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Worth Knowing: Culture came alive in hands of Alexandria, Minn., painter

Geraldine Carlson was a self-taught genealogist and artist in the rosemaling tradition. Carlson will be remembered at a celebration of life July 23 in Alexandria, Minn.

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Gerry Carlson stands by a display case at the Alexandria Senior Center containing pieces she painted with rosemaling features. (Submitted photo)
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Editor's note: Each week reporter Matthew Guerry shares the life stories of residents of Minnesota or the Dakotas who have died recently. Maybe you don't know them, but their stories are worth knowing. If you have a suggestion for someone to be featured, email mguerry@forumcomm.com or call 651-321-4314.

Art was long a part of Geraldine Carlson’s life.

As a child, she made her own paper dolls with interchangeable outfits. Their wardrobes were inspired by “what you would see in a Sears-Roebuck or Montgomery Ward’s catalog,” husband Chuck Carlson said.

"Some of these drawings that she would make, she would give to her younger cousins," he recalled in an interview.

But Carlson wouldn’t take an interest in rosemaling, the Norwegian folk painting style, until some years later. It was in her 20s, when she and Chuck were first raising a family, that Carlson learned how to make the floral designs for which she was known even as an older adult — her work was exhibited at the senior center in Alexandria, Minn., in 2017.

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Geraldine Carlson

"In Norway, they have many different styles depending on their geographical location," she said. Her favorite was the Telemark, which is more flowing and less concerned with geometrical patterns.

Carlson will be remembered in her geographical location, Alexandria, at a July 23 celebration of life at Anderson Funeral home. Carlson died Feb. 10, 2020, at the age of 89.

WORTH KNOWING:

The eldest child of Roy and Cora Palmer, Geraldine Corinne Carlson, or “Gerry,” for short, was born on Nov. 1, 1930, in Alexandria. Remembered as quiet and intelligent, she attended Alexandria High School and graduated with honors in 1948.
Carlson lived and worked in California briefly before returning to Minnesota, where she disembarked again in 1951, this time for Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was there she reconnected with Chuck, whom she had known from her childhood in Alexandria since they were 15 years old.

The couple wed later that year, after which point Carlson quit her job to focus on raising their four children in Fridley, Minn. It was around this time, Chuck said, that Carlson picked up rosemaling.

"She painted quite a few plates and painted a 'willkommen' sign," Chuck said.

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Another rosemaling piece by Gerry Carlson displayed at the Alexandria Senior Center in 2017. (Lowell Anderson / Forum News Service)

The Carlsons moved several times over the years, and from 1978 to 1990, owned and operated Kaldahl’s Resort in Glenwood, before moving back to Alexandria in 2012.

Carlson, who at the time of her death had written three booklets’ worth of her and Chuck’s family history, volunteered several days a week at the Douglas County Historical Society. Her research included a trip to Norway, where she saw the place her great-grandparents called home, and regular correspondence with a relative from Sweden who Chuck said she wrote to "up until her death."

Rachel Barduson, the former executive director of the historical society, said Carlson helped to catalog historical materials and would field phone calls from out-of-state researchers looking into their own ancestries. She was so reserved, Barduson recalled, that she would sometimes begin her volunteer shifts before anybody else noticed she was present.

Of Carlson’s rosemaling, Barduson said, "Her hidden talent that she would not speak of could just come out in that form."

It was a talent admired by others, according to Chuck. Some of Carlson’s decorative paintings were given away to friends, others to her children.

"Everybody has enjoyed her paintings," he said.

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Carlson is survived by her husband and four children.

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Details from artist Gerry Carlson's rosemaling display at the Alexandria Senior Center in 2017. (Lowell Anderson / Forum News Service)

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