Rønnaug Petterssen was born on October 1, 1901 in in Hadsel Parish, Vesterålen in Northern Norway. In the early 1920 Petterssen found employment in Svolvær. Here she met a number of people who were to become important to her personally, who also helped pave her way to her path as a doll maker.
By 1929 Petterssen had been given the opportunity to study art at the Vereinigte Staatsschule für Freie und Angenwandte Kunst, (State Art Academy) in Berlin Germany and spent a year there, studying drawing and sculpture. In January 1933 she traveled to Spain and while there she started making small dolls in a variety of local costumes. These dolls were made quite similarly to the small dolls she was to make later after her return to Norway. in Spain she also met her husband to be, German born painter/photographer Johannes Kunze.
Petterssen opened her doll atelier in late 1934 and after Kunze arrived in Oslo, they worked together, he on the technical side, she with the creating of the exquisite little dolls. Kunze photographed all her work and without that, we wouldn't have the extensive photo documentation that exists. Her initial dolls were small dolls. Petterssen studied the adult costumes that were available and was able to reduce these costumes in such a way that their their individual essence and look was retained. This is what she became so celebrated for.
From the beginning the workshop flourished. Petterssen won many prizes during these years, her work had been exhibited almost immediately after returning to Oslo. She received increasing recognition and was invited to participate with her dolls in a specially designed exhibit at the World Fair in Paris in 1937 (Norway in Dolls) and in New York in 1939 on behalf of Norway. For the New York exhibit she won first prize. In 1937 she had moulds made and she started making felt faced dolls.The workshop was closed during the war.
After the war Petterssen resumed her work and her production began to focus on the costumed dolls. During the 1950 and 1960 along with the phenomenal growth at the workshop she was commissioned for several special projects. At height Petterssen had about 50 home workers working for her, spread out over the breadth and length of Norway. During this time she made arrangements with two factories to have a line of dolls made for her in plastics, but the production of the felt faced dolls continued as before.
The 1970 were years of ever increasing recognition and she exhibited widely, both in Norway and abroad, including: Yugoslavia, Poland, Germany, Japan, New Delhi and other places, where she won prizes and recognition. In 1973 she was asked to create an exhibit which was titled "Dolls in Folk Costumes from Setesdal to South Varanger". This exhibit traveled throughout Northern Norway. Not long after, the Norwegian Folk Museum created a special exhibit with these dolls and renamed it "Rønnaug Petterssen's Dolls and the Traditions Surrounding Them". The exhibit was thereafter acquired by the museum and placed on permanent display along with dolls they had purchased from her over the years. During her lifetime, her's were the only dolls sold through the souvenir shop at the Museum, because the Museum deemed them to be of the highest quality.
The Norwegian State Department also acquired a collection in the mid 1970. The exhibition opened in New York at Norsk in 1976 as part of the US bicentennial celebration. After the opening the exhibit traveled for a year throughout the US. After years in storage, this collection has been refurbished with the help of Aagot Noss who had been Chief Curator of costumes at the Folk Museum and is now housed at the Emigrant Museum in Oppestad, Norway. This special exhibit opened in June 2006.
Rønnaug Petterssen's atelier was permanently closed in 1975. She died on December 16, 1979 in Oslo, Norway.