Stories from the Heart of America: Thirty-two generations

Photo: Larrie Wanberg Rick James Marzullo, Master Papercutter in front of his design honoring the 115 original settlers of Solvang, Calif.

Photo: Larrie Wanberg
Rick James Marzullo, Master Papercutter in front of his design honoring the 115 original settlers of Solvang, Calif.

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

Rick and Linda’s dream is to visit Scandinavia and set foot on the lands of their family heritage, dating back 32 generations. Their dream combines folk art, genealogy and a philosophy from generations past of a utopian cultural village.

It seemed like it was destined to happen since childhood. “In Disneyland when I was seven years old,” said Rick, “I had my silhouette cut out of black craft paper with a scissor and I was fascinated that an artist could clip out my profile without a sketch and produce a precise likeness of my own shadow. As soon as I got home, I started practicing paper cutting and advanced over the years into Danish folk art traditions that were designs typical of the 1700 and 1800s.

Today, Rick Marzullo is one of three Scandinavian “Danish Paperklip” artists in the country, and the only one he knows of that combines genealogy with the 400+ years-old Danish art form of “papirklip.”

Rick and his wife Linda (Petersen) own and operate the Viking Press in Solvang, Calif., the “Danish Capitol of America.” On the wall of their office is a framed paper cut, honoring 115 names of the original settler-families of Solvang, inscribed in small script throughout the “Endless Knot” design, with no beginning and no end, all intertwined as one. “I designed this to honor those who made their dreams of Solvang a reality.”

Reviewing family heritage, Rick’s father was German/Italian and his mother’s grandfather was Norwegian with Norwegian-Danish-Swedish ancestry dating back to nobility from the 1200s in Scandinavia, England, Scotland and Dutch history. Two (possibly three) of his ancestors are documented as coming to America on the Mayflower. In 1620, eight different relatives came to New Amsterdam in 1620—some were among the first 32 that started the metropolis now named New York.

“I’m the epitome of America’s melting pot,” said Rick, “a real hybrid.”

Linda’s great-grandfather was one of a delegation that scouted and anchored the town of Solvang in the fertile rolling hills of the Santa Ynez Valley along the central coast. Solvang was founded in 1911 by a group of Danish immigrants, with a utopian vision to create a Danish “Folk School,” to organize a church (Bethania Lutheran), and to transplant to America a village culture of their homeland from “Day One.”

As Rick perfected his papercutting art, he became absorbed by the history of his ancestors and how Northern European cultures were intertwined over nearly three-dozen generations along his gene trail.

“I’ve been doing family genealogy for 20 years. I spent years as a hobby combing through old records and library archives seeking to trace my families’ genealogy to its beginning. After documenting 32 generations, it’s all hearsay and written in sagas,” he said. “Having nobility in my family history helped in documentation because landowners kept good tax records.”

“Celebrations are a part of our culture,” he said. “Danish Days is an annual three-day weekend festival that started in 1936 as a good excuse for a party.”

The first festival offered singing, dancing, food fests, and short enactments. The public swarmed to the event, run entirely by volunteers. Today, some originators return for the weekend as heritage helpers.

For over 15 years, Rick has served on the Board of the Solvang Danish Days Foundation. He and Linda at Viking Press help work on the annual “Velkommen,” a 50-page magazine that highlights the stories of the festival, scheduled this year on September 19-21, 2014.

Questioned about engaging his 24-year-old son James in sustaining the family’s Nordic heritage, he responded, “It’s in him already, partly from DNA and largely from Danish Days, traditions, values … he’s lived it his whole life at home, church and community and even in festivals across the country.”

“It’s part of one social and civic life in Solvang,” he continued, “like no other town where costumes are still seen in the shops and restaurants, singing and dancing a part of church life, the Danish architecture of storefronts, and the hospitality with culinary art on every downtown block. Some youth want to leave for the appeal of a big city, but those that stay have a bond—not to a single heritage but the roots that make America strong and special, however their last name is spelled.”

This article originally appeared in the Mar. 21, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.