The saga of LEIF

Seattle-based foundation commemorates Viking settlements with Leif Erikson statues

LEIF - Newfoundland

Photo courtesy of LEIF
The gift of the third replica of Seattle’s statue was to the site that Leif Erikson may have stepped ashore in Vinland, in the town of L’Anse aux Meadows, in Canada’s most easterly province, Newfoundland and Labrador. Kristine Leander is shown next to the statue with local Canadian dignitaries at the unveiling on July 28, 2013.

Leif Erikson International Foundation

As hobbies go, it’s rare. So rare, in fact, that no one else has taken on the task of giving statues of Leif Erikson, the Viking explorer and first recorded European to set foot on American shores, to every location where the Old Norse sagas say he lived or visited.

Like most hobbies, it started with one. One statue, that is. On a lark, Seattle resident Kristine Leander was challenged to find a way for Seattle to give a statue of Leif Erikson to Trondheim, Norway, where Leander had lived for several years. Trondheim was gearing up for its 1,000-year anniversary in 1997 and wanted something to remind visitors of its Viking history. As Seattle has a 17-foot bronze statue of Leif Erikson, the request was more silly than serious. But Leander took it on, first creating an organization, then a plan, and finally a statue, which was indeed unveiled in 1997.

LEIF - Trondheim

Photo courtesy of LEIF
Trondheim Mayor Marvin Wiseth thanks Kristine Leander and her committee, the Leif Erikson Society of Seattle, for the gift of a replica of Seattle’s statue of Leif Erikson to celebrate Trondheim’s thousand year anniversary as a city. Funds were collected from donations in honor of immigrants, whose names were inscribed at the base of the statue. The statue was unveiled July 23, 1997.

Although Leif Erikson was born in Iceland in around 970 CE, after a little bit of Viking nastiness and a killing, his family fled to Greenland. Erikson’s home place in Greenland wanted a statue because in the year 2000 they would celebrate the 1000-year anniversary of Erikson’s historic voyage to America. Still buoyed by their success with Trondheim’s statue, Leander’s organization, the Leif Erikson International Foundation, or LEIF, took it on. That statue was unveiled in 2000, high on a hillside overlooking the farm of Leif’s father, Erik the Red.

If Erikson’s home place had a statue, then surely the site where he might have stepped ashore in America, or Vinland, needed one, too. So in 2013, LEIF convinced the Newfoundland community of L’Anse aux Meadows, where there is a reconstructed Viking settlement, that they also needed a statue of Leif Erikson.

LEIF - Seattle

Photo courtesy of LEIF
Seattle’s statue of Leif Erikson, originally donated by the Leif Erikson League to the Port of Seattle was unveiled during the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962. In 2007, the Port of Seattle moved it a short distance and the Leif Erikson International Foundation funded a plaza in the shape of the footprint of a Viking ship, encircled by runic-like stones and the names of 2,400 emigrants from the Nordic countries. Viking artist Jay Haavik designed the runic designs on each stone.

The organization’s fundraising has been accomplished by requesting donations in the name of Nordic immigrants to America and placing the names on runic-like stones around the base of Seattle’s statue. The statue gifts are all 10-foot replicas of Seattle’s statue, which was sculpted by a Norwegian-American professor at the University of Washington, August Werner, and given to the City of Seattle in 1962. By the time the last names are unveiled this spring, around 2,400 names of Nordic immigrants will encircle Seattle’s statue.

Saga historians know that in addition to Iceland (where there’s a statue of Leif Erikson, given by the U.S. government in 1931), Greenland, Norway, and Vinland, there’s one spot left on Erikson’s Nordic map: the Hebrides, the islands east of Scotland where the Sagas say Erikson visited briefly. (Those Vikings! His stay was brief, but long enough to father a child there.) LEIF is sending only a bust to the community of Uig on the Island of Lewis. After all, according to the Sagas, Erikson was there only a short time. It will be unveiled on Aug 8, 2018.

LEIF invites anyone who’s interested to join them for the unveiling of the last Leif Erikson gift. To learn more about the gifts or the trip to Scotland, contact Kristine Leander at leif@leiferikson.org or (206) 778-1081. For more information about the Leif Erikson International Foundation, visit www.leiferikson.org.

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