ISLE -- Suzanne Toftey has visited Norway only once, but in just four years the Isle artist has become so well known for her Norwegian folk art that her work is sold in gift shops throughout Norway and more than 2,500 shops in the United States, including Epcot in Disney World and the Mall of America.
It's an odd thing. A Minnesota artist creating work sold in Norway to American tourists. Some of her designs, including her designer plates, are exclusively made in Norway and imported to the United States.
It all started four years ago after Toftey decided to create notecards out of one of her Norwegian-themed paintings. She had been rosemaling for years, but started painting Norwegian scenes that included rosemaling, or Norwegian decorative flower painting. Her signature designs typically feature Norwegian-dressed children or Norwegian Christmas elves along with a unique combination of Norwegian culture and traditions and rosemaling.
Every painting has its own story and within that story lies traditions that many Norwegian-Americans can identify with, like eating lutefisk, lefse or kransekake.
The printing company she initially approached about her notecards loved her work and asked her to create an entire series of Norwegian-themed paintings featuring children and Norwegian foods titled, "Takk For Maten," which means "Thank you for the food" in Norwegian. She has painted six scenes so far and plans 12 in the series. Many of the children featured in her designs are actually her own grandchildren, mainly 8-year-old Megan Aalbers and 10-year-old Matthew Aalbers of St. Cloud. A soon-to-be released print in the "Takk For Maten" series features 5-year-old Mitchell Aalbers eating pickled herring.
Toftey and her husband, Jack, who live in their Scandinavian-style home on the southeast corner of Lake Mille Lacs, started their own company, Suzanne's Nordic Images, four years ago to keep up with the demand for her work. They are a two-person operation and at times have found themselves overwhelmed with orders and cross-country public appearances. They also work with Berquist Scandinavian Imports, which ships and creates much of her work.
"Kransekake Girl," painted by artist Suzanne Toftey of Isle, is one of several paintings she has created that depicts Norwegian children celebrating Norwegian culture and traditions. The girl, who is modeled after Toftey's granddaughter, is shown with kransekake, the national almond-flavored cake of Norway served at celebrations, like weddings, christenings and birthdays.
"She has to live to be 102. I've got that figured out," Jack joked of his wife. The two have been so busy they haven't yet been able to plan a vacation to Norway like they've wanted. They were there 12 years ago. "We don't know if we can handle all this, just the two of us."
Toftey has been asked to design similarly-themed Danish, Finnish and Swedish artwork but she's simply been too busy with her Norwegian work. A Bavarian candy company requested that she design their Bavarian candy bar wrappers, but again, she's been too busy.
Both of the Tofteys descend from Norway, which is what drew her to creating Norwegian folk art and rosemaling. It's been her way to reintroduce Norwegian traditions to Norwegian-Americans -- and even to the Norwegians themselves.
Toftey said she is considering the idea of creating a Norwegian children's book in the future.
Toftey's work is available locally at the Finishing Touch in Baxter, as well as on her Web site, www.nordicimage.com.
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