What is Vesterheim?

Vesterheim is the National Norwegian-American Museum and Folk Art School, with over 33,000 artifacts, 12 historic buildings, and a library and archives. This treasure showcases the most extensive collection of Norwegian-American artifacts in the world.

Vesterheim’s exhibitions explore the diversity of American immigration through the lens of the Norwegian-American experience and highlight the best in historic and contemporary Norwegian folk and fine arts. USA Today named Vesterheim one of “ten great places in the nation to admire American folk art.”

But you don’t have to be Norwegian-American to enjoy all the beauty and wonder Vesterheim has to offer. We invite you to explore the ongoing story of all immigrants to the United States. In our differences we discover our similarities. Vesterheim welcomes you and encourages you to enjoy the objects and exhibitions through your own lens, your own story.

Mission: Building community and creating experiences
inspired by Norwegian-American stories and folk art.

Vesterheim's History and More

Museum History

In 1877, Norwegian Americans began collecting and preserving objects at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, documenting their chapter of the immigrant story, making them pioneers in the preservation of cultural diversity in America. That early collection has grown into one of the most comprehensive museums in the United States dedicated to a single immigrant group—Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, now an independent not-for-profit organization accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM).

Vesterheim Magazine

Vesterheim, a stunning full-color, 48-page magazine, is a “museum without walls,” bringing into the homes of Vesterheim members twice each year the rich pageantry of Norwegian-American history, tradition, art, and culture. From the comfort of an armchair, you can marvel at the intricate beauty of folk-art traditions, explore the struggles and triumphs of immigrant life, or discover the Norwegian-American captains of industry and finance.

Vesterheim magazine is a benefit at any membership level. Join today!

View Vesterheim’s most recent IRS Form 990 here, or visit the museum’s GuideStar account here.
View Vesterheim’s CEO Compensation policy here.

Vesterheim's Connection to Norway

Ties between Norwegians and Norwegian Americans have always remained close, so it would be natural for Norway and its cultural institutions to maintain a close connection to Vesterheim throughout the museum’s history. Norway has been generous with its gifts of artifacts. Many folk artists have come to Vesterheim to teach traditional techniques. Norwegian organizations and artists host visits and events during Vesterheim tours to their country. Norway’s Royal Family and government officials have visited the museum many times, and His Majesty King Harald V is the museum’s Honorary Board Chair.

A significant gift of historical objects from Norwegian museums for “the Norwegian people in America” came in 1925 to mark the 100th anniversary of Norwegian emigration. The gift, which took two years to assemble, ultimately filled 23 crates when it crossed over the ocean to the United States in 1927. The coordinator of the entire project was Anders Sandvig, founder of the Maihaugen collection in Lillehammer, Norway. Sandvig expressed his purpose in organizing such an effort by writing, “May these objects work so that the Norwegian-ness in you will not die too soon, and the connection with the homeland will because of this be tighter. Receive this gift as proof that we follow you all in our hearts, even though the big Atlantic Ocean parts us.”

Royal Visits to Vesterheim and Decorah
  • May 6 and 7, 1939 Crown Prince Olav and his wife, Princess Märtha, stay in Decorah while on their first United States tour. The Crown Prince brings gifts for the Norwegian-American Historical Museum, now Vesterheim, from the National Association of Museums in Norway. This group of Norwegian museums not only contributes the artifacts, but also donates the funds to cover shipping. While the Crown Prince and Princess are in Decorah, Luther College confers upon the Crown Prince an honorary degree.
  • October 6, 1965 Crown Prince Harald, (who became King Harald V in 1991), visits Vesterheim and Luther College, where an honorary degree is conferred upon him.
  • May 4, 1968 King Olav V visits Vesterheim and Luther College.
  • October 14, 1975 King Olav V participates in dedication ceremonies at Vesterheim Museum’s newly restored Main Building and visits Luther College to lay the cornerstone for the Center for Faith and Life, the college’s worship center and theater-concert hall.
  • November 28, 1987 King Olav V braves an ice storm to visit Vesterheim Museum and Luther College.
  • October 19, 1995 Their Majesties King Harald V and Queen Sonja visit Decorah as part of their official diplomatic itinerary.
  • June 10, 1999 Crown Prince Haakon visits Decorah as part of the city’s sesquicentennial celebrations and dedicates Vesterheim’s Amdal-Odland Heritage Center. He also lays the cornerstone for Luther College’s Baker Village.
  • October 13, 2011 Their Majesties King Harald V and Queen Sonja visit Decorah on the occasion of Luther College’s sesquicentennial celebration. Queen Sonja presides at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Vesterheim’s new Asbjørnsen Gallery.