New Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle

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New Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle

A year from now, in May 2018, in Seattle’s old Scandinavian neighborhood, Nordic Heritage Museum will be opening a new home. After many years of planning and fundraising, a modern 57,000-sq.ft. museum and cultural center , designed by Mithun architects and wrapped in zink skin, will open.

The museum’s sleek modern steel structure is based on the idea of a glacier-cut fjord that weaves together stories of homeland and Nordic American experience. Inside, fjord walls are composed of faceted white planes evoking its glacial origins.

New Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle
Eric Nelson

Eric Nelson is the CEO of the Nordic Heritage Museum and he started buying property for a new, dramatically expanded site for the museum in 2003.

The Nordic countries of today are famed for tech, design and progressive social engineering. These countries ate Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland – sometimes viewed as the “Five White Swans” flying together.

According to spokesman Jan Colbrese, this is the only museum in the United States “that celebrates all five of the Nordic countries.”

New Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle
Jan Woldseth Colbrese with her great-granfather’s trunk

The museum has operated since 1980 in an old school building with minimal museum infrastructure. The new facility will provide climate-controlled collection and exhibition space with expanded areas for teaching, events and exhibitions. A more active location and interactive experience aim to engage a new generation of visitors.

New Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle
A modern 57,000-sq.ft. museum and cultural center , designed by Mithun architects, will open May 2018

The Swans are playing a role in shaping the message you will find in the new museum. Until now the museum has focused on the “Great Migration” around the turn of the 20th century, when nearly a quarter of the Nordic population left their home countries; old steamer trunks, household objects, national costumes, books, bibles, jewelry and pioneer tools. Now the museum has been cultivating ties with the nations to find contemporary exhibits, which allows you to cross between galleries featuring past and present. That was driven home by a delegation of Nordic diplomats that flew into Seattle to inform about their countries, and what has made them successful.

Eric Nelson says the exhibit narrative will be driven by four core themes: openness, social justice, innovation, and respect for nature.

“Design in the Nordic countries comes out of love for and protection of the environment,” Colbrese adds. “If things are designed well, they work well and hold up and people don’t throw them away.”

New Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle
According to spokesman Jan Colbrese, this is the only museum in the United States “that celebrates all five of the Nordic countries”

The new museum will also have more room to highlight Nordic immigrants’ influence in the United States, from radical labor organizers like Joe Hill to entrepreneurs like John W. Nordstrom.

So why a Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle? Through trade and immigration, Seattle has huge ties to Scandinavia. Some 600,000 Washingtonians self-identify as being of Nordic or Scandinavian heritage, and Seattle has historically been one of the largest Scandinavian communities outside the old countries.

New Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, written by Tor Kjolberg

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