When a happily married couple values the same things—family, life-long learning and service to others—their union strengthens the very fabric of their community. Year after year, as they share laughter and fellowship with those they meet, the world around them reflects a little more of their unwavering light.
One such couple is Rick and Linda Marzullo, dynamic Valley residents and owners of Solvang’s Viking Press, a family-run operation that’s been in business since 1974. With help from Linda’s mother, Carolynn Petersen, and their 19-year-old son, James, the couple handles three presses and a busy front desk, yet still finds time for committee meetings, volunteer work and the occasional Scandinavian folk festival.
Despite their last name, the Marzullos are steeped in all things Danish. Linda’s great-grandfather was among those daring Danes who selected Solvang’s building site. Already living in California at the time, Theodor Petersen assisted the committee charged in finding a west coast location for a Danish folk school and community.
“My grandfather came from Ferndale,” Linda says, “and his father and uncles were part of the original scouting party that found Solvang in 1910. My grandmother grew up in the Central Valley.”
Linda’s family settled near Ballard, a few miles from “downtown” Solvang, where there was plenty of creek water and arable land for their dairy cows. It took time to sell the Ferndale farm, so in 1911, Petersen sent his son, Johannes, to work the Solvang land until the rest of the family arrived three years later, among them Linda’s grandfather, Thomas.
“In 1914, they drove 20 head of cattle to a steamship in Eureka,” Rick relates, “sailed to San Francisco and boarded another boat to Gaviota. Then they drove them into the Valley. It was a long trip, but they didn’t want to buy cows here, because theirs [gave milk with] a higher butter fat content.
“The fortitude it took to move that far,” he marvels, “to move an entire farm to where there was nothing. It’s kind of hard to believe—and really fun to read about!”
An insatiable researcher, Rick, who moved to the Santa Ynez Valley from Southern California in 1980, loves to comb through histories, genealogies and even archival records written in Danish. Although his paternal heritage is Italian, he counts a Danish nobleman among his mother’s ancestors.
“The record of the Rosenkrantz family goes back to the 1200s,” Rick explains. “During the late 1400s, the family moved to southern Denmark and from there to Holland and then Norway. In 1630, they came to the U.S., but there was no America, so they were in New Amsterdam.
“The family goes back a long time here,” he continues, “so I never had any Danish traditions growing up. But the DNA, that little molecule thing, is there.”
Rick feels such a kinship with Danish culture that he has mastered the art of papercutting, an ancient craft that yields breathtaking results. After having his silhouette cut at Disneyland as a child, he taught himself the craft, and today much of his startlingly beautiful work incorporates traditional folk art patterns from the 1800s.
“It was traditional in Scandinavia to do religious cuttings with figures dressed in everyday clothes,” he explains, “so people would feel an affinity to the story being told. There were so many people that didn’t read, it was all an oral learning tradition. If you told the story with visuals, showing everyday people, they could understand it better.”
As with his elaborate family trees and folk school images, Rick sometimes melds the intricately cut shapes with line drawings, watercolors and deftly rendered lettering. All original, one-of-a-kind pieces, they are coveted by collectors across the U.S. and in Europe.
“It takes patience,” he admits. “I’ll sketch out the letters, but each individual line, like trees, flowers and stuff, I do that freehand.
“I use surgeon’s scissors,” he continues, “but they don’t have to be. It’s lasted as an art form for two-thousand years because we can use whatever.” Recognized as an authority on Scandinavian folk costume, Rick gives papercutting demonstrations at festivals and Solvang’s annual Danish Days celebration.
“It’s so neat to see someone doing a folk craft like that,” Linda says. “He’s really good, too. People come up and say, ‘Oh, how about a mermaid?’ and he goes snip, snip, snip.”
Rick gives a hearty laugh and says, “I can pretty much cut without looking. People are afraid to come up and talk to me, and I’m thinking, ‘No, please talk!’
“I can go to festivals and see where somebody’s from,” he continues, “and without drawing it, cut the costume from where that person’s from. In Denmark that sometimes means you’re only from the next town.” Rick also excels at ceramics, oil and watercolor painting and textile design, among other things, and most of his subject matter has a Scandinavian flavor.
