An Ale Bowl With Cow Heads

If you’ve read Old World Murder, the first Chloe Ellefson/Historic Sites mystery, you know that the plot revolves around a missing antique ale bowl. Ale bowls were used in rural areas of Norway during the period many immigrants came to America in the 19th century. They were used for special occasions, and were often beautifully carved and exquisitely rosemaled (painted).

Often ale bowls were carved with animal heads serving as handles. I chose to make my fictional bowl feature cow heads as handles, something I’d never seen on an actual bowl. It worked for the story. (For more visuals, see earlier posts Rosemaling Through Time and Ale Bowls:  Migration of a Tradition.)

When Old World Murder was published, my husband Scott suggested that we commission a carver and painter to create the bowl described in the novel. It was a lovely idea, but after several discussions, I nixed the idea as impractical.

Well, Scott ignored me. He surreptitiously made arrangements with woodworker Becky Lusk and rosemaler Judy Nelson Kjenstad.  These two incredibly talented women worked from the description of my fictional bowl to create the piece. Scott gave me the bowl for my birthday.  Surprise!

The bowl is spectacular. Becky and Judy have both earned Vesterheim Gold Medals in their respective arts. Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum awards Gold Medals to artists who have repeatedly won ribbons in the annual National Exhibition of Folk Art int the Norwegian Tradition. These are coveted awards, earned only by those who truly excel.  My new ale bowl is a beautiful piece of folk art for our home.

I also look forward to displaying the ale bowl when I give programs. Since the novel was published last fall, lots of readers have asked what such a piece would look like.

I think my favorite aspect of the gift, however, is Scott’s assertion that publication of Old World Murder deserved some kind of commemoration. He knows the publishing biz can be…shall we say…fickle. He’s celebrated high notes and successes with me, but he’s also seen me work hard on novels that have yet to find a home. He wants me to have a memento to remind me that this book did find a home with publisher Midnight Ink, launching a series I am enjoying immensely.

When I think back on our earlier discussions about whether or not to have this particular bowl made, I realize he was right all along.

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18 Responses to “An Ale Bowl With Cow Heads”

  1. Arletta Dawdy Says:

    What a wonderful, thoughtful husband you have in Scott and what a gorgeous ale bowl to commemorate the book and decorate your home, and presentations.
    Enjoy your gift of writing and the gift of Scott’s ingenuity in “going behind your back!”

  2. Pam De Voe Says:

    Kathleen –

    What a beautiful and thoughtful gift!

    By the way, I’ve just recently started viewing the statistics on our Greater St Louis Sisters in Crime blog ( and found that the interview I did with you has TWICE the number of viewers of the post over any of the other posts in the last year! Looks like there are lots of people interested in what you write.

    Pam De Voe

  3. Kathleen Ernst Says:

    Arletta and Pam, I couldn’t agree more – I’m a lucky lady to have such a thoughtful spouse! And Pam – yikes, thanks for sharing the news about your blog stats. That makes my day. It was kind of you to interview me in the first place!

  4. Pam De Voe Says:

    Shows that you’ve hit on an original approach plus that you’re a good story teller!

  5. Barb Froelich Says:

    Yes – what can I say? Both you and your husband are Great!

  6. Velda Brotherton Says:

    Oh, what a great story. And what a thoughtful hubby you have. The piece is gorgeous and will always be a reminder of your book and your hubby’s generosity.

  7. Charles Stubbs Says:

    Kathleen, i am reading the book and loving’ it; keep up the good work; i hope to move on to volume two; and P.S. I am a Scandihoovawegian too.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Charles, thanks for stopping by! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the book. And since you’re a proud Scandihoovawegian, I’ll mention that Chloe #4, which I’m working on now, also revolves around that rich culture.

  8. Jean Brasher Farrow Says:

    I was fascinated with your description of the cow rosemaing ale bowl and as you can imagine, it’s delightful to find this page. I’m reading Old World Murder now and loving the characters and story. Now I know there will be more to come. Super.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Jean – thanks for connecting! I love writing the Chloe books. Each one gives me the opportunity to shine a little lamplight on themes and places that fascinate me. They don’t all have to do with Norwegian heritage, but the one coming this fall–Heritage of Darkness–takes place at Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum. Fun!

  9. justreading4now Says:

    I’m enjoying your book on my iPad Kindle app. I’m so glad I was suddenly struck to google ‘norwegian rosemaled ale bowl’. Seeing the image completes my enjoyment. Your bowl is most beautiful.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      So glad you’re enjoying the book! And I must admit, I’m very glad to have the bowl. Many readers couldn’t quite picture it. I love rosemaling, and continue to dabble. I had fun writing the 4th Chloe mystery, Heritage of Darkness. Chloe takes her first rosemaling class. Anyway, thanks so much for connecting!

  10. LinG Says:

    I like the bowl! But those horns would never have been put there by a traditional carver (who wouldn’t have carved cows for his life, anyway, but that’s another matter) – they will break on the first rowdy occasion! And they will absolutely not survive when the bowl is thrown when used for divining!

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Ah, but this is not a “traditional” bowl in that regard. As is revealed the in the story, it has a special history. But I’m glad you like the bowl–I think it’s beautiful!

  11. Katherine A Sparks Says:

    What a beautiful piece of artwork. Your husband is so sweet to have done this for you. Even though I am part Norwegian, I had never heard of an ale bowl before reading your story. Thank you for sharing your talent with all of us. Our church book group is discussing Old World Murder this coming Monday night (05/07). I hope everyone enjoyed the book as much as I have. I re-read the book recently, and marveled again at how well it was written. I had forgotten a number of things, so I was glad that I re-read it.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Katharine, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I agree, it was an amazingly sweet gift! What a surprise to open the box. With each book written in the Chloe series, I learn a lot. Best wishes for a good discussion on Monday night!

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