Vesterheim Opens New Exhibition with Family Activities

Sami Women. Photo courtesy of Vesterheim.

DECORAH, Iowa — The visiting exhibition “Augustus F. Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits 1905-1920” will be on view at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum from May 11 to July 5. There will be an opening reception on May 16 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the museum’s main building. 

Organized by the Aperture Foundation, this exhibition has traveled throughout Europe and the United States, and Vesterheim is proud to welcome it to Iowa. The exhibition is sponsored in part by the Eric and Joan Norgaard Charitable Trust. Special funding from the Alliant Energy Foundation is supporting family-oriented activities accompanying the exhibition.

“This exhibition of photographs invites us all to look into the faces of immigrants from a century ago—faces from all over the world that communicate similar expressions of hope, anxiety, and uncertainty about what their futures hold,” said Tova Brandt, Vesterheim Curator. 

Ellis Island holds a special place in American culture as an icon of immigration. Established in 1892 as the primary entry point for immigrants to the United States, Ellis Island processed over 12 million people before it was closed in 1954. 

One of the witnesses to this massive movement of people was a clerk for the Bureau of Immigration at Ellis Island, Augustus Frederick Sherman. An avid photographer, Sherman took over 250 portraits of individual immigrants and families as they passed through the inspection process. “Often posed in their own native clothing, the people in his photographs provide a visual record of the astonishing cultural diversity among immigrants to the United States,” said Brandt.  

Every day of the exhibition visitors can dress up in immigrant costumes and read different ethnic stories. “Have your picture taken in ethnic dress, make up your own ethnic story, or write your thoughts about the exhibition photographs,” invites Brandt. There will be places in the exhibition to post your writing and pictures to share with other visitors. 

On Vesterheim’s “Free Thursdays” different immigrant cultures will be celebrated through presentations, stories, music, crafts, and food. On Thursdays, Vesterheim is open until 8:00 p.m. with free admission all day sponsored by Decorah Bank & Trust Co. The following is a list of “Free Thursdays” events connected with exhibition. There are more still being planned and they will be announced soon.

Vesterheim uses the story of Norwegian Americans to explore aspects of identity and culture common to everyone. The museum cares for over 24,000 artifacts, among which are some of the most outstanding examples of decorative and folk art to be seen in this country. Founded in 1877, Vesterheim is the oldest and most comprehensive museum in the United States dedicated to a single immigrant group. This national treasure includes a main complex of 16 historic buildings in downtown Decorah, and an immigrant farmstead and prairie church just outside the city. 

From May 1 – Oct. 31, Vesterheim is open daily, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., with hours extended until 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays.  From Nov. 1 – April 30, Vesterheim is open Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., with hours extended until 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays and is closed Monday.  For more information on the museum’s exhibits, activities, and membership opportunities, consult Vesterheim’s website at, call (563) 382-9681, or write to Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, 523 W. Water St., P.O. Box 379, Decorah, IA, 52101-0379.

For further info see:

Films of Norway_bunad
Norwegian American Logo

The Norwegian American

Published since May 17, 1889 PO Box 30863 Seattle WA 98113 Tel: (206) 784-4617 • Email: