The Nordic Museum, Seattle

Photo Courtesy of the Nordic Museum

Rising in elegant Scandinavian simplicity, Ballard’s new Nordic Museum soars with the power of a Sibelius symphony. Filling 57,000 square feet, the museum is a tribute to the immigrants who built this city and the cultures they emerged from, brought with them and lovingly cultivated.

From the end of the 19th Century, well into the early 20th, Norwegians, Swedes, Finns, Danes and Icelanders came to the new state of Washington, many settling in the town of Ballard on Shilshole Bay, northwest of Seattle. Primarily attracted by the fishing industry, they turned this resource-rich land into a booming economy, all the while maintaining their old-country values: handwork, frugality, economy of design and love of quality, plus adherence to tradition and a penchant for merriment.

On May 5, after $52 million in fundraising and 21 months of construction, the new museum said farewell to its home in an old brick school house. With great fanfare and a guest list that included the Crown Princess of Denmark, the President of Iceland and ambassadors from the five Nordic countries, the doors opened. Well-wishers walked through a two-story glass atrium, flanked by galleries and clad on the exterior in zinc, and into a lofty entry, which narrows down and stretches out to represent a fjord. Second-story bridges cross the fjord, allowing visitors to move from homeland history, dating back 12,000 years, to exhibits that celebrate the progression to, and the achievements of, modern Nordic America.

Ancient artifacts share space with folk art and examples of contemporary Scandinavian design and ingenuity. In as little as a single day, you’ll find yourself immersed in an education of the wonders of transplanted cultures in the Great American Melting Pot. Pop in when the museum opens in the morning, break for lunch in one of Ballard’s many restaurants, then go back until closing. You might well get to sit in on a lecture in the Great Hall. Or perhaps you might sign up for a class in traditional rosemåling. This folk-art painting style, developed in the lowlands of eastern Norway, uses floral designs, often on wood. It came into existence around 1750 when the Baroque and Rococo styles of the upper class were emulated by rural Norwegians.

Be certain to walk up to the top of the museum to look out on industrial Ballard and the clutter of buildings, docks and boats along the waterfront and the Lake Washington Ship Canal. Down on ground level, there are spots to get outside to look at the bustling industrial scene or to stand among handsome plantings, chosen to match or mimic the native flora of Scandinavia. It’s all enough to make invading Vikings drop their swords, fall to their knees and thank Thor.

The museum is located at 2655 NW Market Street in what has become trendy Ballard. For hours, admission costs and a calendar of exhibits and events, visit nordicmuseum.org.

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