Sharon Aamodt, known as “Grammy” to her kids and grandkids, was an artist all her life. From the time she was little, drawing horses and cowboys, it was her passion. As an adult, she went to several art schools, including the Art Academy in Denver and Art Center College in Los Angeles. In the ’40s and ’50s, Sharon made her living drawing fashions for advertisements in the papers.
Along with art, she was passionate about her ancestry. Her grandparents had emigrated from Norway and Sweden and Sharon had a desire to celebrate the Scandinavian way of life. It was this desire that led to her painting more than 1,100 watercolors and pastels depicting traditional life in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
Sharon’s husband Robert Dexter (known as Bob) is also an artist and does graphic design. Before retiring, he worked for Litton Guidance & Controls. His release was to come home and do his own work. The couple spent 50 years creating wonderful works of art together. They sold their art online (Nordic Folklore Paintings), some small stores, and at local festivals throughout the year.
Sharon’s daughter-in-law, Niki Dexter, says that Sharon’s artwork is a reflection of the pride in her ancestry and her desire to show the happy moments.
“She wanted to celebrate her heritage,” Niki explains. “Historically it was pretty rough over there. The biggest national export then was Norwegian men leaving. The oldest son inherited and with families of 10 to 12 kids, the rest were kind of out of luck. So it was pretty hard back then. They were really poor. And I think her artwork really focuses on the happier moments. Being out with your Fjord or Elkhound. Picking wildflowers. Dancing – because festivals and dancing were so important not just for Norwegians, but all the Scandinavian countries.”
She painted more than 300 Norwegian bunads – the traditional Norwegian costume worn by both men and women – and more than 200 Swedish native costumes. In addition, she painted many Tomtes (small, benign supernatural beings similar to gnomes), Norwegian Fjord horses, Norwegian Elkhounds, Samis (indigenous people of Northern Europe) and Vikings.
Sharon dearly loved the Fjord horses and Elkhounds and so she painted them often. In 2005, Sharon got her very own Norwegian Fjord named Silka. She also had an Elkhound named Snoka. Both of them were used often as models for her artwork.
Continuing the Legacy Through New Art
Sharon passed away on October 6, 2014. It had been a hard year for the family – earlier a fire consumed their home and shop, destroying many of Sharon’s original works. When she passed, Niki thought that was it.
“When we lost Sharon, my heart sank,” Niki says. “And I thought maybe we should stop doing the business and let it die out. And Bob said, ‘No, I think Sharon would be really upset if we did that.’ So we became partners. And it’s a great way to keep Sharon’s spirit alive.”
To carry on her legacy, Bob and Niki took Sharon’s original artwork and photographed them. Then, using a computer, they can create anything from wall art and shirts to jewelry boxes and cutting boards.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Niki says. “I get to come to work with my dogs and decide what I want to do each day. The other day I decided I really want to learn how to make t-shirts. So I learned how to do t-shirts and now we sell those. Whatever I have a passion for, I can do that day.”
What makes their art truly unique is how Bob incorporates his graphic design background to create new pieces of art from Sharon’s originals. They have thousands of images of Norway and Sweden that either Bob or Sharon took on visits or relatives send them. Bob takes Sharon’s characters and puts them inside the real photographs to create new scenes.
“If she painted a Bergen Burnod, then Grandpa would put a photograph of the fjord of Bergen behind it and then it’s printed out in pigmented ink and acid-free paper so it won’t fade in the light and the colors will remain true and strong. This is important to Grandpa – he wants the art to last.”
This incredible process creates beautiful works of art. Sharon’s color palette is soft and surreal; you feel as if you are really looking at a moment in time. Her pieces with the Tomtes make you feel like a child again – as if you were able to catch a photo of the little gnomes making merry or maybe causing some mischief. Her Christmas-themed pieces might be the best, so beautiful and ornate you will want to display them year round.
Niki said do not be shy if you see a picture you love, but do not see it on an item – such as a t-shirt or a jewelry box – just ask them to do it for you. “I love those requests,” she added.
They are still cataloging Sharon’s artwork and have many more that are not on the website. Niki says the best way to follow them for new products is to like the Nordic Folklore Art Studio’s Facebook page. You can find her work locally at several festivals throughout the year. They also sell to the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle and of course, you can find items to buy on the Nordic Folklore Painting’s website.