"We drink from wells we did not dig ourselves. We are who we are because of what has been passed onto us from those who have gone before. And in turn, we should pass something of significance on to those who will follow."
-Harvey Refsal, Vesterheim Video, 2012
Looking to share in cultural connection, exploration, and preservation—in the meaning of our country's immigrant past-- Iowa style? We're so fortunate to have Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, as a place to gather and engage in these ideas.
Vesterheim is a national treasure, and while it's true it's an important museum, it's so much more. Read on to discover how Vesterheim can enrich and expand your life through its exhibits, events, and inspired Folk Art School.
Exploring Through Art(ifacts):
"The lives of the people who settled America were often as colorful as their folk art. And their stories speak through the objects we left behind."
Vesterheim continues to use the Norwegian-American experience as a lens through which to explore the diversity of an entire immigrant nation. As you wind your way through the museum's beautifully curated experience, it's nearly impossible not to see just how "their stories are our stories." Norwegian immigrants called America their "Vesterheim," or "western home." As these early Americans began acclimating to life in "the melting pot," their stories began to converge with immigrants from many other countries.
Norwegian immigration into North America began to peak in 1877, which was also around the time that Norwegian-Americans began collecting and preserving objects at Luther College in Decorah. That thoughtful early collection is now the most comprehensive museum in the United States dedicated to one single immigrant group. The museum houses over 33,000 carefully-cared-for artifacts, including exquisite handmade furniture, rich textiles, and original dress.
There are sixteen buildings in the museum's main complex, which occupies most of an entire square block in downtown Decorah. Meandering through these enchanting structures, you'll be transported to a different time and marvel and the ingenuity with which immigrants faced hardship. In the Main Building, you'll able to admire the incredible fine art that was later cultivated by Norwegian-Americans and now lives on site at Vesterheim. There's a restored stone mill dating from 1853 filled with the amazing tools and machines that helped build a brand new home in the "new world". There are numerous, intact and well preserved small homes, a log parochial school, a blacksmith shop, and a shed for drying hops, because Norwegians liked their beer. Additionally, there is a beautiful and charming Lutheran church called Bethania, where enchanting weddings still take place.
Folk Art School:
Vesterheim also functions as a powerful cultural center in Northeast Iowa. Classes and special programming for students of all ages are available year-round, to enrich your abilities and expand our worldview. Classes and events the Folk Art School currently has on offer include:
Engaging with the Vesterheim experience-- by visiting, attending classes or events, or through membership, is easy.