Vesterheim’s Curatorial Department includes Laurann Gilbertson, Chief Curator; Jennifer Kovarik, Collection Manager; Julie Hale, Collection Assistant; and Lauryn Johnson, Collection Assistant. As a department that is often behind the scenes, this team loves their ability to make Vesterheim a place to learn about captivating stories and develop unique connections. Read more to learn about each team member and how their work brings Vesterheim artifacts to you!
Laurann has been at Vesterheim for 32 years. Her first 19 years were as Textile Curator. Now as Chief Curator, Laurann oversees the museum’s collection of 33,000 artifacts, 11,000 books, and 14,000 archival photographs and documents. An important part of her job is sharing the Vesterheim collection through exhibitions. One of her favorite parts is sharing all the fascinating stories and beautiful objects with others. Laurann’s interest in numerous forms of history started when she was young, through the collections of antiques of her grandmother and mother. Family vacations often included stops at science centers, museums, and zoos. These experiences led Laurann to volunteer and work at several museums and further develop her interest in history museums. While working on her anthropology degree in college, Laurann took a class called Cultural Perspective on Dress and was hooked on textiles. She went on to receive her Masters degree in textiles and clothing from Iowa State University.
Jennifer has been helping to preserve and share the objects and stories in Vesterheim’s collection with people of all ages for over 25 years. As Collection Manager, she cares for the collection through activities like cataloging new acquisitions, monitoring environmental conditions in exhibit and storage areas, and facilitating loans of objects to and from the collection. Jennifer feels the best part of her job is sharing the objects, books, and archival materials and connecting people to the collection. The collection started as a teaching collection, and Jennifer helps to continue this tradition by creating access to the collection in a variety of ways, including overseeing the Barnetimen preschool program, facilitating Vesterheim’s recent stop-motion animated film project, and supporting study visits into collection storage areas for students and teachers at the Folk Art School. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and History from Luther College and a Master of Arts degree in Teaching Elementary Education from Hastings College, Jennifer is the perfect fit. Another favorite part of her job is the opportunity to see and to learn about the objects in the collection through the personal connections that others make to them. Ironically, Jennifer only learned about her own Norwegian heritage around 10 years after she started working at Vesterheim!
Julie started at Vesterheim in 2021. She loves working with the museum’s collection and the stories that each piece tells. Her role as a Collection Assistant involves caring for Vesterheim’s collection and assisting the public with collection-related inquiries. Julie helps people who are interested in donating objects to Vesterheim’s collection. Additionally, she shepherds’ objects through the deaccession process, the formal removal of objects from the collection. Julie is passionate about preserving history so it can be shared with present and future audiences. Originally from Southwest Ohio and then living in Jamestown, North Dakota, Julie proudly calls the Midwest home having lived across three states. She received her Bachelors of Science in Anthropology from Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio, and a Masters in History with a Concentration in Public History from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. In her free time, she loves to read, go on hikes, and visit other museums. A new skill Julie is enjoying is kolrosing, thanks to a recent class with Vesterheim Folk Art School.
Lauryn started working at Vesterheim in 2022 after graduating from Luther College with a degree in Studio Art and Museum Studies. At Vesterheim, she is focused on exhibitions. Part of her job is working with the traveling exhibits. Lauryn assists when it is time to pack up traveling exhibits, and once a traveling exhibit returns, she gets it ready for the next venue. A large part of the time, Lauryn works with temporary exhibits. After approval of a new temporary exhibit, the curatorial department meets to discuss the budget, duration, and any expectations, along with assigning a temporary exhibit to one of the museum’s three temporary galleries. Then Lauryn decides where artifacts fit in the space, taking into consideration how close the artifacts will be to each other and if any bases are needed to protect smaller artifacts that cannot be freestanding or hung on the wall. After artifacts are arranged, she creates, prints, and mounts labels and other text. When Lauryn is not working on exhibits, she makes sure the PastPerfect database for artifacts in the collection is updated by taking photos of the artifacts and checking and updating their display or storage locations. As a college student, Lauryn interned at Vesterheim and Montauk Historical Museum. She and her husband, Halvor, live on a farm just outside of Decorah with their two goats, four cows, two cats, two fish, and two guinea pigs.