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DECORAH, Iowa —Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum announces a new exhibition of fine art from the museum’s collections, “The Norwegian Art and Craft Club of Brooklyn, 1938-1956.” The exhibition is sponsored by Robert and Evy Alsaker. “Rob and I are delighted to sponsor this exhibit drawn from Vesterheim’s extensive collection of Norwegian-American fine art in honor of our special friends and Vesterheim’s patrons Norman and Eldrid Arntzen,” Evy Alsaker said.

The exhibition will be open from October 21, 2010, through August 2011. There will be an opening reception at the museum’s Main Building on Thursday, October 21, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. with comments at 6:00 p.m. “Held in conjunction with Vesterheim’s Free Thursdays, sponsored by Decorah Bank and Trust, this reception is a great opportunity to view the exhibition,” said Laurann Gilbertson, Vesterheim’s Chief Curator.

The Norwegian Art and Craft Club of Brooklyn, New York, was organized in 1938 by a group of amateur and semi-professional artists. The objective of the club was to promote interest in art and craft among its members and the public through exhibitions, lectures, discussions, and classes.

“Vesterheim is privileged to own so many pieces by club members,” said Gilbertson. “We are excited to share them with the public,” she added.

The club, although founded and led by Norwegian Americans, did not restrict its membership by ethnicity or by gender. It also gave equal status to fine art and Norwegian decorative arts. Members created and exhibited paintings, sculpture, carving, rosemaling (Norwegian decorative painting), tapestry, and knitting.

There were 28 founding members. By the late 1940s, the club membership had grown to more than one hundred. Some more well-known members of the club included Bernhard Berntsen, Michael Hoiland, Karli Waagenes Johnsen, Karl Larsen, Vilna Jørgen Morpurgo, Maria Mundal, Finn Nord, Thorn Norheim, Sigurd Olsen, August Satre, and William Torjesen.

Many classes were taught at the club, which, from 1943 to 1956, had its own location at 501 46th Street. The group held exhibitions at the club, local studios, the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Staten Island Museum, and the Riverside Museum.

Vesterheim uses the story of Norwegian Americans to explore aspects of identity and culture common to everyone. The museum cares for over 24,000 artifacts, among which are some of the most outstanding examples of decorative and folk art to be seen in this country. For more information on the museum’s exhibits, activities, and membership opportunities, and on ways to make a contribution to Vesterheim, consult Vesterheim’s website at vesterheim.org, 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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I like to make a habit of learning something new everyday, be that thing small or large. Today I learned that reading Ibsen can make you feel better, much in the same way that “The Blues” can make you feel happy. I was told that no matter how bad you have it, the singer of a blues song or a character in an Ibsen play has it much worse.

Lee Hoofnagle and Sara Gmitro

Last Saturday I learned to enjoy the sound of a Finnish Kantele. A Finnish Kantele is a traditional plucked string instrument of the zither family. It is sometimes called a lap or table harp and has a long history. The earliest forms of the instrument date from pre-historic times and had only 5 strings. The earliest references are found in ancient Finnish poems and were attributed to a mythical Finnish sage and shaman by the name of Väinämöinen. He built the first one from the jawbone of a giant fish with strings made from the long hair of a young Finnish women.

A closeup look at the Finnish Kantele sound board

The Sons of Norway Polar Star Lodge invited Sara Gmitro and Lee Hoofnagle, two accomplished Kantele players to perform for the members. I was impressed by the clear tones these instruments produced. Sara and Lee played several traditional Finnish songs as well as a few hymns. Sara told me that she also plays contemporary Christian music for church services at the Our Saviours Lutheran Church in Naperville, something I think I need to check out one day. Lee enjoys playing folk music and has a repertoire from many different countries including songs she plays with an Estonian group.

It was great to hear these interesting instruments and I think I would like to listen to some more Finnish and Estonian folk songs in the future. If you or your group would like to have these ladies play I’m sure they would like to introduce you to the Finnish Kantele. Sara can be reached through the Our Saviours Church in Naperville.

I usually take my own picture at event like these but when I saw the photos that Frank Krawczyk was taking at the event I thought I would ask him to use his work. So I’d like to thank Frank for sharing with us his photos of Lee and Sara.

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The 2009 Minnekirken Christmas Concert was simply marvelous. Melissa Grant, the music director for the church, brought together for our enjoyment some of the finest voices and musical talents of the Chicago Norwegian and Scandinavian community. Minnekirken (Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church) is one of only a few churches in the United States that still has many of its Sunday Services in Norwegian. The church also provides real-time translation to English.
We were entertained by four choral groups.

