Posts Tagged: artist features

Lori Biwer-Stewart, linocut printmaker


More than a hobby: Lori Biwer-Stewart, linocut printmaker
Story and photos by Sara Friedl-Putnam • Originally published in the Fall 2015 Inspire(d)
Artwork by Lori Biwer-Stewart

lori_horizontalLike many artists, Lori Biwer-Stewart discovered her calling very early in life.

“I’ve loved to express myself artistically for as long as I can remember,” she says, recalling long, happy hours doodling and drawing as a child growing up on a farm outside Elma, Iowa. “It’s the only thing I ever thought I could do really well.”

That cMoreThanHobbyLogoonviction – and a naturally curious mind – led Lori to a commercial design degree at Hawkeye Institute of Technology in Waterloo, Iowa, and, a few years later, a basic printmaking class at MacNider Art Museum in Mason City. Armed with an abundance of natural talent, an expansive library of reference books, a deep love of the art form, and, yes, two printing presses, she began making (and selling) linocut prints out of her home in Osage, Iowa, more than 20 years ago.

Today she is known across the Midwest for her crisp, whimsical work, which explores themes like youth and innocence, relationships, and spiritual awakenings through the use of symbolic images like birds, doors, or keys. “The carving process is very therapeutic for me and has gotten me through many bad moments,” Lori says, candidly referring to her longtime struggle with depression. “Some people can write well or tell interesting stories – I much prefer to speak through the images and symbolism in my linocuts.”


Popularized by the likes of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso in the early- to mid-1900s, linocut is a deceptively simple, relatively inexpensive “relief” printmaking technique in which the artist uses a knife or gouge to carve a design into a sheet of linoleum (sometimes mounted on a wood block), inks the linoleum with a brayer (i.e. roller), and impresses the image onto paper either by hand or with a press. It was the ability to use the technique to create bold, decorative designs that first piqued Lori’s interest.

“Linocut printing enables artistic expression like no other art form – the cut of the knife creates a primitive feel that only adds to the intent and intensity of the message being communicated,” she says. “Sometimes my work is dark and sometimes it’s fun, but it’s always thought-provoking; whatever the image is, my goal is always to make the viewer think and question.”

meyou2 fireflies

ShinyThingsShe does exactly that in pieces likeMe and You,” in which a floating red balloon tied to an empty yellow chair symbolizes the yin and yang found in so many relationships…and “Fireflies,” in which a jar of fireflies nestled among wildflowers conjures up childhood memories of capturing the magical insects on hot summer nights…and “Shiny Things,” in which crows hording small gleaming objects suggest the tendency of so many to collect things they don’t really need. The three works are among more than 70 linocuts currently displayed on her website,

Her always eye-catching work has earned Lori, who also works as a graphic artist at Curries in Mason City, more than a few awards at art festivals over the past two decades. Yet, despite the accolades, she admits she still struggles with the challenges of “getting out there” and marketing her work, especially through social media. She encourages other artists just starting out to stay on top of current social-media trends and to do what she has done from the start – stay true to self. “Do what really interests you – whatever subject that is, whatever medium that is,” she says. “You will never find joy in your art if you are just creating what you think people will buy.”


Sara Friedl-Putnam has never considered herself particularly “artsy” or “craftsy,” but after being inspired by the talented women she profiled in this issue is seriously contemplating making a few gifts this coming holiday season.


Biwer-Stewart will display her work at the Wausau, Wisconsin, Festival of Arts on September 12-13 and the Autumn Artistry in Osage on September 19. Her work is also available in galleries across the Driftless Region and online at


“More Than a Hobby” is a special section of the Fall 2015 Inspire(d) Magazine. We’ve highlighted doers and makers in the Driftless region who are turning what they do like to do into so much more than a hobby – it’s a living! We love that. Stay tuned for additional More Than a Hobby features online in the coming weeks!

Bluff Country Studio Art Tour

The Bluff Country Studio Art Tour is coming up soon! We thought now would be a perfect time to remind you about our Art Tour Tips and Primer! Click on the infographic above for a closer look at some fun art-on-the-go road trip tips! Have fun!

Bluff Country Studio Art Tour
Where: Winona, Minnesota, extending into Northeast Iowa and Southwest Wisconsin
When: April 24–26, 2015
For more information: visit

Looking to learn about some of the art and artists in or related to the region? Check out our artist features here!

