Lappland, also spelled Lapland, the ancestral home of the Saami, or Lapps, comprises northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. Roseman and Davis left the coastal town of Tromsø and drove some 400 kilometers on the one main road that led them east through Norway and into Finland, from where they travelled southeast before turning north to recross the Norwegian border and continue on to the rural township of Kautokeino, situated just above the 69th parallel.
"During the spring and summer of 1976, I did research in libraries and bookstores in New York City in preparation for my prospective work. Ronald, who was overseeing the national tour of The Performing Arts in America exhibition, assisted me in planning the project, charting an itinerary, and deciding where would be our ultimate destination in Lappland.
"Our immediate and most important concern, however, upon which everything depended, was being able to finance the project. Anticipated costs would include art materials, transatlantic and regional transportation, meals, lodgings, and supplies for a planned time period of six to eight weeks. The Performing Arts in America exhibition was having a successful tour and, fortunately, generated purchases of my paintings and drawings that would make the project in Lappland possible.
''Leaving New York City that September, I felt a kinship with Gauguin, who had left a great metropolis and flourishing art center, Paris, to seek inspiration for his work among a group of people living in a remote part of the world - for him, native Tahitians, in the South Pacific; for me, nomadic Saami, beyond the Arctic Circle.
7. Bier Ante Ris'ten (left); Davis (center), carrying the artist's paint box and portable easel; and Roseman (right), carrying his canvases and bag of painting supplies, as they prepare to cross the river in a rowboat with Myrdene Anderson, An'te Niilas, Ris'ten's brother, and two herding dogs. Kautokeino, 1976.
In the last quarter of the twentieth century, the Saami, a numerically small, indigenous minority, accounted for less than one percent of the population in Norway, Sweden, and Finland. The majority of Saami throughout Lappland have assimilated into the dominant culture and are commonly engaged in farming and fishing as well as other sedentary occupations. Only some ten percent of the Saami are reindeer-herding nomads, whereas in northern Norway the percentage is substantially higher. "It was the inland region of Finnmark County in northern Norway,'' writes Roseman, "specifically the rural township of Kautokeino, to where Ronald and I were en route."
A few days after Roseman and Davis arrived in Kautokeino, they chanced upon meeting Myrdene Anderson, today a distinguished anthropologist, botanist, and linguist, who was then, in 1976, completing five years of field work as a graduate student from Yale University. Anderson was enthusiastic about Roseman's interest as an artist in the nomadic Saami. She thoughtfully offered the artist and his colleague to be their guide in helping them become acquainted with the region and the people and very kindly took on the task of translator as Roseman and Davis spoke neither Norwegian nor the Saami language, which belongs to the Finno-Ugric language group.
"Bier Ante Ris'ten, a very pleasant woman in her forties, was a reindeer herder like her father, Bier An'te. For generations Saami women as well as men have been engaged in reindeer herding. The sharing of such a primary subsistence activity has a precedent in the early history of the Saami, as recorded in the first century by Tacitus who notes that women hunted along with the men. Regarding 'reindeer pastoralism' in Saami society today explains Myrdene Anderson, 'both sexes and virtually all ages traditionally have shared in herding chores. . . .'
"Although Bier Ante Ris'ten and her husband had no children of their own, they were surrogate parents to their teenage nephew An'te Niilas, orphaned as a boy when his mother and father drowned while crossing a river in winter. An'te Niilas was mentally handicapped and somewhat shy; however, he and his canine companion Suzy, a black and white herding-dog, often took a walk to visit Myrdene, who lived nearby. Ron and I invited An'te Niilas to accompany us with Myrdene when we drove into Kautokeino village to buy groceries and other supplies. He enjoyed going into the village with us which included the time we drove to a carpenter's shop to have wooden stretchers built for my canvases.
"As Ris'ten's parents did not have a telephone in their cabin, Ris'ten, Myrdene, An'te Niilas, Ron, and I collected brushwood and twigs and made a smokey fire at the edge of the icy water to signal Ris'ten's brother to come to get us in his rowboat. The Cábardasjohka River flowed with a strong current making for a precarious crossing in a crowded rowboat which transported Ris'ten, her brother, An'te Niilas and Suzy, Myrdene and her russet-colored canine companion Run'ne, Ron and me, my paint box, portable easel, travel bag of art materials, and canvases.
"Ris'ten's father, a robust and amiable older man, was waiting for us when we arrived and escorted us inside. He expressed interest in my art materials and portable easel, which made me feel especially welcome. Bier An'te was a wonderful, enthusiastic model whose physiognomy and weathered complexion revealed a long, hard life as a reindeer herder in the harsh Arctic terrain.''
In this beautiful portrait Bier Ante Ris'ten, a soft, northern light illuminates the Saami woman's lovely, oval face. Fluent brushstrokes describe the tunic, bonnet, and shawl, and accents of red and yellow complement the predominant earth colors in the painting. The pyramidal composition gives strength to the presentation of the figure. Ris'ten sits with a hand to her cheek and offers a sympathetic regard as she looks out from the canvas. Roseman writes in his journal:
Highly respected among the Saami, Anderson thoughtfully introduced Roseman to those whom she felt would be responsive to the idea of sitting for an artist, for the Saami, being a nomadic people, do not have in their culture the tradition of portraiture, particularly life-size, oil on canvas portraits. A friend and neighbor of Anderson was Bier Ante Ris'ten, whose superb portrait is presented at the top of the page and below, (fig. 10), and whom the artist fondly and appreciatively remembers in his journal.
1. Tacitus, Germania, 98 A.D.
2. The American bicentennial exhibition Stanley Roseman - The Performing Arts in America comprised the artist's work on opera, theatre,
dance and the circus. The exhibition, produced by Ronald Davis, opened in December 1975 at the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia;
toured the United States through 1976; and concluded its national tour at the Library and Museum for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center,
New York City, winter-spring 1977.
3. Myrdene Anderson, "The Saami Reindeer-Breeders of Norwegian Lapland" (American Scientist, Vol. 73, No. 6, November-December,
1985), p. 527.
4. Tacitus, Germania.
5. Myrdene Anderson, "Woman as Generalist, as Specialist, and as Diversifier in Saami Subsistence Activities" (Humboldt Journal of
Social Relations, Vol 10, No. 2, spring-summer 1983), p. 181.
Roseman painted two impressive portraits of Bier An'te, as seen above and in the portrait presented on the following page "The Saami People of Lappland." Roseman also painted an excellent portrait of Ris'ten's mother Biret. During the days the artist was at work on his portraits at the home of Ris'ten's parents, the weather grew much colder, and the river froze over. Roseman and Davis' last return from the Saami couple's cabin was made on foot. Ris'ten remained with her parents to finish her chores; An'te Niilas accompanied Anderson, Roseman, and Davis on their return. Roseman recounts:
With lively paint strokes and detail rendering, the artist depicts Bier An'te's voluminous, white reindeer fur coat with red tassel and decorative braiding of red, yellow, blue, and white. The traditional hat from the region of Kautokeino is made with bands of colored braiding and woolen material in tubular forms that emerge from the crown and fall to the back and sides. With a circular leitmotif of braiding and white fur collar, the composition focuses on the face of the Saami reindeer herder of advancing years.