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Vesterheim hosts first Norwegian Takkefest in downtown Decorah

Nina Peterson, daughter of Assisstant Professor of History Anna Peterson, colors in the giant coloring book.

Nina Peterson, daughter of Assisstant Professor of History Anna Peterson, colors in the giant coloring book.

Natalie Nelson (‘19) | Chips

Natalie Nelson (‘19) | Chips

Nina Peterson, daughter of Assisstant Professor of History Anna Peterson, colors in the giant coloring book.

Natalie Nelson, Staff Writer

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The corner of West Water Street and North Mill Street was crowded with people Saturday Sept. 23 as the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum hosted its first Takkefest, a Norwegian harvest festival.

Development Events Coordinator of Vesterheim Karla Brown said that the purpose of the event was to thank the community for their support; “Takk” means “thank you” in Norwegian.

“Members [of the museum] or not, we don’t care,” Brown said. “We just want the community to get together and it’s our thank you for their ongoing support of what we do.”

The event featured the Nordic Dancers, Decorah High School’s traditional Norwegian dance group, local Norwegian folk band, Footnotes, and Rochester area Americana band, River Jam. When attendees were not enjoying live performances, they participated in lawn games, folk art demonstrations, face painting, and a large coloring book project for children.

Brown noted that the implementation of these activities is intentional in celebrating Nordic culture.

“There are all kinds of crafts Norwegians brought over that the museum has helped bring to life,” Brown said. “Our folk art school started in the ’60s we were one of the first in the nation. Now, crafts that were kind of dying out in Norway have been revived in part because there was interest over in the United States in the ’60s and ’70s.”

The refreshments, a sprawling assortment of Norwegian treats, were provided by Luther College Catering, Impact Coffee, Pulpit Rock Brewing Co., and the Vesterheim Hospitality committee. In celebration of Takkefest, there were some uniquely “Decorah” treats.

“People could buy Elisabeth Koren cookies,” Brown said. “Elisabeth Koren was the minister’s wife who lived there and this was a cookie recipe that she had.”

Natalie Nelson (‘19) | Chips
Ryan Koning (‘19) paints the face of a little girl durring the Takkefest.

Takkefest coincided with the opening of the Knud Knudsen exhibit, which will be on display at Vesterheim for a year.

“Knud Knudsen was born in Norway in 1832 and he opened the first photography business in Bergen in 1864,” Brown said. “His photographs just give a glimpse into what life was like back then and it was pretty harsh at that time, so it helps explain why so many Norwegians came here.”

The event featured a short film about Knudsen’s photography and a gallery talk by Exhibitions Manager at the Vesterheim Zach Row-Heyveld.

Brown indicated that another purpose of Takkefest was to continue strengthening the link between Vesterheim and the Nordic studies department at Luther College. As a student involved in the Nordic Studies department, Chase Gilson (‘19) found his attendance at the festival valuable.

“The whole concept of the Nordic studies [department] at Luther is to immerse oneself into Nordic culture,” Gilson said.  “By attending the event, I was able to eat cultural food, listen to music from the region, and speak with visitors that were from Norway. The Vesterheim allows students to participate and learn from events and to have unique experiences that other colleges do not have.”

Nordic studies and Art double major Alexis Hove (‘18) agreed that the partnership between the Vesterheim and Luther has been very important to her learning experience.

“It’s a very welcoming environment, and it gives a great opportunity to collaborate with the community and build connections,” Hove said. “I think preserving traditions, as well as building new ones, can be very beneficial. It’s important to keep heritage as well as make connections with the contemporary aspect of Norway.”

President and CEO of the Vesterheim Chris Johnson is prideful in the positive relationship between Luther College and Vesterheim. He believes these are two important Decorah institutions.

“The connection is strong because Vesterheim actually got its start on the campus of Luther College,” Johnson explained. “It started as the Luther College Museum in 1877 and eventually moved down to Decorah.”

Johnson added that there are many opportunities for student involvement at Vesterheim.

“We have [Luther] students who help us, particularly in areas like our Membership Department,” Johnson said.  “We sometimes have [Luther students] working in our Collections and Exhibitions Department, particularly for students who are interested in museum studies.”

Johnson hopes that more Luther students will find ways to get involved at the museum.

Students interested in helping Vesterheim with upcoming events, contact Johnson at  [email protected]

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