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Sisters bring Scandinavian style to downtown storefronts

Elmhurst, IL

Shoppers with a keen eye might notice some painted window decorations in downtown Elmhurst a cut above the usual holiday fare.

Those flourishing floral designs and ornamental scrolls adorning the windows of Cafe Amano and other businesses are thanks to the deft brush strokes of sisters Catherine Coy and Rebecca Cleghorn.
Coy, 39, of Addison, and Cleghorn, 40, of Marengo, learned the Scandinavian folk art called Norwegian Rosemaling through European artists brought to Illinois for classes by their local art club, the Illinois Norsk Rosemalers Association.

“There’s not a lot of Americans that paint this style,” Cleghorn said. “Which is why we have to bring people from Europe to train us.”

The painting gives the sense of warmth and home inherent in folk art, without leaving behind the elegance and sophistication of French Rococo, the movement that heavily influenced Rosemaling.

The two sisters have studied the painting style in the club for 16 years, they said, regularly winning state and national contests, and selling a variety of painted items at art shows.

About three years ago, “we thought, as artists, ‘what else can we paint?’” Coy said. “And I said to (Rebecca), with a slight mood of apprehension, ‘well we could paint storefront windows.’

“But I was apprehensive because sometimes storefront windows are tacky and amateurish. But we decided, ‘OK, we can do storefront windows, but it will be high quality.’”

The pair now paints for a couple dozen businesses in the DuPage County area, they said.

“We knew a few store owners who were willing to hire us and we started our portfolio and the rest is history,” she said. “Because once you see it, the neighbor would hire us, and the business next door, and the word gets out.”

Two Sisters Window Painting now does work for Cafe Amano year-round, creating original designs each season, they said. They also do work for Flight 112 Wine Bar.

When they pitch their skill to a new business, they said they rarely mention the Norwegian history of the style.

“We don’t necessarily say that to a store owner that (the style) is Scandinavian,” Cleghorn said. “You don’t know why you like it, you just do.”

A large window might take the pair about three hours total, working at the same time, they said.

“It’s awesome … every design is brand new and it’s fun to see it being created even though we’re the ones creating it,” Cleghorn said. “And the fact that we’re sisters, when we paint together we really just talk the whole time together and visit. It’s also nice that we meet store owners that we otherwise never would have met.”

The Christmas season is the busiest time for their business, but they have to finish the work before temperatures dip too low and freezes the paint before it dries.

And when the work is done, “people love to see something that is hand painted,” Cleghorn said.

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