What do you do while celebrating Decorah, Iowa’s 50th annual Nordic Fest? Visit the Vesterheim Museum—the National Norweign-American Museum and Heritage Center—of course! But even when it’s not the town’s biggest summer celebration, the Vesterheim Museum is a great place to learn more about the area’s rich heritage.
Not only does the museum include many artifacts brought to America by early Norweign immigrants, but it also offers wonderful context to how some of these objects may have been used in daily life.
During our visit we learned about the psalmodikon, a traditional Norweign string instrument played with a bow and usually accompanied by some sort of trio or quartet. We were even lucky enough to hear some of the museum’s demonstrators play for a little bit.
One of my other favorite parts of the museum is the small ship, the Tradewind, that’s on display on the main level. This tiny vessel is the smallest ship to ever cross the Atlantic Ocean without assistance. Looking at the boat now, it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to travel such a great distance on such a small ship.
If you’ve never heard of rosemaling, you’ll experience a lot of it at the Vesterheim Museum. This traditional form of folk art hails from Norway and appears on just about any surface from art pieces and decorative items to chests and larger pieces of furniture. We happened to catch a rosemaling demonstration while we were at the museum. It was amazing to watch the intricate detail that goes into each of these pieces.
The Vesterheim Museum also includes a collection of 12 historic buildings located behind the main building. Here you can explore how early Norweign immigrants lived and see traditional trades like blacksmithing and woodcarving in action.
If you visit the Vesterheim Museum
If you’re in Decorah, the Vesterheim Museum is a great way to get an overview of the area’s Norweign heritage. While there is an admission fee, the museum offers a comprehensive collection of both indoor and outdoor exhibits. You’ll also experience live demonstrations by museum staff and reenactors.
Admission: $10 Adults / $5 Ages 7–18 / $8 Seniors
Hours: May 1 to October 31: 9 am – 5 pm
November 1 to April 30: 10 am – 4 pm
Vesterheim Museum, 520 W Water Street in Decorah, Iowa