“He’ll fixate on one thing and go flat out,” Linda says with a knowing grin, “and then stop it and fixate on another thing.” Mostly self-taught, Rick hasn’t sought teachers or formal training to help hone his bountiful abilities. “I was born with it,” he says modestly. “I really can’t take credit for it, just nurturing it, that’s about all.”
When not making art, working the presses or waiting on customers, Rick stays active with the Danish Days and Elverhoy Arts committees, as well as the Farstrup-Mortensen Lecture Series committee, which recently staged its 25th gathering of international speakers and attendees.
A three-day event that’s open to all, the series embodies the philosophy of N.S.F. Grundtvig, a 19th century Dane whose influence led to the folk school movement in Europe and the U.S. He believed in educating citizens for active participation in community life, and felt that cultural enrichment for its own sake improved and enlivened a person.
“The emphasis is equally on fellowship and learning,” Linda says. “It’s supposed to engage your mind and make you a more well-rounded person. “It’s not just lectures,” she says. “We sing, there’s a lot of food, folk dancing, lectures. And lots of discussion.
That’s one of the most fascinating parts of it.” Linda, who serves on the Christian Education committee at Bethania Church, tackles projects ranging from helping children assemble health kits destined for global trouble spots, to organizing an annual Fair Trade Fair, a colorful bazaar of handmade goods designed to return a living wage to artisans around the world.
“We buy direct through SERRV International and Lutheran World Relief,” she explains. “We go through the catalog, pick out things, set up the fair and invite the whole county. “This year, we sold over $15,000 worth of merchandise,” she reveals, “and that money went straight back into developing programs for the artisans and keeping their families above poverty level.
“Rick gets dragged into helping with that,” she admits with a happy shrug. “And visa versa,” Rick laughs. “We try to keep busy doing those kinds of things. It becomes natural. You don’t have to force it, because it’s the right thing to do.” Linda muses, “It all ties into [the notion that] no matter what your job is, you need to do the very best you can. The point of your life is to be the best that you can at that moment, the best you, the best person.”
Having recently survived a two-year bout of injuries and ailments, the Marzullos know a lot about striving to improve against formidable odds. So protracted were their problems that James completed an Emergency Medical Services course in order to help out. Just before Christmas, 2007, Linda tripped on a handicap ramp and crushed her ankle so badly that one physician recommended amputation.
“It was one of those stupid things,” Linda laments. “For a Dane, Christmas is the major holiday, so for me to be in the hospital on Christmas Eve was awful. I refused to allow anyone to talk about it, because I was so down.” To soothe the memory, Rick notes, “We had another Christmas on the twenty-eighth.”
After three surgeries and nine months in a wheelchair, Linda took her first steps…just as Rick fell victim to a stroke. Awakening from a nap, he noticed a bit of double vision, but not until James spotted his radically misaligned eye did he realize something serious had happened.
“It was scary” Rick admits, “because my dad died of an aneurism at forty-seven, the same age I was.” Due to blurred vision, it took Rick three months to recover enough to resume his artwork. Then, about a year later, he contracted Bell’s palsy, a mysterious and untreatable, yet mercifully temporary, paralysis of the facial muscles.
“I still don’t have the stamina that I used to, to be able to sit and do the fine work,” Rick admits with one of his hearty signature laughs. “The eyes get really tired, so instead of doing it for eight or nine hours, I have to do it for four.” Rick and Linda agree that during their trials, they felt blessed to have so many close friends and family members nearby.
“I think that’s one of the perks of living in the Valley,” Linda says. “People are very caring. I think it’s because they know this is a beautiful place, that we’re very fortunate to live here and you really are connected to your neighbor. You CAN make a difference.” With a twinkle in his eye, Rick declares, “I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s because of the Danish influence! You can feel that there’s something different here and it’s more than just Mayberry or a fictitious place.
Places like this are few and far between, and if you find one, you want to save and protect it, nurture it. “Everybody has always watched out for one another here,” he adds. “It’s a small community at the turn of another century, and that’s still going on.”
Linda can attest to the remarkable generosity and hospitality of the Danish people, so perhaps Rick is correct in attributing the Valley’s warm heart to its founding mothers and fathers. In any event, Solvang’s native daughter and nearly native son carry on the tradition, sharing their love, light and good works with everyone they meet.