century Norway. 

“A lot of people with degrees in art and have done a lot of painting think they don't need a beginner class in rosemaling. But it's so very different than any painting they've done,” Arntzen said in an interview with the National Endowment for the Arts. “It’s a rude awakening when they realize how much work is involved. It takes a lot of practice and patience…I don't think you can ever perfect it.” 

A daughter of Norwegian immigrants, Arntzen grew up in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. She started to paint at the age of ten and later traveled to Norway many times to study with masters of rosemaling (literally rose or "to decorate" and maling or "to paint" in Old Norwegian). In addition, she took lessons from master artists at the Vesterheim Museum. 

Arntzen usually painted on wooden objects such as ale bowls, tankards, chairs, or trays made by Scandinavian craftsmen in the Midwest. The decorative designs, many with a floral theme, are identified by regions within Norway. She specialized in three styles: Telemark, Hallingdall, and Valdnes. 

Arntzen traveled across the United States and abroad to Norway to teach her craft. She also served as a master traditional artist in the Southern New England Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. In 2004 she was one of three American painters to participate in an international symposium, "The Art of Rosemaling: Tradition Meets the Creative Mind."

Arntzen's work received much acclaim and was featured in numerous exhibitions including Living Legends: Connecticut Master Traditional Artists. In 1996, her paintings were selected for an exhibition Norwegian Folk Art: Migration of a Tradition that traveled throughout the U.S. and Norway. The Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, awarded Arntzen the Gold Medal for rosemaling in 1987, the highest form of recognition for this art form in the United States.


NEA Public Affairs,