A Virtual Trip to Seattle: The NORDIC HERITAGE MUSEUM

It’s been more than thrilling to see ODIN’S PROMISE in print and share it with the world.  I’ve been equally excited to meet so many new people in the process. Often those meetings take place in person, at locations near and far. In addition I’ve “met” wonderful people and visited delightful locations through digital connections. Those have included readers with special interests in Norway, in Norwegian Elkhounds, in young readers, and in the culture of Norway. My hope is to someday  visit those locations and meet those people in person.

Image from Nordic Heritage Museum website

Image from Nordic Heritage Museum website

High on my list of future travels is the NORDIC HERITAGE MUSEUM in Seattle, Washington. Its representation of the history, culture, and experiences of Nordic countries and their immigrants has been more than successful in the past, with a brilliant future ahead. The museum shares the stories of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland with the public far beyond the Pacific Northwest region.

In their own words:

 “Mission: The Nordic Heritage Museum shares Nordic culture with people of all ages and backgrounds by exhibiting art and objects, preserving collections, providing educational and cultural experiences, and serving as a community gathering place.

Vision:The Nordic Heritage Museum is an internationally recognized museum and cultural center where people of all backgrounds are welcomed to be inspired by the values, traditions, art, and spirit of the Nordic peoples.” 

This is more than enough to make me eager to visit. Until that time I can satisfy my curiosity using their website which provides a wealth of information. I urge readers to explore it. Perhaps because I’ve been in research mode most of the summer, I really wanted to know more, in part to share their story here. I’m impressed by and indebted to Deputy Director of Operations, Sandra Nestorovic, for her generosity of time and willingness to respond to my questions about the museum. She also sent a document containing the full history of their institution. That history and evolution makes it clear that Nordic roots run deep in that part of the country and supporters are as hardworking and determined as their ancestors.

Here’s what I asked, with Ms. Nestorovic’s responses:

Sandra,  I’ve enjoyed your website very much, and admire your extensive services, collections, exhibits, and facilities. How did all this get started?

The Nordic Heritage Museum was established in 1979 as the culmination of discussions held by Seattle-area Nordic organizations. I have attached here a more thorough documentation of the Museum’s history in an article written by the NHM’s founding Executive Director Marianne Forssblad. (After reading it’s extensive origins and development it’s no surprise that an attachment was needed. From the early years when a working budget was in the $500 range it has grown to include an extensive staff to curate and direct their impressive exhibits, programs, special events, and facility. A new and even more extensive facility is planned- explore details here.)

What do you find is the most appealing/popular aspect of your organization?


The Museum is an active place from morning until evening; our effort to provide a balance in program offerings has produced a distinctive array experiences for the visitor that are unique to the Museum. In addition to the Museum’s prodigious program and events schedule, we house an impressive body of collections artifacts, historical and contemporary art objects, which is a great draw for audiences. We also house a library, special collections archives, and music and film archive.

Your reach is broad (all Scandinavian countries) but also deep. Do you draw support (attendance, participation, and financial) from across the country or only from your region?

The Museum’s primary audience, based on visitor and membership statistics, comes from Seattle and King County although a large number of visitors come from other states and foreign countries. Approximately 55,000 people visit the Museum annually with nearly 6,000 children and adults participating in educational programs developed by the Nordic Heritage Museum. Over 400 volunteers dedicate 22,000 hours of service per year and more than 8,000 people use the Museum for private events. The Museum’s active membership consists of 2400 households. Approximately 80% of the members live within twenty miles of the Museum and over 300 reside outside the State of Washington. Visitors to the Museum originate from every state in the union and many foreign countries.

You seem to focus both on the immigrant story as well as the home countries and the heritage of each. Have any of your events ever focused on the war years? (WWII)

Over the years we have held a host of programs surrounding the WWII experience. Each year the Museum presents an Annual Wallenberg Dinner and companion lecture series to commemorate the heroic work of Swedish Diplomat and humanitarian Raoul Wallenberg. Wallenberg’s courageous efforts saved the lives of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust.

The Nordic American Voices (NAV) project was formed in 2009 to invigorate the Museum’s oral history program; with a new state-of-the-art facility on the horizon the oral history project was seen as a potentially significant contributor to the content of exhibits for the new building by documenting the stories of first and second generation Nordic-Americans in the region. The program has taken great strides to document the personal narratives from those who experienced WWII, and in May 2011, a 40-minute video documentary was premiered entitled Under the Clouds of War: Growing Up in Occupied Denmark and Norway. NAV is presently producing a documentary on the Finnish World War II experience.

Your programs for younger members is very active and appealing. How did those begin and develop?

Educational experiences for children have always been an important part of Nordic Heritage Museum programming. Many of our most popular programs – the Pippi Longstocking Breakfast, Heritage Camp, Gingerbread House Program, and Children’s Christmas in Scandinavia – have been taking place for more than 15 years. Other programs have been added throughout the years after talking to families that visit the Museum and seeing what works around the community – for instance, our LEGO Workshop (we just celebrated our 5th year) and Nordic Stories, our monthly preschool and adult reading program.

Are further projects for younger participants planned?

Specific attention is given to the cultivation of K-12 audiences and school group visitors, and we are always looking for fun, new programs to enhance the experience for our younger visitors! Our Education Department works closely with Exhibits staff in the early planning process to coordinate unique programming that will complement our visiting exhibition schedule – sometimes even with the visiting artists. Activity guides are developed to take children through permanent and temporary exhibits, and there are special “kid interest” exhibit cases on the third floor of our Museum. We also endeavor to incorporate hands-on objects for kids (and adults!) wherever possible. Other efforts to promote youth involvement include an active outreach trunks program, and a speaker’s bureau program.

Finally, the Pacific northwest is well known as a base for many Scandinavian immigrants over many years. To what extent does the museum coordinate with other organizations in the area, like Sons of Norway?

Partnerships play a key role in helping the Museum fulfill its mission of sharing Nordic culture. The Nordic Heritage Museum works closely with other Nordic cultural institutions, both in the U.S. and the Nordic region.

My thanks to Ms. Nestorovic. I hope one day to meet her in person, even if that day comes after the new facility opens. I urge anyone who has the opportunity to visit before then to do so. If you’ve been there, chime in with comments about your visit(s).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *