Vesterheim Hosts Lecture on Painted Ale Bowls and Drinking Customs

This painted bowl from Vesterheim's collection is featured in the exhibition “Sacred Symbols, Ceremonial Cloth,” on view at the museum through February 21, 2010. During her lecture at Vesterheim, Carol Hasvold will look at the way Norwegian ancestors celebrated special times such as Christmas, weddings, and funerals, and the part that ale bowls and drinking had in these celebrations.  Photo courtesy of Vesterheim

This painted bowl from Vesterheim's collection is featured in the exhibition “Sacred Symbols, Ceremonial Cloth,” on view at the museum through February 21, 2010. During her lecture at Vesterheim, Carol Hasvold will look at the way Norwegian ancestors celebrated special times such as Christmas, weddings, and funerals, and the part that ale bowls and drinking had in these celebrations. Photo courtesy of Vesterheim

Carol Hasvold will present “Festive Events and Drinking Customs in Traditional Norway, or, What Are All Those Painted Bowls for Anyway?” at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum on Sunday, February 21, at 2:00 p.m. in the museum’s Amdal-Odland Heritage Center. Lyle Otte, of Decorah, will share information on brewing beer and some of his own home-brewed beer.

The lecture is offered in conjunction with “Sacred Symbols, Ceremonial Cloth,” an exhibition on view at Vesterheim through February 21, 2010. The exhibition and programming is sponsored in part by Humanities Iowa and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The exhibition is also sponsored by Kate Nelson Rattenborg and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, The Royal Norwegian Embassy, John and Veronna Capone, Paul and Carol Hasvold, T. Eileen Russell, Jane Y. and John Connett, and Carol O. and Darold Johnson.

Visitors to Vesterheim often express curiosity about the beautiful painted wooden bowls in the collection. Ale bowls are also featured in the “Sacred Symbols” exhibition. Hasvold will take us back into the Norwegian country culture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when these bowls were used in the celebration of the significant events of life. Drawing upon the works of nineteenth-century ethnographers, artists, and traveling preachers, she will look at the way these ancestors celebrated special times such as Christmas, weddings, and funerals, and the part that ale bowls and drinking had in these celebrations.

Following Hasvold’s presentation, everyone will be invited to the lobby of the museum’s Main Building to offer a toast to the exhibition, which closes this day. For the toast, Otte will bring two kinds of home-brewed ale: a Pilsner, which is light, and a Nut Brown, which is slightly darker.

Hasvold grew up in the Norwegian-American community of Jefferson Prairie, on the border between Wisconsin and Illinois east of Beloit. She has always been interested in the roots and origins of people, earning a bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Kansas, and an additional major in anthropology at Luther College in Decorah, along with minors in museum studies and Norwegian language. Digging even more deeply into the past, she also worked as an archaeologist most of the summers of the 1980s, in Iowa and in Israel. For 17 years, Hasvold worked as Registrar and Librarian at Vesterheim. During this time she studied many special topics related to traditional Norwegian culture, such as courtship customs, ale bowls and festive events, silver makers and marks, and artworks by Norwegian-American women artists.

Lyle Otte learned beer making in 1991 from Wilhelm Blees, a Dutch immigrant who lived in rural Decorah, Iowa. Since then, he has made approximately 400 batches of beer. Otte graduated from St. Olaf College in 1965 and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Colombia. He returned to the U.S. and taught high school social studies in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and then in Postville, Iowa. He retired from teaching five years ago and is now a volunteer coordinator for the Northeast Iowa Retired and Senior Volunteer Program.

Vesterheim uses the story of Norwegian Americans to explore aspects of identity and culture common to everyone. The museum cares for over 24,000 artifacts, among which are some of the most outstanding examples of decorative and folk art to be seen in this country. Founded in 1877, Vesterheim is the most comprehensive museum in the United States dedicated to a single immigrant group. This national treasure includes a main complex of 16 historic buildings in downtown Decorah, and an immigrant farmstead and prairie church just outside the city.

From May 1 through Oct. 31, Vesterheim is open daily, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with hours extended until 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays. From Nov. 1 through April 30, Vesterheim is open Tuesday through Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with hours extended until 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays and is closed Monday. For more information on the museum’s exhibits, activities, and membership opportunities, consult Vesterheim’s website at vesterheim.org, call (563) 382-9681, or write to Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, 523 W. Water St., P.O. Box 379, Decorah, IA, 52101-0379.

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