The Nordby’s Legacy of Love and Service

Vesterheim is pleased to announce the recent gift to the Vesterheim collection given by Dr. Eugene Nordby along with his son Jon, and Jon’s wife Kim Nordby. This generous gift of Olive Nordby’s woodblock and tool collection spanning her impressive artistic life is a direct reflection of Olive’s life and legacy and the entire family’s devotion to Vesterheim. 

Visit Vesterheim Commons to see the special exhibit Exploring the Natural World through Printmaking: Olive Jensen Nordby, open through June 16 2024.

Olive Nordby (1915-2014) was an artist, student, teacher, philanthropist, and devoted mother and partner in life. She loved lines, color, and form. After college, a brief time teaching, and marriage, Olive followed her husband Eugene for his medical training. Later they moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where he started his medical practice. In Madison, Olive joined the Art Guild and discovered her love of wood and the sentiment the wood grains could capture. Olive honed this talent and became an accomplished woodcut artist. Dr. Marion Nelson, Director of Vesterheim from 1964-1991, wrote, “The pure colors, the pronounced design, and the way the character of the wood grain is carried into the composition give a distinct Norwegian character to Mrs. Nordby’s work.” 

However, it is not simply Olive’s beautiful and moving woodcut pieces that affirm her stature as a unique and gifted artist. The true beauty in her creative genius was in her generous heart. For nearly 40 years, Olive painted to support the mission of the organizations that she and Eugene worked so diligently to uplift. She donated all sales of her prints to Vesterheim and the Norwegian American Genealogy Center & Naeseth Library in Madison for the entirety of her artistic career. 

Dr. Eugene Nordby stands in a class all his own at Vesterheim. Eugene served as Chair of the Board of Trustees for 30 years. His leadership and vision helped to build Vesterheim into the internationally acclaimed museum that it is today. Under Dr. Nordby’s tenure, many achievements were made and are still celebrated today – the renovation of the museum building in 1977, five visits from Norwegian Royalty, the establishment of the folk art program in 1967, the expansion of the Open Air Division (now called Heritage Park), and many others. Dr. Nordby, along with Dr. Marion Nelson, will forever be credited in elevating Vesterheim from a regional museum to an established international organization of the highest regard. 

Olive and Eugene’s combined love and belief in the mission of Vesterheim would be difficult to match. It is indeed an honor for Vesterheim to receive the gift of Olive’s woodblocks and tools to be part of the museum’s collection. These artifacts will help tell the story of Olive’s work and how her artistry is created and brought to life alongside the woodcut prints already in the collection. Thank you to the Nordby family for this meaningful gift that uplifts Vesterheim’s inspiring mission by continuing to inspire future artists through Olive’s story. 

Egge Koren Log House, block print by Olive Jensen Nordby, 2003. Created as the master for a special Vesterheim Christmas card in 2003. Vesterheim 2003.028.001—Gift of Olive Nordby.
Olive and Eugene Nordby, seated, in 2011 on their 70th anniversary, with their daughter-in-law Kim and their son Jon.