Rainbow Scandinavia: Duluth artist Kirsten Aune puts a kaleidoscopic spin on textile folk art 

Three people stand with a dog in front of storefront
Artist Kirsten Aune (right) with her daughter Foretasia Aune (center), her sister Alison Aune and her dog Django at her showroom in the Lincoln Park Craft District in Duluth.
Courtesy Kirsten Aune

The showroom of textile artist Kirsten Aune is easy to spot. On a mostly gray city block in West Duluth’s Lincoln Park Craft District, the storefront is an explosion of bold colors and geometric patterns, like a flower child took over the Finnish design house Marimekko.  

The parallels to Marimekko are no accident. Aune channels her Swedish and Norwegian heritage, but with her own 1960s mod and bohemian spirit. From wall hangings and bespoke dresses to children’s clothing and dolls, no surface escapes the artist’s rainbow touch.   

A girl stands in front of a large colorful artwork
The artist's daughter with one of her early wall hangings.
Courtesy Kirsten Aune

“I love working large,” Aune says. “I stencil, and stenciling is so fun. It takes a lot of time, and you become even more bonded with your piece and then you're like, “Oh, how can I sell it?” 

A few years back, Aune’s sister, Alison Aune — a fellow artist and professor of art education at University of Minnesota Duluth — suggested that she add silkscreen-printing to her repertoire so she could make multiples of a piece. Now, her showroom is filled with a mixture of the two mediums, as well as her sister’s Scandinavian folk art painting, “kurbits” or a Swedish type of rosemaling. 

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Walking through the showroom, her dog Django always by her side, Aune shows where she sews her work and discusses her colorway: glowing purples, olive greens, tangerine oranges and ochre yellows. 

Dog lies down on an art studio floor
Django at Kirsten Aune's studio in an old Duluth firehouse.
Alex V. Cipolle | MPR News

“For my stenciled work, I’m mixing all the colors myself with pigments,” Aune says. “But when I screen print, I'm buying the colors because you never know if you mix enough and then you're screen printing, and you get these smears of colors that you thought you mixed in. When I make colors, you'd be surprised how many colors are in that color. You know, black, blue, and you're like, ‘What? It's just kind of a dark yellow!’” 

Aune is originally from Amherst, Mass., but she’s been living in Duluth for more than 30 years. She joined her sister, who had moved to the city for graduate school, after going to art school herself in New York City and working as an artist in New Mexico.  

Person with a rainbow, black and white patterned dress poses
The hand-stenciled "Pleiadian Dress"
Courtesy Kirsten Aune

“It was a weird town, but there were some great artists here and there and I couldn't believe that,” Aune says of moving to Duluth and finding creatives from all over the country had relocated there as well.

Now, her work is in the permanent collection of UMD’s Tweed Museum of Art, and she teaches art workshops at her showroom and studio (a few blocks away in an old firehouse), as well as the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. 

Aune is currently preparing work for a group show she co-organized with her sister for the Nordic Center in downtown Duluth for FinnFest: “Inspiraatioita: Finnish Art and Design in Minnesota” will run July 27-30.  

A colorful textile sail on a boat in the water
Rainbow sail for Noatun Boatworks Duluth.
Courtesy Kirsten Aune

In addition to her parents' roots in Sweden and Norway — where she has traveled many times to “soak up the aesthetic,” Aune says she’s inspired by Finnish art and design; she and her sister went to study it there on a Finlandia Foundation Grant a few years ago. 

“It was the best trip,” she says, and points to a floral wall hanging. “I came back, and this is my quote-unquote Marimekko — flowers inspired by Finland.” 

Piece of textile with colorful patterns
"Flowers for My Mother" textile
Courtesy Kirsten Aune
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.