Nordic Voices of Chicago

Nordic Voices of Chicago

The first group we heard was the all female group called Nordic Voices of Chicago. The Minnekirken choir also sang – many of the singers are also members of the other two choruses featured this day, the Grieg Ladies Singing Society and the Bjornson Male Chorus. Both of these choruses have long histories singing in Chicago. We also heard traditional Scandinavian music played by the Chicago Spelmanslag as well as two songs from soprano soloist Melanie Carter. The choirs were accompanied by Janet Eckhardt on the piano and Melissa Grant played the church organ for several hymns.
Bjornson Male Chorus

Bjornson Male Chorus

No gathering of Norwegians (or Scandinavians) would be complete without smørbrød (open face sandwiches), cake, and coffee in the church basement . It was a very enjoyable evening, sitting among friends, sharing food and hearing the songs of Christmas, sung and played at Minnekirken.

With pictures of the Royal Family on the wall, no church activity is complete without smørbrød, cake, and coffee in the church basement.

Contributing Editor
Ken Nordan

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Norwegian Christmas Tree Closeup

Each year in Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry has an exhibit titled “Christmas Around the World”, which showcases the similarities and differences that each country and culture have in their celebration of Christmas. This year my wife and I decided to take the trip to this world class museum, located on the south side of Chicago along the lake front, to see the exhibit.

As they do every year, the Norwegian National League organized a presentation to educate viewers about Norwegian Christmas traditions and culture. My wife, as usual, took pictures – some of them you can see in an up coming article in the Norwegian American Weekly newspaper – and I took notes about the event. Lynn Sove-Maxson as MC, first introduced The Leikarringen Heimhug Dancers” for several Norwegian traditional ring-dances and a bunad show. Lynn later described some of the Norwegian traditions as children trimmed a typical Norwegian Christmas Tree. Leif and Olaf, two Viking that had recently converted to Christianity, gathered the children around them to tell them how the ancient Vikings incorporated their beliefs into Christian traditions. At the end of the presentation everyone gathered in two circles around the tree and danced.

Leif and Olaf

Viking Leif and Olaf

The Participants

Leikarringen Heimhug Dancers with Leif and Olaf

In the main hall of the museum were trees from over 50 countries depicting some of the cultural elements in that countries celebration of Christmas. The Norwegian tree was decorated with Norwegian flags strung vertically, little heart shaped paper baskets, rosemaled ornaments and julenisen. The baskets were familiar to me, but I had not made one since I was a child. So when we got home I just had to build some. The baskets, with a few chocolates inside, are now hanging from our tree.

The Andersen Family

Robert and Michele Andersen with Kayla (13) Robbie (11) JJ (8) Alex (5) and Dylan (3)

The Dhuse Family

The Dhuse Family with children, Zachary (10) Zoe (6) and Zayla (3)

Please check out our photos from the event in an upcoming edition of the Norwegian American Weekly newspaper. And also in subsequent edition photos from the Christmas Concert held at Minnekirken.

Ken Nordan
Contributing Editor

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Every year the Chicago area Scandinavian community gathers at Vasa Park in South Elgin, Illinois. The event brings together organizations from the Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish and Icelandic communities to exchange cultural news, share artistic expressions and sing national songs. This years was the 30th anniversary of the event and one of the biggest I can remember. It is such a treat to have so many people with similar interests in the Scandinavian community gathering together for this all day event. The day opened with a flag ceremony and the signing of the National Anthems of each of the Scandinavian countries.

Vasa Park vendors under a canopy of oak trees

Vasa Park vendors under a canopy of oak trees

Several vendors from all over the Midwest and even from the East Coast displayed items for sale. Historical organizations from the Swedish and Norwegian community as well as North Park College had booths to display information about their activities. Some of my favorite booths include the Danish Bakery in Darien (I love the cardamom cake they bake), the Sons of Norway lodge booths and the hand made textiles booths. And of course we can’t forget about the Viking encampment put on by a group called Norsa.

Lorraine Straw at the Viking Ship Booth

The Viking Ship Booth, the ship is open for viewing Saturday September 19, 2009 1 – 4 PM.

Diane Hoven Handmade Hardanger from Diane's Stitches of Baldwin WI

Diane Hoven Handmade Hardanger from Diane's Stitches of Baldwin WI

Viking Encampment

Viking Encampment

Some of my friends at the Nordic Nook said sales were good, I know the number of vendors was up this year from prior years. We saw all kinds of t-shirts, doll bunads, rosemaled items, and lots of Nordic inspired things that you could use as gifts or in your own home. Food was a big item also. I enjoyed having a pølse wrapped in a piece of lefse as well as herring and a “sloppy uff-da”. A couple of us enjoyed a little “water of life” to help with our digestion. Throughout the day various groups entertained us from the park stage, including the Leikarringen “Heimhug” dancers.

The Leikarringen Heimhug Dancers

The Leikarringen Heimhug Dancers

This was a great event and if you missed it this year keep an eye out for announcements for next years event.

Ken Nordan
Contributing Editor

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Look to Norway – a travelogue

This article was published in the Norwegian American Weekly, No. 29 – August 21. 2001.

