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Bringing Norwegian culture to life

Fishing boat, ship part of exhibits at Iowa museum

DECORAH, Iowa – The Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum takes its name from the Norwegian word for western home.

Having left their roots in Norway to go west to America, Norwegian immigrants brought the culture of their homeland to a new place. Today, the museum celebrates their contributions to this country with more than 24,000 artifacts. These items range from folk art to agricultural tools.

Starting on the ground floor, murals in the lobby show Norwegian scenes representing the mid-1800s. The focus on this level is on life in Norway. Guests can see folk costumes and a replica of a home.

Also included is information about leaving Norway and making the voyage to America. Some of the highlights are a fishing boat, the Nordland; the TradeWind, a ship; and an altar from the Norwegian Seamen’s Church of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Moving up to the second story, visitors will find items that shine, such as bridal crowns and silver, the art of woodcraft, furnishings for houses, and the Selland House, a log home.

Three galleries are on the third floor. The Maland Walker Gallery is all about textiles. Here guests will see spinning wheels, looms, and the textiles themselves. The museum’s temporary exhibits are in the Anna Hong Gallery and the Hauge Gallery.

Equally interesting are the basement displays touching upon the military – Norwegians in the Civil War and World War II. This level also holds the church gallery with altar paintings and a carved altar.

Continue to explore on the fun side of life learning about music, toys, sleds and skis. Also included in the basement is printing equipment.

Although the indoor part of the museum is open when winter winds blow, a second part opens in May. The Vesterheim’s Open Air Division holds 12 historic buildings, which guests have access to through guided tours.

They will see a grist mill and house from Valdres in Norway, pioneer log houses, an 1851 restored stone mill, a Norwegian storage building called a stabbur, a log parochial school, a house with stovewood construction, a prairie home and Lutheran church from North Dakota, and a shed for drying hops.

This could well be worth a second visit to Decorah.

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