New land, new life
A museum exhibit and project of the Sons of Norway unlike any other in St. Paul, Minn.
By Kelsey Larson
In St. Paul, Minn., Sons of Norway Synnøve-Nordkap Lodge 1–8 has spearheaded a unique effort that not many other lodges have taken on at such an impressive scale.
When Ron Stow was just beginning his term as president of the lodge, a member, Jeane Pearson (who later served as chairperson for the project), suggested a way to the get the lodge’s name out to the public. It was simple enough: why not gather up various family artifacts from amongst the lodge members and display them as a small exhibit? Many of the lodge members had such artifacts from immigrant ancestors.
Now, this “small exhibit” has turned into something much larger.
“It transformed into a project that we would never have realized could be done, or that our members could do it!” said Past President Stow in an interview with the Norwegian American Weekly.
Two years, many artifacts, stories, interviews, photos, two video documentaries, and lots of hard work later, Synnøve-Nordkap Lodge has partnered with the Ramsey County Historical Society to present, “New Land, New Life: Norwegian Immigration to Minnesota, 1825 – 1925” at the Landmark Center in St. Paul. The exhibit is free and open to the public, and will be shown Feb. 21 – June 20.
The exhibit’s 20 panels on Norwegian immigrant life were put together entirely by members of the Lodge volunteering their time.
They include information on everything from why Norwegians immigrated to Minnesota, to farming, education and folk art.
The text was reviewed favorably by historian-authors Dr. Odd Lovoll of St. Olaf College and Dr. Betty Bergland of UW – River Falls.
Synnøve-Nordkap’s members also dedicated their impressive professional skills to the project. One lodge member took care of video production while another, a professional journalist, volunteered to conduct the interviews for the videos. All of the graphic design was also done by two members of the lodge, including a retired graphic artist.
In addition to putting together the exhibit, Synnøve-Nordkap members have planned a wide variety of cultural and social events to run concurrently. These include a reading and discussion with author Candace Simar, as well as member demonstrations of cultural skills and information such as wood carving, Norwegian knitting, Hardanger embroidery, Skin fell, the runes and genealogy. The Hardanger Fele group will play a concert, and the Psalmodikon group will play and display a psalmodikon. These events and demonstrations “have evolved into a major factor of participation by our members,” Stow says.
Participation by Synnøve-Nordkap members indeed goes above and beyond the usual.
“We started out with a committee of four,” Stow says. “And then that became a committee of 20…and another 20 helped with grand opening of the exhibit.”
The grand opening on Feb. 28 was a huge success, with over 300 people attending. In fact, there were so many people, that it was hard to see the whole exhibit.
“Many people said they were planning to come back when it wasn’t so crowded!” says Stow, who along with his wife Susan were instrumental in putting together the event.
“New Land, New Life” has attracted attention from across the state of Minnesota, even garnering praise from Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum.
“The ‘New Land, New Life’ exhibit shares an important chapter about our relationship with Norway. Thank you for your dedication to celebrating our Norwegian culture and heritage through this exhibit. Mange tusen takk for the efforts of the Sons, Daughters and Grandchildren of Norway in keeping this rich history alive!” McCollum wrote in a letter to Synnøve-Nordkap Lodge.
Norwegian-Americans from all corners of the state are interested in seeing the exhibit, too. “The text and photo panels will be traveling after the St. Paul exhibition,” Stow confirms.
In the summer, the exhibit will go to Alexandria, Minn., and then to Rochester in the fall. The exhibit will also be shown in Duluth during the District 1 Convention next summer.
In a Synnøve-Nordkap press release, current Lodge President Kathy Stevens commented, “We are eager for the public to see this great exhibit. This project embodies the time, energy and passion of so many volunteer members of our Lodge. We believe it will touch the hearts of many Minnesotans, whether they are Norwegian or not. The history and stories are timeless for so many that came to this land from far away.”
“We were really pleased with the participation and support of our members,” says Stow. “We couldn’t be happier with how it’s turned out.”
For more information about the exhibit, visit http://synnove1.com/
This article originally appeared in the April 19, 2013 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.