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Posted 12/11/23 (Mon)

By Maddie Robinson

Pieper Bloomquist, an artist and oncology nurse based out of Grand Forks, has been interested in art since she was a child living in Regal, Minnesota, a town of less than 50 people. Stretching back to her school days in a one-room schoolhouse, she would spend her spare class time using the art supplies in the “library,” (a table in the back by the bookcases.)

She delved into folk-art styles later in 1993 when she started learning Bauernmalerei, a Bavarian folk-art technique. While learning Bauernmalerei, Bloomquist painted a Christmas ornament for a co-worker who had been a major help while she was pregnant with her daughter.

Then, when Bloomquist was able to go back to work, she received an order for 100 more.

Her exploration of decorative painting styles didn’t stop there. After taking a class about rosemaling, a Norwegian painting technique, in 1996, she found books on Swedish painting techniques known as dalmålning and bonadsmålning. Thus, her love for traditional folk art continued to flourish.

Bloomquist’s work with these traditional Scandinavian folk-art forms will be on display in a new exhibit, "Fantastical Flourishes: The Folk Art of Pieper Bloomquist.” The exhibition will run until November 2024 in the North Dakota Artists Gallery at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum.

David Newell, the exhibitions manager at the State Historical Society of North Dakota, curated and organized the exhibition. He said he began working on it last June and visited Bloomquist at her home and studio in August to begin selecting what artwork to display. Newell added Bloomquist’s exhibit will feature both 2D and 3D works, from ceramics to paintings to cabinetry, with all of the pieces employing the Scandinavian art styles she specializes in.

Not only will the exhibit feature some of her artwork, but Bloomquist said items from her studio, like her brushes, templates and sketchbooks will be on display as well.

“She [Bloomquist] has this very delightful style. It's very light, very delicate, but very dramatic at the same time, but it's based in Scandinavian traditions,” Newell said. “But again, she has upgraded it to a contemporary world. So it's interesting to see the old and the new combined, so it made for a really fascinating exhibit.”

According to Newell, a major reason Bloomquist was selected to be the sole artist featured for this exhibition was because of her ability to tell contemporary stories with traditional Scandinavian artforms. Along with the fact that Bloomquist was awarded a Governor’s Award for the Arts this year and because her work is featured internationally, the choice was clear.

Bloomquist said she didn’t fully make the connection between her artwork and storytelling abilities until Troyd Geist, the state folklorist at the North Dakota Council on the Arts, discovered her when she applied for an apprenticeship with Karen Jenson, a renowned rosemaler whose career spans over 50 years. Due to her nursing background and artistic abilities, Geist pushed her to pursue more art that focused on telling other people’s stories.

“He [Geist] found that the Swedish folk art that I was doing, which is narrative storytelling, he put the connection to me being from healthcare and able to communicate with elders and be able to tell their stories in pictures,” Bloomquist said. “He saw that in me very early on, long before I did.”

Geist developed the Art for Life Program, where artists are brought into elder care facilities to interact with and teach residents art techniques. While one of the reasons for this program is to get older people to try new things, the Art for Life Program aims to combat the “three plagues” often experienced by residents in elder care facilities: loneliness, boredom, and helplessness.

Bloomquist has been an active member in this program since 2011 and travels throughout the state to engage with older populations and tell their stories through her art.

“I just found through doing these activities with people, I was just helping them paint a little painting, but I was learning so much about the life of people, especially here in the Upper Midwest, and how we have universal experiences,” Bloomquist said.

Bloomquist said she also finds inspiration for her stories through her time as an oncology nurse. At the hospital she used to work at, they had end-of-life rooms for patients needing care and dozens of stories would be told from the families during their time spent there.

One of Bloomquist’s ultimate goals is to perpetuate Norwegian and Swedish culture throughout the Midwest and beyond. Since Bloomquist has a strong Swedish heritage, she specifically thinks dalmålning and bonadsmålning are ways for her to put a part of her soul on the canvas and spread part of her culture with audiences everywhere.

“If it's not a culture that you're used to, it's introducing you to that cultural mindset and the beauty that that culture has created,” Newell said. “I think that again, that's a really important thing for gallery visitors to experience.”