Livsreise opens in Stoughton, Wis.

New Norwegian heritage center explores the journey from Norway to Stoughton

Photo courtesy of Livsreise The new Norwegian center in Stoughton aims to complement existing organizations.

Photo courtesy of Livsreise
The new Norwegian center in Stoughton aims to complement existing organizations.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

On Syttende Mai, the Norwegian Americans of Wisconsin had yet another reason to celebrate: the grand opening of Livsreise. The goal of the Norwegian heritage center is to represent the generational journey from the Norwegian emigrants who traveled to America to their descendants who continue to celebrate their Norwegian heritage in Stoughton and around the U.S. Hence the name of Livsreise, meaning “life’s journey.”

Stoughton is a hub of Norwegian-American culture and the Bryant Foundation sought to complement the city’s existing Norwegian organizations with Livsreise. The heritage center is located in downtown Stoughton next to the Sons of Norway Mandt Lodge and the Stoughton Historical Society Museum.

The idea for Livsreise originated with the Edwin E. and Janet L. Bryant Foundation, Inc., an organization founded by Janet L. Bryant in 1993 to honor her late husband’s support of the community. “This is about helping the city and doing what we can to make it more of a destination than a pass-through community,” explained Executive Director Jane Bunting to the Wisconsin State Journal.

At Livsreise, guests have a multitude of opportunities to explore the Norwegian identity of Stoughton. In the exhibition hall, there are four stations to discover various aspects of Norwegian-American immigration. Starting with the Map Your Journey station, guests can choose their vocation, pack their trunk, and buy a ticket to America using the interactive table. Then they watch their voyage unfold on the set of video screens mounted on the wall. At the Emigration Movement station, a mixed-media exhibit explores the history behind the Norwegian emigration at the turn of the 1900s and the underlying social and economic conditions that encouraged immigration to America.

The interactive kiosks at the Cultural Heritage Stations allow guests to learn about Norwegian culture through art, customs, language, and more. Many of the artifacts were bought from Little Norway, the tourist attraction in Blue Mounds, Wis., which closed in 2012. Lastly, guests can learn about the stories of individual immigrants through the personal accounts, letters, and family interviews of the Emigrant Storybooks.

In addition to the permanent exhibits, Livsreise features rotating displays curated by other Norwegian organizations. The current exhibit is “Sacred Symbols: The Folk Art of Norway” from Vesterheim, the National Norwegian-American Museum & Heritage Center in Decorah, Iowa. “Sacred Symbols” explores the symbols of 19th-century family rituals in Norway through wood, silver, horn, and textile artifacts.

Livsreise has also coordinated with the Norwegian-American Genealogical Center & Naeseth Library to offer a genealogy center. Guests can access the library’s resources, as well as a guide to Norwegian naming patterns, genealogical terms, and online databases.

The final feature at Livsreise is a 68-seat auditorium showing videos of Norwegian culture, history, folk art, music, and humor. It will also be used for occasional lectures and presentations.

At Livsreise, guests are sure to develop a deeper respect for emigrants and a better understanding of the Norwegian-American culture in Stoughton and around the country.

Livsreise is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and free to the public. Visit www.livsreise.org for more info.

This article originally appeared in the July 3, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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