A modern gem
The Nordic Galleri in Fergus Falls, Minn., emphasizes modern Norway and design
By Kelsey Larson
“The first thing I wanted to do was to make the store ‘mine.’ My sister came over and together we painted the walls (eggshellwhite), in very typical Norwegian style. And of course moved things around, trying to make the store look more like the clean Scandinavian style,” says Lise Viken, owner of Nordic Galleri in Fergus Falls, Minn.
It’s been a year and a month since Viken, a native Norwegian, bought the shop after first seeing it on an impromptu road trip with her sister. She has spent the time redecorating, rearranging, collecting a variety of unique wares to fill the shelves of her shop, and engaging with the local community. “What stands out is meeting all the wonderful people in Fergus. They have welcomed me as new in town and taking me to Sons of Norway meetings, ball games, skiing, biking, church, picnics, knitting groups and invited me to their homes. I can’t thank them enough,” said Viken.
Viken and her sister had started attending Norsk Høstfest in Minot, N.D. about eight years ago to sell their hand-knitted scarves, hats, mittens and bags. On a trip to a museum in Fergus Falls, they stumbled across Nordic Galleri. “We got to know the owner who is also Norwegian. And for some reason I went along with a delegation from Nordhordland when they were visiting Fergus Falls two years ago. That’s when Arna Stedjan told me she was selling.” Nordhordland, where Viken is from in Norway, happens to be Fergus Falls’ sister city.
Viken went home to Norway and thought it over. In the end, she decided to go for it.
“I’m just kind of adventurous, and like a challenge. And I was in a position in life where I was ready for a change,” she says.
Since Viken took over the shop, the community response has been overwhelmingly positive. “They have been so nice and welcoming to me and the changes I have done. I can’t thank them enough for being so warm and welcoming, it means a lot to me!” she says. Viken believes it is very important to maintain a strong Norwegian-American community connection. “Speaking face to face with people is the best way, you can see a real person, hear the accent and feel the connection. Lots of people stops in at Nordic sometimes just to talk and ask about Norway, when did I go there the last time, when am I going back! Hearing my accent reminds them of the way their grandparents talked or even their parents,” says Viken. “Being a native Norwegian gives me a much better position to talk to my customers about Norway. Many people have questions, they don’t know much about the modern Norway.”
Viken also keeps the connection strong with the new products she has brought into Nordic Galleri. This includes her favorite wares to sell, porcelain from designer duo Linda Wik and Ragnhild Walsoe. “I remember seeing their china in a store in Bergen, Norway, and it was the first thing I thought about getting in my store when I bought it,” she says. “Right now I am the only one in U.S. who sells it, and I am very proud of it. Quite a few people have stared collecting as well and that’s very exciting.” Viken also sells her own hand-knit hats, wrist warmers and leg warmers under the label LiseKdesign, using traditional and modern designs.
Viken highlights the importance of the local Scandinavian shop in the U.S. “Many haven’t made it because of the economy, and that’s sad. So many Americans are so proud of their Norwegian heritage, and it’s important that they pass this on to the younger generation. If not, it will slowly fade and the stores will be gone,” she says. With her intimate knowledge of contemporary Norwegian designers and desire to bring new items from Norway to the U.S., Viken has also become an important part of keeping modern Norway alive in the States. “It is important to see beyond lutefisk and lefse,” she says. “Norway is so much more.”
Fergus Falls has indeed benefitted from Lise Viken’s influence at the Nordic Galleri, and the U.S. has acquired a true advocate for keeping the connection between the U.S. and modern Norway alive.
For more information about Nordic Galleri, visit www.nordicgalleri.com or like Nordic Galleri on Facebook!
This article is part of our ongoing series Scandinavian Store Spotlight.
This article originally appeared in the May 25, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.