A pin designed to inspire  

17th of May Seattle 2023

Laila Simon

In 2021, a national call was put out for a new 17th of May Seattle commemorative pin. The design contest began as a way for the 17th of May Seattle committee to spread awareness about the Norwegian holiday and raise money to aid in the planning of their celebrations. The committee received a variety of interesting and creative responses and ended up selecting a local submission. Maya Jackon, winner of the 2022 design, honored Seattle’s maritime connection and used bridge imagery to connect the heritage of Washington state and Norway.

Before that, committee member and resident of Ballard, Seattle’s traditionally Norwegian neighborhood, Erik Bjarne Witzøe designed pins for the community’s annual celebration from 2015 to 2021. He was inspired by the types of pins being sold and collected during the 200th anniversary celebration of the Norwegian Constitution Day in 2014. After six years, Erik and the rest of the 17th of May Seattle Committee came up with the idea to hold the contest and open up submissions to national applicants.

This year, Erik’s design was chosen as the winner of the second annual contest for the 2023 commemorative pin. His winning design features a subtle rosemaling style background on a golden shield base.

The shield shape “lends itself to more graphics,” according to Erik. “A Royal Crest [on a shield] is something you would see on a Norwegian Syttende Mai pendant,” he said.

Overlaying the floral motif is a fishnet style pattern that looks almost like a fancy krumkake cookie, and on top of it all, the number 17 appears in bold and is emphasized in blue above a sweeping banner flag. Erik took time to reflect on his current feelings about what is happening within the Norwegian-American community in Washington to create his design.

Erik was born at Seattle’s Ballard General Hospital, now the Swedish Medical Center, into a Norwegian immigrant family. He remains active at the Sons of Norway Leif Erikson Lodge alongside serving as a member of the 17th of May Seattle committee.

Syttende Mai is an important community event and has been celebrated in Seattle since 1899. Erik describes the holiday as “a big part of Seattle. It’s a part of our mosaic experience; Norwegians are part of the [greater Washington] mosaic,” he said.

For Erik, Syttende Mai is a connection piece to community heritage, a heritage he maintains today. He’s also been able to travel to Norway three times, where he experienced a simpler, slower pace of life that felt natural to him.

Photo: Lori Ann Reinhall
Erik Bjarne Witzøe, longtime resident of Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, has created the winning design for this year’s 17th of May Seattle commemorative pin.

Nonetheless, inspiring younger generations to take part in cultural events and groups can be a challenge. But with developments like ancestry DNA tests and even reality TV centered on genealogy like “Alt for Norge,” this connection is becoming more accessible to younger Nordic Americans. Erik hopes to inspire even more people with this year’s pin.

In addition to his creative pursuits and local involvement, Erik also crafts Stolthet Aquavit with Sahalee Liquor. The Norweigan word “stolthet” translates to “pride.” Pride is a theme that resonates throughout the Nordic community in Seattle, pride in oneself and in a strong cultural community. And for the Norwegian-American community in Washington, the Ballard 17th of May parade is one of the biggest events of the year and, as Erik stressed, deserves the support of the entire community.

The 2023 pins will soon become available for purchase online and at many participating businesses in the Ballard/Seattle area. You can follow the Ballard Syttende Mai events at 17thofmay.org or on In­­stagram and Facebook, @17th of May Seattle.

This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

Avatar photo

Laila Simon

Laila Simon is a writer in Minneapolis, who has been writing for The Norwegian American since 2017. Together with Kate Running, she is owns and operates Knit & Gather, a place where people come together to learn to knit. Laila is a dual citizen of Norway and the United States. When she’s not attempting ambitious recipes, she translates Norwegian poetry and adds to her houseplant collection.