I’ve been away for a bit and am still catching up with my own blog and those I follow. While I was away, one thing I did was tour a lovely little museum in northeast Iowa that shows the experience of Norwegian immigrants to the United States. Our own Norwegian ancestors came through eastern Iowa before settling in the central and western parts of the state. Although our direct ancestors did not settle in Decorah, where the museum is located, I learned a lot on my visit there — the town is a center of Norwegian-American culture and the museum is a main attraction. The Vesterheim, which means “western home,” has both indoor and outdoor displays.
Indoors one can see historical clothing and household items of Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans and learn about immigrant voyages across the sea. Norwegian folk art, such as needlework and furniture with rosemaling designs, is displayed. Rosemaling is a decorative art using mostly stylized floral designs. Some of the items were created in Norway and some in America. They include beautiful 19th-century trunks and other items. Norwegian tapestries bearing religious themes can be seen, and contemporary artists also have two- and three-dimensional art on display.
The outdoor part of the museum includes Norwegian-American homes and a Lutheran parochial schoolhouse from the era of peak migration, as well as a church that was moved from an immigrant farming community in North Dakota. I received a lovely tour of the outdoor buildings.
I learned a lot about history at the Vesterheim. I read about how improved health and living standards in 19th-century Norway led to an increased population competing for limited available farmland and work opportunities … and about the desire of parts of the Norwegian population for more religious freedom … all precipitating conditions for Norwegian migration to America. The Vesterheim also offers classes in rosemaling, wood carving, and other Norwegian folk arts, and it organizes group tours to Norway. If you find yourself in northeast Iowa, you may want to have a look!
Explore more Vesterheim images here.