New to self-guided studio art tour? Here are some tips:

  1. It’s okay not to buy anything! Don’t feel guilty, just enjoy the art and let the artist know that you’ve enjoyed it. But if you DO want to buy something, don’t hesitate! This art is the most “local” you’re ever going to get: You’re standing in the artist’s studio!
  1. PLEASE don’t be afraid to ask questions! You won’t look silly, we promise. In general, artists love to have folks interested in their work, processes, and studio. Everyone has a story, and – boy – stories are fun to hear (that’s why we started this magazine in the first place)!
  1. Printed material is expensive! If an artist has cards, publications, or pamphlets out and you’re not seriously interested in putting it on your fridge/giving it to a friend/calling for more information, just pass on taking them – you’ll be doing the artist a favor!
  1. Negotiations: In general, we don’t live in an area that encourages negotiations on pricing. That said, if you’re looking at a piece but can’t afford to pay the price, be up front about it. See if there are any options for payment plans or if the seller might be willing to budge a smidge on the price. You’ll know quickly enough if they will. If not, move on and know you tried everything you could to bring the piece home. Make sure you are clear that you meant no offense, quite the opposite: you loved their work!

Artist Bonnie Solberg: Rosemaling


By Aryn Henning Nichols

Originally published in the Spring 2012 Inspire(d) Magazine

Hundreds of years ago, to get through long, cold winters, Norwegians took paint to wood, forming intricate flowers and patterns in what is now known as rosemaling. Often, it would be the men in the house creating these detailed pieces of art.

BonnieSolbergToday, though, there are “a lot of gray-haired ladies in my rosemaling classes,” Spring Grove rosemaler Bonnie Solberg says with a laugh.

But Bonnie herself exudes youthful enthusiasm, her eyes shining as she shares stories of her favorite hobby, rosemaling. She is sweet and welcoming. An elementary ed teacher retired seven years, she lives with her husband in the house they built just blocks from the school. There is rosemaling art everywhere. Bowls, plates, coasters, tiny beautiful boxes – evidence of what Bonnie admits: she has a hard time parting with any rosemaling she creates.

“I gave away a bowl as a gift one year and I often think, ‘That was a nice bowl. I wouldn’t mind having that back!’” she says. “I work on them and then get really attached.”

Bonnie first started rosemaling in January of 1991. She and fellow Spring Grove rosemaler Berthana Wirth decided it would be fun to take a community education class in town. It wasn’t long before the teacher saw their potential and suggested they take a class at Decorah’s Vesterheim Museum. Vesterhiem hosts a variety of classes in the Norwegian arts, and Bonnie has since become a regular in its classrooms. But the first day of Bonnie and Berthana’s first class was another story.

“We were so nervous. We walked in and there were just two seats left. And everyone looked like they knew exactly what they were doing. We were so green at it!” Bonnie says with a laugh. “I have my first piece from that class hanging in my basement. I cringe when I look at it!”

The fact that she can proudly display her present-day pieces in her living room is, she feels, a testament to the art. “If I can do it, anyone can.”


Really, that Bonnie was ever “green” at rosemaling is totally unrecognizable today. Her pieces are exquisite, and she seems to move effortlessly from one rosemaling style to another – at least among the styles she enjoys doing.

That’s right: rosemaling is not just rosemaling. The art originated in the 1750s in Norway with different regions developing their own style. The styles Bonnie enjoys are Os and Rogaland – old and “American” style – and Telemark. There’s also Hallingdal, Valdres, Gudbrandsdal, and Vest Adger.

What makes a great rosemaling pattern is good stroke work, thin lines, teardrops, cross hatching, and a nice, balanced color. Norwegians brought rosemaling with them when they emigrated to the United States in the 1800s, but it didn’t become popular again in the US until the 1930s. Artist Per Lysne, born in Laerdal, Sogn, learned rosemaling from his father, Anders Olsen, and when he immigrated to Stoughton, Wisconsin, with his wife in 1907, he built a business around rosemaling and taught just a small handful of students the Norwegian art. It was Lysne who made the smorgasbord plate a regular rosemaling object!

While, as Bonnie says, her rosemaling classes are often filled with a slightly older generation, she believes – like knitting and sewing – that there will be a popularity surge again. “I think there are always going to be artists interested in carrying on the tradition.” Folks interested in this folk art can usually find several of the styles being offered through classes at Vesterheim.


And no matter the style, the methods are usually the same. You start with a pattern that fits on your wooden piece, sketch it out, plan your colors, and go from there. Bonnie generally finishes a piece in about a week.

“I plan to start something during a week I know I’m not busy,” she says. “I hate to remix colors – usually I just can’t get it right even if I try – so I know I have to work pretty much constantly on whatever I start.”

And even after all these years and many, many pieces, she has a hard time choosing one to call “best.” “Whichever one I’m doing right now is the one that’s my favorite!”

The only problem, it seems, it finding the space to put the next finished project.

“It’s a great hobby. I have fun at it – you have to have fun!” she says with another one of her lovely laughs. “And once you start, you can’t stop. It’s like popcorn!”


Aryn Henning Nichols was charmed by Bonnie Solberg, and is intrigued by rosemaling. She’d like to take a contemporary stab at it with some grays and yellows…but doesn’t know if it’s allowed!