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Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum and Heritage Center
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Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum and Heritage Center

Vesterheim, the National Norwegian-American Museum and Heritage Center in Decorah, is one of the great jewels of Northeast Iowa. USA Today has named Vesterheim one of “ten great places in the nation to admire American folk art.” This national treasure uses the Norwegian-American experience as a lens to explore the diversity of an immigrant nation. With 16 historic buildings in its main complex, Vesterheim houses over 24,000 artifacts, including large samplings from the fine, decorative, and folk arts, and the tools and machinery of early agriculture, lumbering, and other immigrant industries.

But Vesterheim is more than a world-class museum preserving the artifacts of the past. It is a cultural center dedicated to preserving living traditions by offering classes in Norwegian folk art and culture and special programs for pre-school, elementary, secondary, and college students. Vesterheim also hosts special events, lectures, and exhibitions scheduled throughout the year.

Vesterheim has a great 2013 schedule of exhibitions, which includes traditional and contemporary work from artists around the U.S. and Norway, plus a fascinating Sámi story and a traveling exhibition featuring the popular children’s author/illustrator Jan Brett.

The museum’s major summer show is the “National Exhibition of Folk Art in the Norwegian Tradition.” This judged exhibition and sale attracts the best contemporary national artists working in rosemaling, weaving, woodworking, and knifemaking. The exhibition will be open from June 11 through July 27.

On view until November 10, “The Sámi Reindeer People of Alaska” tells the saga of Sámi families from Norway who came to the aid of the native people of Alaska in the 1890s by teaching them reindeer husbandry. The exhibition includes historic photographs, poems and family stories, and beautiful artwork on items such as knives, cups, and boots. There is also a full-sized and furnished “lavvu,” a traditional Sámi tent dwelling.

“Four from the North” opens September 20 and features work by four Minnesota artists—Alison Aune, Ann Jenkins, Ann Klefstad, and Arna Rennan. These artists were inspired by Norwegian heritage and nature.

Vesterheim is extremely excited to bring “The World of Jan Brett” to the museum from October 14, 2013 to January 5, 2014. This fun and engaging traveling exhibition brings to life the stories of the beloved children’s author/illustrator. Original artwork, interactive adventure areas, and themed reading environments invite visitors to travel the globe and become a part of their favorite books. The exhibition welcomes visitors of all ages into the vivid cultures and endless imagination of these timeless children’s tales. In addition, Jan Brett will be making a special stop in Decorah during her tour to share her latest book in the fall of 2013. Dates for Brett’s visit will be confirmed this summer.

“Flora Metamorphicae,” opening December 7, is an on-going project created by a group of six contemporary Norwegian ceramic artists. The artists work in individual isolation to shape their own ceramic flowers, which, once brought together, open in a carpet of 4,000 flowers. The flowers are installed in different configurations to fit indoor or outdoor spaces. Vesterheim will be one of the first venues in the United States for a unique installation of the flowers.

For more information on the museum’s exhibitions, activities, and membership opportunities, check Vesterheim’s website at, call (563) 382-9681, or write to Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, 523 W. Water St., P.O. Box 379, Decorah, IA, 52101-0379.

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