The Nordic Museum


Story: Ashley Winder
Photography: Ashley Winder
Saturday, July 13, 2019

Due to better living conditions and landowning opportunities, immigrants from the Nordic countries - Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland - came to America for a better life. Lured by the familiarity of the fishing, mining, boat-building and logging industries, many Nordics or those of Nordic decent settled throughout the Puget Sound area via the Midwest.

The Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, in particular, retained it’s a strong connection to the old country. This eminently led to the establishment of the Nordic Museum, located in the heart of Ballard, and most fittingly, on the edge of Salmon Bay.

Founded in 1980, the Nordic Museum is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to ‘honoring the legacy of immigrants’ the five Nordic countries. Walking through the exhibitions, visitors can see even distribution of topics covering all five distinct, yet invariably connected countries.

With a recent reopening of a purpose-built facility in 2018, the Nordic Museum encapsulates the narrow fjords of Scandinavia with its interior construction. Modern and clean with wood accents, the narrowed lower levels give way to an expansive ceiling that frames the length of the building beautifully and highlights the ‘glaciers’ of the fiords with its white wall planes.

Walking into the bright, open foyer the visitor is naturally drawn towards the back of the building where it narrows, organically navigating them to their first destination: the Nordic Orientation Gallery. As the title suggests, visitors are introduced to the identity, culture, and values of all five Nordic countries.

From this gallery, visitors are, again, organically ushered to a wide staircase that narrows to the second floor, where navigational instinct walks you across the bridge and into the Sense of Place Gallery. Here you are invited to ‘sit in the woods’ and watch a video that highlights the gorgeous landscapes of the Nordic countries.

At their leisure, visitors make their way into the Nordic Region Gallery. Beautifully and simply curated, this gallery leads you in a circular motion around the room - counter-clockwise - inviting you to observe, read, and learn about the Nordic culture of the old countries in chronological order.

From this gallery, you are led back across another bridge to the Nordic America Gallery following Nordic immigrants journey to America. Notably, this gallery was consistent on equally covering Nordic immigration to the East, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest of America rather than focusing solely on settlement in the Puget Sounds. Additionally, all five Nordic countries were represented in equal ways lending a strong connection to each of the Nordic regions migrational influences on America.

Finally, the last gallery in the Nordic experience was in the Nordic Perspectives Forum. This gallery gave an enlightening view of the Nordic population by inviting visitors to explore ideas, perspectives, achievements, and trends emerging from Nordic societies. Exhibits and modern era artifacts credibly highlight the Nordics practice of openness, social justice, connection to nature, and innovation. This was by far the most interactive gallery of the museum, asking visitors to contribute their ideas, viewpoints, and interpretations on global challenges and encouraging dialogue on environmental impact.

Since this review covers the permanent galleries, something to observe is the ratio of artifacts and supplemental pieces used in the narrative of the Nordic Museum. While authentic artifacts seemed lacking on further inspection, the museum supplemented this absence with replicated pieces, artifacts on loan, and sourced images. The curation of all the galleries successfully distributed the artifacts and images in a practical, clean way that did not detract from the exhibition’s purpose. Overall, there was not an overabundance of artifacts on display, but with images sourced from online repositories, the narrative of the Nordic migration was effective, indeed.

Overall, the museum successfully represented the five Nordic countries and their immigration to America without focusing overmuch on one particular region nor one particular topic. Depending on a visitors disposition this can be seen as equalizing or lacking the depth of content. While only one gallery really encouraged participation from visitors, the museum seemed to naturally target a more mature audience.

A visit to the Nordic Museum will enlighten, intrigue, and inspire visitors to appreciate the customs, the dedication, and the perspective that have influenced the Nordic region and those who hale from this traditional yet resilient culture.

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The Nordic Museum is open to the public six days a week, excluding Mondays and major National Holidays. The tickets fees can be found here.

Located in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, there is limited paid parking and wheelchair access.
Public transportation is available using Bus - 17 and Bus - 44 with the nearest stations being: Nw 54th St & 30th Ave or N. Market St. & Ballard Ave Nw.

Best times visit are morning at first opening if you prefer to have the museum to yourself for an hour. By lunchtime, there is a healthy amount of visitors, but by no means destimulating from the experience.

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