New Store, Visitor Center Among Exciting Changes at Vesterheim

Staff and volunteers help set up shelving in Vesterheim's new Museum Store.

Staff and volunteers help set up shelving in Vesterheim's new Museum Store.

There are several exciting changes happening at Vesterheim Museum, all geared to creating a more pleasant and engaging experience for visitors.

A portion of the first floor of the museum’s Westby-Torgerson Education Center will be transformed into the Bruening Visitor Center, thanks to a generous donation from Duane K. and Eileen M. Bruening of Decorah. The Bruening Visitor Center will serve as a central hub where bus tours will disembark, Open Air Division tours will gather, and all guests can enjoy refreshments and explore the collections through video presentations, virtual tours, and a computerized catalog, before or after their museum visit. Information for other local and regional attractions will also be available at the center. Work on the new Bruening Visitor Center is scheduled to begin shortly and will be completed in time for a grand opening event later this spring.

Over the past few weeks, Vesterheim’s Museum Store, which was previously on the Main Building’s first floor, and the Folk Art Supply Shop, formerly in the Westby-Torgerson Education Center, have been consolidated in a larger attractive space in the Education Center that is more visible to the public from the street. Visitors can purchase their museum admission tickets and use the spacious restroom facilities in the new Museum Store, which is conveniently located next to what will become the Bruening Visitor Center. Guests will be able to pass quickly and easily from one to the other without leaving the building.

“Though work on the new combined Museum Store continues, we are open for business and hope you will stop by to see our great inventory in this wonderful new space,” Ken Koop, Vesterheim’s Museum Store Manager, said.

“The consolidation of the two stores next to the Visitors Center offered us an exciting new opportunity in the Main Building as well,” explained Vesterheim Executive Director Steve Johnson. “The area on the first floor previously occupied by the Museum Store will be converted into a large gallery for rotating exhibitions,” Johnson said. The creation of the gallery is made possible by a special fund created by the Helen Heitmann Charitable Trust and will be visible proof of the value of planned giving. Work on the new gallery is scheduled to begin during the week of January 10 and the first show scheduled for the gallery will be “The Hjelles of Siewers Springs,” a photographic exhibition documenting a Norwegian family and their Decorah legacy, opening June 2.

According to Johnson, the end result of all these changes should be an enhanced and more engaging visitor experience. “Many of the sessions at the last national meeting of the American Association of Museums stressed the importance of the kind of experience a visitor has,” Johnson said. “No matter how fine a museum collection is,” Johnson continued, ” the setting and quality of the visitor’s encounter with the artifacts must remain paramount.”

Vesterheim is a national treasure that explores the diversity of American immigration through the lens of Norwegian-American experience, showcases the best in historic and contemporary Norwegian folk and fine arts, and preserves living traditions through classes in Norwegian culture and folk art, including rosemaling (decorative painting), woodcarving and woodworking, knifemaking, and textile arts. For complete schedules of events, exhibitions, and classes, and more information about ways to donate, check out Vesterheim online at

Source: Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum

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