Connecting to your heritage through art
Maya Jackson wins Seattle’s 17th of May pin contest
LORI ANN REINHALL
The Norwegian American
The Seattle community has been celebrating the Norwegian Constitution Day for a long time, for 133 years to be exact, since May 17, 1899, the same year The Norwegian American newspaper was founded. Since 1974, the celebrating has been centered in the Ballard neighborhood, an area settled by Norwegian immigrants. While many of them have spread out to other parts of the city and beyond, Ballard is still the heart and soul of the Norwegian community, especially with the new National Nordic Museum, which opened in 2018.
Each year on May 17, regardless of whether it falls in the middle of the week— a grand parade takes over the streets of Ballard. With up to 20,000 people in attendance, it is a very big deal. Not only do Norwegians and Norwegian Americans come out in droves to celebrate, but the entire community, young and old alike, joins in on the fun. This event, as well as the official 17th of May luncheon held at the museum, requires months of planning by a dedicated volunteer committee, including a major fundraising effort.
For the past 25 years, a good chunk of the money needed for the production has been raised through the sale of an official 17th of May commemorative pin. Over the years, they have become a collector’s item for many. You will see them attached to ribbons on the 17th of May, others wear them on suit jacket lapels, and some have even creatively turned them into earrings. It’s simply something you must have for the big day in Seattle.
For many years, the pins were made out of metal and enamel, but in more recent times, they have been produced in metal and plastic to allow for more versatility in the design and to keep the cost down to $5. For the past six years, Ballard resident Erik Bjarne Witzøe, a member of the Seattle 17th of May Committee and an experienced graphic designer, created pin concepts that have made the pins popular. But after having led the way, Witzøe and others decided that it could be fun to open up the pin design to other designers to bring attention to the committee and the event. A national call for designs was put out in social media, in The Norwegian American newspaper, and on the websites of the National Nordic Museum and the Seattle 17th of May Committee’s website.
The committee was pleased to receive many fun and creative entries to choose from, but once their votes were in, a clear winner emerged. To everyone’s delight, the new pin design was created by Maya Jackson of Seattle. This was perhaps no coincidence, because Jackson has participated in the parade for 20 years and knows the community and event very well. I got to sit down with her and the chair of the 17th of May Committee, Anne-Lise Berger, to talk about her winning design and what it all means to her.
Maya explained that is was her paternal grandmother, Mari-Ann Kind Jackson, who encouraged her to enter the contest. Mari-Ann, an immigrant from Borkenes near Harstad in northern Norway, has been active in the Seattle Norwegian community for many decades and also serves on the 17th of May Committee. She has kept her family connected to their Norwegian heritage, especially with holiday celebrations. When she heard about the pin contest, she knew it was something for Maya, who has been pursuing arts and crafts since she was a child.
Maya grew up in the Queen Anne neighborhood close to Ballard and attended Ballard High School. She continued her schooling at Western Washington Univeristy in Bellingham, Wash., with a major in fine arts and a minor in French. Her studies took her to the American University in Paris for two years, where she studied history and art, as she continued on her path to become an art teacher.
“It is amazing to have a connection to a place that is older than this country,” said Maya. “It is so valuable to experience another culture.”
Participating in the 17th of May parade in Ballard has always been an annual highlight for Maya. As long as she could walk, she held her grandmother’s hand and walked together with her grandmother. Mari-Ann told of how it wasn’t long before she and her younger sister, Bella Dawn Jackson, carried the banner for the Nordic Heritage Museum (today the National Nordic Museum), an activity that is a Jackson family tradition, which included her Seattle cousins Danica May Jackson and Dylan Kai Jackson,
A special source of pride for Maya has been wearing an authentic Norwegian bunad in the parade each year. In the past, she has worn a bunad passed down by her cousins in Tromsø. Bunads were circulated around the family as everyone grew in size, and today you will see her in a Bergen bunad, a legacy from the Stoltz side of the family, who were among the early German and Dutch business and tradespeople in Bergen.
For her design, Maya looked to Seattle’s maritime community for inspiration. She explained that she wanted to “combine Norway and Seattle” and this is an industry that connects the two worlds. She thought about the Foss tugboats she has seen on Seattle Lake Union and what she has seen at Seattle Museum of History and Industry. Placing a vessel in front of the Ballard Bridge would connect the concept to where everything takes place each year, and Norwegian flags would connect the boat back to Norway. She searched the internet for pictures, viewing boats from different angles to come up with the optimal composition for the winning pin.
When asked about the relevance of celebrating Norwegian Constitution Day in Seattle, Maya said, “I think the 17th of May celebration and parade is a Seattle tradition now. There are so many elementary and high schools, so many families, involved. It’s a great way for our community to come together to celebrate a unique heritage.”
And, of course, Maya’s family couldn’t be prouder of her. In her grandmother’s own words: “Everyone in Maya’s extended Jackson family (along with her Norwegian relatives) is delighted to congratulate her for winning the 2022 17th of May pin competition. We warmly share our pride in her artistic accomplishment and thank this year’s Syttende Mai Committee for selecting her landmark design.”
To purchase this year’s commemorative 17th of May pin, visit the Seattle 17th of May website at 17thofMay.org.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 18, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.