If you’re looking for a place to see Norwegian folk art and artifacts, head to the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa. With more than 24,000 artifacts, 12 historic buildings and more, it houses the world’s most extensive collection of Norwegian-American artifacts, and USA Today named Vesterheim one of 10 great places in the nation to admire American folk art.
Vesterheim’s exhibitions explore the diversity of American immigration through the lens of the Norwegian-American experience. On August 22, an exhibit on Norwegian sweaters opens, followed by an exhibit on Scandinavian flat-plane style woodcarving on September 19. If you’re in the area from July 24-25, stop by Nordic Fest.
If you want to get crafty and learn a new skill, Vesterheim’s Folk Art School offers wonderful classes that teach traditional Norwegian folk art, including woodworking, rosemaling, fiber arts, jewelry making and more.
In Viking’s June 2015 issue, we caught up with Vesterheim’s chief curator, Laurann Gilbertson, to learn more about the museum. Check out more of her interview below.
Q: For those who visit the museum, what are some must-see places in the surrounding Decorah area?
A: The museum is lucky to be situated in Decorah and in northeast Iowa. The natural beauty and variety of attractions makes this a great place to visit and live. I would recommend that visitors see Dunning’s Springs Park and Phelps Park in Decorah. Effigy Mounds National Monument and Pikes Peak State Park are nearby and provide spectacular views of the Driftless Area.
Q: What are some of your favorite collections or exhibitions at the museum?
A: I especially like the textiles and jewelry. Norwegian brooches, søljer, show amazing technical skill and artistry. I also like them because they are so adaptable for today. You don’t need to own a bunad to wear one. You can enjoy the beauty and history of Norwegian jewelry with any outfit.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the objects on loan. How can organizations acquire objects from the Vesterheim collections? Why do you believe this practice is important?
A: Vesterheim loans artifacts to museums for exhibition. We often have artifacts “on the road.” Current and upcoming loans include Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, Wash., the Norway pavilion at Epcot in Florida, Mingei International Museum in San Diego, Calif., and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kans. We consider it a great way to share the collection with people all over the United States. Interested museums can contact us for loan information.
Check out this video to learn more about Vesterheim, and learn how to join and donate.