Viking dragon head and tail “Freya” on display

Geneva, Ill., museum home to treasured restored artifact


Photo: Al Benson
Nancy and Art Andersen of St. Charles, Ill., pose with the recently restored Viking ship dragon head and tail dubbed “Freya” in a public contest held by Geneva History Museum.

Al Benson
Aurora, Ill.

In a presentation titled “Conserving a Dragon: The Conservation and Restoration of the 1893 Viking Ship Dragon Head and Tail,”  on Sept. 12, Anna Weiss-Pfad chronicled the process of doing exactly that.

The principal conservator at Elmhurst-based Third Coast Conservation keynoted the September program in the Geneva History Museum’s monthly brown bag series in Geneva, Ill.

Weiss-Pfad reported that her five-person team found up to 15 layers of gold, black, white, yellow, and red paint on the pieces. The restorers believe the pieces were repainted multiple times between 1920 and 1978, while Viking was on display in Lincoln Park.

The restoration

Photo: Al Benson
Anna Weiss-Pfad shares details about the restoration of the Viking ship dragon head and tail.

In 1979, before the head and tail were placed in storage at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, they were moved to a Sugar Grove, Ill., artist’s home for restoration.

After the pieces were painted red, gold, and green, they were stored at the museum for more than 50 years.

Weiss-Pfad thanked Friends of the Viking Ship, Vesterheim Archives, Methods and Materials, the Museum of Science and Industry, the McCrone Group, and Alden Identification for their cooperation making the restoration happen.

A dragon head and tail framed the Viking, a replica ship sailed from Norway to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Terry Emma, museum director, said the ship is the largest surviving display artifact of the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

On display

Since 1995, the ship has been on display under a shelter at Good Templar Park, 528 East Side Drive in Geneva.

The Geneva museum is the first to display “Freya,” named by museum visitors, as the centerpiece of the current “Viking’s Voyage” feature exhibit open through Dec. 23.

According to Emma, Friends of the Viking Ship, a nonprofit, received a grant from Third Coast to restore the head and the tail of the centerpiece.

Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday thru Saturday. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children ages 3-10, seniors 65+ and students. There are free Tuesdays for veterans, active military, and museum members.

Gallery visitors will receive a coupon for $2 off a tour of the Viking ship. Persons who tour the ship will receive a coupon for $1 off museum admission.

The museum’s brown bag series presented “To Iceland! And Beyond!” by Dave Barrow, Friends of the Viking Ship docent, on Oct. 10 and will continue on Nov. 14, with “Winter Life in Viking Times” by Dave Nordin, vice president of Friends of the Viking Ship.

Admission is free for museum members and $5 for others.

For more information, call (630) 232-4951 or visit

This article originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.