Vesterheim: National Norwegian-American Museum
Vesterheim, the National Norwegian-American Museum & Heritage Center is in Decorah, in northeastern Iowa. It’s an absolutely wonderful small town with the museum on the main street—Water Street. Vesterheim has the largest collection of Norwegian folk objects outside of Norway. And it houses a complete Viking ship.
Our work with Vesterheim was in part to solidify their brand strategy and with that, help them reimagine their website.
One key challenge for ethnic heritage museums, even one as significant as this one, is the assimilation of the people whose heritage the museum represents. I am of Norwegian heritage. That Norwegian heritage is reflected in my company name, Tronvig, and named after my maternal great-grandfather, Charles Tronvig, who immigrated to South Dakota in the 19th Century. My Norwegian family is still spread out over the Midwest and this small town in northeast Iowa was once their capital, the cultural capital of Norwegian America. But Norwegians have largely assimilated, and for many of them their Norwegianness has thinned to such a degree that in me, for example, it exists only as the shadiest recollection of things from my grandmother and her house. But when I visited Vesterheim, a great deal of these impressions came back to me … and for the first time, made sense. This museum, and others of its kind, have the capacity to give context and meaning to things that would otherwise simply float unmoored in minds like mine and then be lost entirely by the next generation.
I am glad to know that beautiful and highly functional small towns like Decorah, Iowa still exist in America, and I am ever so pleased that Vesterheim is holding together the heritage of this place and of the Norwegians who have been collected in the American tapestry.