The National Nordic Museum gets a new labyrinth

Celebrating friendship and peace on a path to knowledge and understanding


The new labyrinth in the Fishermen’s Sun Terrace at the National Nordic Museum in Seattle was inspired by Viking traditions and is a testimony to the strong connections between the United States and the Nordic countries. Depending on the length of your legs and your stride, it takes about 400 to 500 steps for an adult to walk the labyrinth.

The Norwegian American

On Aug. 21, members of the Nordic community gathered at the National Nordic Museum in Seattle to celebrate the unveiling of a new labyrinth in the Fishermen’s Sun Terrace outside the museum.

The permanent installation, which was sandblasted into the cement courtyard was designed by artist Gordon Huether of Napa, Calif., who was on hand to deliver remarks for the celebration. He was joined by Eric Nelson, executive director and CEO of the National Nordic Museum; Robert O’Driscoll, consul general of Ireland to the Western United States; Terje Leiren, museum and professor emeritus of the at the Department of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle; Jeanne Kohl-Welles, King Country, Wash., District 4 councilmember; Helge Marstrander, consul/deputy chief of mission at the Royal Norwegian Consulate General in San Francisco; and members of the Seattle Nordic community.

Following are Marstrander’s remarks as Norway’s official representative for the day. Please note that they have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

three people stand in front of the flags at the National Nordic Museum

Gordon Huether (left), Eric Nelson (center), and Helge Marstrander (right) celebrated the unveiling.

“Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, fellow Norwegians, and dear friends of Norway and the Nordic region: Good morning to you all! 

“The unveiling of this new labyrinth here at the Nordic Museum is yet another testimony to the strong connection between United States, the Pacific Northwest, and the Nordic countries. 

“I would like to share with you what comes to my mind when we talk about labyrinths. I have always been intrigued by them. Why? I think the answer lies in the definition of a labyrinth: an intricate combination of paths or passages in which it is difficult to find one’s way or to reach the exit.

“To me, this labyrinth, with links to Viking Age sites in Glendalough, Ireland, could be looked upon as a sign of gratitude to the Viking explorer Leif Erikson, who as you probably know was the first European to set foot on continental North America, more than 500 years before Christopher Columbus did.  I do think it is safe to say he had to choose between many paths and passages.

“Now, Leif Erikson did not make it as far west as where we are today. But one person who did was the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. Probably best known for being the first man on the South Pole, he was also the first man who successfully navigated the Northwest Passage by boat, on a voyage that lasted from 1903 to 1906. His journeys took him far and wide, and he constantly had to choose between many possible passages, without knowing the exit. Maybe this labyrinth could be looked upon as a sign of tribute to him?

“Or perhaps, above all, this labyrinth pays tribute to all the Nordic immigrants who chose to settle here in the Pacific Northwest. They all came without knowing the paths ahead of them.

“The world today is in so many ways different from the time when many from the Nordic countries emigrated to the United States. Yet, something stays the same—the need people have to exchange experiences, learn from each other and share stories from the past and present. When the ties between the Nordic countries and North America are as strong today as they were 100 years ago, and maybe even 1,000 years ago, this is proof of the strong cooperation that exists.

“Together, we have a responsibility to preserve and promote the link between the past and the present. It is important that we constantly remind each other of the story and pass it on to our children and young people. We must create new bonds and at the same time take care of the old ones. 

“And to all of you from the Nordics living in the United States and Americans of Nordic descent, you are all ambassadors contributing to this, and to the excellent relationship that we share.

“Again, thank you to the Nordic Museum for yet another addition to their already impressive collection and features. It is truly a modern museum. It is not only focusing on the historic past, but also showcasing the present, and with glimpses into the future.

“Let me finish by saying it is my hope that everyone who visits the Nordic Museum will have time to reflect over what this labyrinth means to them and use it as an opportunity to meditate and wind down—or maybe just a spot for children (of all ages) to play and have fun.

“Thank you­—tusen takk!”

In the end, as Kohl-Welles asked, what could be more important than passing on our values to our children with something they find enjoyable? The new labyrinth at the National Nordic Museum is a space to be enjoyed by young and old alike, a place to find relaxation, repose, knowledge and inspiration from the present and past, as we look toward the future.

Photos courtesy of the National Nordic Museum

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 3, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.