Now Online: Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum

Detail of carved panel in a wardrobe said to have been made by two Norwegian immigrants, Hurley, Iron County, 1885-1886
Detail of carved panel in a wardrobe said to have been made by two Norwegian immigrants, Hurley, Iron County, 1885-1886.

Norwegian settlers in the Upper Midwest were one of the first immigrant groups in America to systematically document and preserve their material heritage. As early as 1877 the Vesterheim (“Western Home”) Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa collected artifacts brought from Norway as well as objects crafted by immigrants in the region. Vesterheim’s collection now numbers over 24,000 objects, including many examples of furniture, folk art, and textiles made by Norwegians in Wisconsin. A total of 37 of these important artifacts from the Vesterheim collections are now online in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database.

When I visited Vesterheim this past summer, I blogged about two examples of furniture I found particularly exciting: the tilt-top table and Lincoln rocker used by the Jacobson family at Perry parsonage in Dane County in the 1870s. Another important example of furniture made by Norwegians in Wisconsin is a massive wardrobe (above) carved with grotesque faces. The story associated with this piece is that it was made by two Norwegian brothers in Hurley, Wisconsin in exchange for room and board over the winter of 1885-86. These unnamed brothers were clearly talented craftspeople familiar with the so-called “dragon style” developing in Scandinavia in the late nineteenth century.

The early twentieth century saw the revival of many traditional Norwegian craft practices in Wisconsin, including spoon carving and kolrosing (fine-line incising) by Erik Teigen and rosemaling (flower painting) by Per Lysne, both of Stoughton. My favorite example of Teigen’s work at Vesterheim is a spoon incised with political cartoons (below), including an image of Uncle Sam holding President Grover Cleveland by the ear and forcing him to confront a balance sheet listing the debts incurred through Cleveland’s support of the gold standard.

Carved spoon incised with political cartoons, Erik Teigen, Stoughton, 1896
Carved spoon incised with political cartoons, Erik Teigen, Stoughton, 1896.

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.

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One response to “Now Online: Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum

  1. Outstanding – I serve on museum board in Southern city

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