What is Vesterheim?

Exhibits at Vesterheim, the National Norwegian-American Museum and Folk Art School, explore the diversity of American immigration through the lens of the Norwegian-American experience and showcase the best in historic and contemporary Norwegian folk arts. This national treasure features a world-class collection of 33,000 artifacts and a Heritage Park of 12 historic buildings, as well as a Folk Art School in scenic Decorah, Iowa.

But you don’t have to be Norwegian-American to enjoy all the beauty and wonder Vesterheim has to offer. Be inspired, share history, and create art while visiting the exhibits, taking a class at the Folk Art School, and shopping the Museum Store!

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!

Vesterheim Trustees

Dan Alsaker, Spokane Valley, Washington
Katherine Barnett, Annapolis, Maryland
Carol Birkland, Decorah, Iowa
Greg Boman, Castle Rock, Colorado
Jansen Dahl, La Crosse, Wisconsin
Lindsay Erdman, Decorah, Iowa
Kari Espinosa, Edina, Minnesota and Decorah, Iowa
Daniel Fretheim, Decorah, Iowa
Louise Hanson, Rochester, Minnesota
Charis Hovden, Ridgeway, Iowa
Maren Johnson, Decorah, Iowa
Jane Kemp, Decorah, Iowa
Gayle Kvenvold, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Brian Larson, Stillwater, Minnesota
Kirk Mies, Lindenhurst, Illinois
Heather Miller, Urbandale, Iowa
Bradley (BJ) Nichols, Silver Spring, Maryland
Martha Gesme Nielsen, Cary, Illinois
Kenneth Nordan, Surprise, Arizona
Elizabeth Platou, Barrington, Illinois
Rachel Reitan, New Orleans, Louisiana
Brian Rude, Coon Valley, Wisconsin
Ruth Ann Schultz, Loch Lloyd, Missouri
Ruth Sorenson, Washington, D.C.
Craig Trygstad, Ridgefield, Washington

Honorary Chair

His Majesty Harald V, King of Norway

  • Brian Rude, Chair
  • Craig Trygstad, Vice-Chair
  • Elizabeth Platou, Secretary
Donor Impact and Financial Reports

Your contributions provide the financial support that keeps Vesterheim strong and all are deeply appreciated. It is with sincere thanks and humble gratitude that we recognize every person and organization on these donor lists.

Vesterheim is committed to championing policies and practices that value diversity, foster equity, and promote an accessible and inclusive community. Vesterheim’s staff and board are dedicated to placing diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion at the center of our daily work and strive to create a welcoming environment for all.

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.