Erika Skogg’s Midwest

Heritage and history at Vesterheim


Waitresses in Scandinavian folk outfits, Kara Caldecott and Betsy Cornelius, arrive to work at Al Johnson’s Swedish restaurant in Door County, Wisconsin. There is a symbiotic relationship between tourism and culture in small ethnic tourist towns throughout the U.S., where the ever present Scandinavian-American culture brings in tourism and in turn plays a vital role in its preservation. Most girls that waitress here follow in the footsteps of their parents or family who spent their summers doing the same, many traveling from Sweden to join family members already working at the restaurant, helping to maintain the continued strong Swedish presence in the area.

Decorah, Iowa

A new exhibit, Scandinavian American: Photography by National Geographic Explorer Erika Skogg, opened on June 11 at Vesterheim, the National Norwegian-American Museum and Folk Art School, in Decorah, Iowa.

The exhibit is a collection of photos by Skogg, part of a project funded by the National Geographic Society. The photos depict the lifestyle, celebrations, and traditions of Midwest Scandinavian-American communities.

The exhibition photos feature Americans of Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish descent in: Decorah, Iowa; Hancock, Mich.; Ephraim, Wis.; Pequot Lakes, Minn.; and Lindsborg, Kan.

Skogg is a photographer and educator, with experience documenting cultural stories from the United States to Morocco, Greenland, Iceland, Colombia, and beyond. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Skogg’s most recent photographic research is closer to home and is driven by the desire to immerse, understand, and visually preserve the region’s Scandinavian and Nordic culture.

In 2018, Erika received a National Geographic Storytelling Grant for her project “Scandinavian American” to document the Upper Midwest’s cultural connections to its immigrant history and promote an interest in one’s own genealogy.

The exhibition at Vesterheim is supported by Janet and Rob Coe and the John K. and Luise V. Hanson Foundation.

Visit for information about upcoming presentations by Skogg to discuss her Scandinavian-American visual essay, her path to becoming a National Geographic Explorer, and how she approaches visual storytelling.

Vesterheim, the National Norwegian-American Museum and Folk Art School, welcomes people of all ages and backgrounds to engage in the conversation of the American immigrant journey through the lens of the Norwegian-American experience.

Vesterheim offers innovative and interactive exhibits, classes, and programs, both at the dynamic campus and park in scenic Decorah and online at and Vesterheim social media.

For more information on exhibits, classes, programs, tours, membership opportunities, and ways to donate and volunteer, connect at, (563) 382-9681, and Vesterheim, 502 W. Water St., P.O. Box 379, Decorah, Iowa, 52101-0379.

This article originally appeared in the June 24, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa is the national Norwegian-American museum and heritage center, with over 33,000 artifacts, 12 historic buildings, a Folk Art School, and a library and archives. This treasure showcases the most extensive collection of Norwegian- American artifacts in the world. Visit