Vesterheim Quilt Exhibition Opening Celebrated on Free Thursdays

Quilts from Vesterheim's collections will be on display in the exhibition "Pieces of Self: Identity and Norwegian-American Quilts."

Quilts from Vesterheim's collections will be on display in the exhibition "Pieces of Self: Identity and Norwegian-American Quilts."

Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum announces the opening of an exhibition of stunning quilts from the museum collection, “Pieces of Self: Identity and Norwegian-American Quilts,” on view in Vesterheim’s Main Building beginning April 1, 2010.

To celebrate the opening of the exhibition, the public is invited to a reception on Thursday, April 8, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. There will be a gallery talk and refreshments. Admission to the museum is free and the museum is open until 8:00 p.m. on this and every Thursday during 2010 thanks to Decorah Bank and Trust Co.

Sponsors of the exhibition are Candace and David Arp; Karen Owen Tuzcu and Ertugrul Tuzcu; The Children and Grandchildren of Ruth Nesset: VaLois and Orlin Mandsager, Diane and Larry Grimstad, Roxann and Mark Steine, Jennifer and John Lembezeder, Beth and Tom Wahlberg, Amy and Keith Bruening, Annie and Seth Muir, Emily Kellog, Ben and Padrin Grimstad, Joe and Ann Grimstad, Mary and Eylon Grimstad-Benari, Sarah and Paul Gostonczik, Hans and Denae Steine; Jill and David Amdahl; Barbara and Harry Davidson; the Northeast Iowa Quilters Guild; David and Kirsten Heine in honor of Kristie Lehman; and Jack Thompson.

The exhibition will highlight the ways Norwegian-Americans have expressed gender, family, community, religious, and ethnic identities through quiltmaking. “Although visitors might recognize a few favorites, most of the quilts in this exhibition have never been exhibited formally at Vesterheim before,” said Laurann Gilbertson, textile curator.

One of the quilts in the exhibition that will be “new” to visitors is a crazy quilt dressing gown made by Helena Monson Rossing of Argyle, Wisconsin. Rossing, an immigrant from Land, Norway, and a milliner (hat maker), made the gown in about 1900. She embroidered Bible verses in English and in Norwegian on some of the solid colored fabrics. Many immigrants continued to speak Norwegian in the United States—at home and especially at church. “Helena expressed her religious identity in two languages, and also in a very creative way,” explained Gilbertson.

To demonstrate ethnic identity, Vesterheim will exhibit several quilts made by Trudy Wasson (1938-2009) of Eden Prairie, Minn. Wasson, a rosemaler since the 1970s, began adapting her painting skills to quiltmaking. Her appliqué quilts with rosemaling (Norwegian decorative painting) motifs won awards in major American quilt competitions, all while expressing her connection to the traditions of her Norwegian parents.  Wasson’s daughter, Julie Baird of Plainfield, Illinois, dyed much of the fabric for the rosemaling quilts. Baird will teach a class at Vesterheim in August to combine her special fabrics with one of her mother’s rosemaling designs.

Jill Amdahl of Decorah, Iowa, will also offer a quiltmaking class in conjunction with “Pieces of Self.” In October under Amdahl’s guidance, students will make a replica of a Norwegian flag quilt in the exhibition. The vibrant original quilt was made in Minneapolis, probably at the time of one of the early twentieth-century celebrations, like Norwegian independence (1905), the anniversary of the signing of Norway’s constitution (1914), or the 1925 Norse-American Centennial, which marked a century of emigration. These events were celebrated in the United States almost as joyfully as in Norway, and the flag quilt is a uniquely American expression of Norwegian heritage.

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 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 Nov. 1 through April 30, Vesterheim is open Tuesday through Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with hours extended until 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays and is closed Monday. From May 1 through Oct. 31, Vesterheim is open daily, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with hours extended until 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays. 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.

Source: Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum

Norwegian American Logo

The Norwegian American

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