I was excited as our plane ducked beneath the overcast skies at Værnes airport, east of Trondheim. I had not been there for over a decade, and now, years later, I was anxious to reacquaint myself with the city, and Stiklestad – the goal of our trip – which was made even more special as some years prior I had moved to the US. Funny how distance creates a more intimate appreciation for things like identity and heritage.

Nidarosdomen seen from the city square.

Nidarosdomen seen from the city square.

There are many places of historical significance in Norway. However, Stiklestad is in many ways the epicenter of Norwegian cultural history and religious life – centered around the fall of king Olaf Haraldsson in 1030, the alleged miracles after his death, and the beautiful Nidaros Cathedral, finished in 1300 AD, where his remains are said to be buried.

Nidarosdomen, among the most beautiful cathedrals in the world.

Nidarosdomen, among the most beautiful cathedrals in the world.

I have been to a few cathedrals, such as St. Peters Basilica in Rome, The Cathedral of Valencia, Spain, Notre Dame in Paris, and also the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City. Norwegians tend to believe that things must always be grander and more magnificent beyond our own borders, but the fact of the matter is, at least in this writer’s opinion, that the Nidaros Cathedral elegantly takes it’s place among the most beautiful cathedrals in the world. Also, something truly spiritual has been preserved within its walls, despite the constant rush of tourists coming from all over the world.

Stjørdal Station, a piece of old Norway. The station opened in 1902 and is one of the many wonderful things to see along the Trondheim-Verdal train route.

Stjørdal Station, a piece of old Norway. The station opened in 1902 and is one of the many wonderful things to see along the Trondheim-Verdal train route.

The train ride from Trondheim to Stiklestad is a great way to see a part of Norway that is mostly gone from the more urbanized areas of the country, offering scenic views of the Trondheim Fjord with Steinvikholm castle dating back to the 1520s and one of the final hiding places of the German battleship Tirpitz during World War 2. This last detail was pointed out to me by our very friendly train conductor Per Nygård.

Professor Torgrim Titlestad lectures to the audience at Stiklestad National Cultural Center

Professor Torgrim Titlestad lectures to the audience at Stiklestad National Cultural Center

At Stiklestad we launched our book The Great Saga of St. Olav with a lecture by Torgrim Titlestad, professor in history at the Stavanger University, about the historical validity of the Sagas. There is now a dawning consensus among many historians that these ancient documents may be regarded as credible sources to our early history. This is important because they help us understand why the democratic traditions are so strong in our culture, and why it is crucial that we strive to preserve them.

Spelet om Heilag Olav.

Spelet om Heilag Olav.


After the lecture we all went to see “Spelet om Heilag Olav”, a play written by Olav Gullvåg to commemorate the Battle of Stiklestad, and performed every year since 1954 at the end of July, and has throughout the years featured some of Norway´s most prominent actors, directors and conductors. After more than fifty years, the music is still vital, fresh and captivating, leading me to think about the great artists, composers and poets our country has produced.

I believe Norway has a unique history in the world. We must not forget this, few as we are. We must keep working to preserve our heritage so that it can serve as an example, and a force for good in troubled times. In the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, look to Norway!

Country romance.

Country romance.

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Due to family vacations and other responsiblities, most Scandinavian groups in my area take the summer off from meetings and activities. That is with the exception that many of us get together to celebrate Midsommer.

Midsommer Day is historically celebrated on June 24th, which generally happens during a workday. Therefore, some celebrations start the weekend before with small groups getting together for a barbeque, a midsummer dance or a late night bonfire.

Geneva, Illinois once had a large population of Swedish immigrants and celebrates its heritage with one of the biggest gathering which it calls “Midsommar Festival and Swedish Days“. The festival is a typical festival with carnival rides, a parade, music, outdoor merchant tents and “of course” many food booths sponsored by local restaurants and civic groups. A few of the churches have Swedish style breakfasts or lunches that benefit the churches mission work, otherwise, I don’t see many Swedish or Scandinavian heritage displays or exhibitions.

The greatest exception to the dearth of Scandinavian exhibitions is the Rosemaling exhibit put on the by the Illinois Norsk Rosemalers Association. This year the exhibit, as reported earlier, was held at the Geneva Historical Society building.

If you have not been to the exhibit or have not seen American style of Rosemaling at its finest this is a must see showing. Here are a few of pictures of the show.

The Rosemaling Show - View 1

The Rosemaling Show - View 1

The Rosemaling Show - View 2

The Rosemaling Show - View 2

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Ruth Haller - Oval Box

Award winner Ruth Haller - Oval Box

This year the first few days of the Geneva celebration felt like late July and August not Late June. Temperatures rose to 95 or 98 (95 degree Fahrenheit = 35 degree Celsius) with high humidity. These temps push people in-doors and I think many more people did see the exhibit.

The new location was considerably smaller than the old exhibition location, and is a little harder to find. However, the advantages of being part of the historical society outweighs the small venue. With a little planning, including the building of portable walls for plate/platters, using small tables in the entryway and developing additional display stations geared to the new space, the location will be very nice for years to come.

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