Hidden away in a residential neighborhood of Ballard is a wonderful museum celebrating the history of the Nordic people in the Pacific Northwest. Since opening in 1980, the Nordic Heritage Museum has served as a cultural and educational center for the community of Ballard.
Tuesday - Saturday 10am - 4pm
Sunday Noon - 4pm
Children over 5 $4
The museum is housed in the old Daniel Webster Elementary school (much like the Northwest African American Museum) and is situated in a residential neighborhood. While this makes it a little tricky to find, the setting adds to the sense of home this museum seeks to build.
The ground floor houses the "Dream of America" exhibit, which was produced by the Danish National Museum and Moesgård Museum. It tells the story of Nordic immigration to America through the use of vignettes and thoughtful placards. The information presented follows a similar trend to many immigration stories, but it highlights Nordic community's struggles and ultimate migration to Ballard. I did find it odd that there some sewing machines being 'temporarily stored' in one of the galleries. While there was a sign requesting guests not tough the artifacts, it was not clear why these items were unable to be stored elsewhere.
On the next floor up the museum presents typical professions for Nordic immigrants in the US. Each room is equipped with motion sensitive lights to conserve energy, which I thought was a very good idea. Smaller museums tend to have fewer people in each gallery, so keeping all the lights on throughout the day is a waste. The rooms on this floor explored the rough lives of fishermen and loggers. They each featured an audio discussion of the material which begins when the lights are triggered. Each utilized texture, audio, text, and imagery in fun and insightful ways.
The gift shop is also on this floor. While I was browsing their selection I overheard the teller talking to a guest about family history projects and the museum's oral history library. It was clear to me that both of these women cared greatly about their heritage and were seeking ways to connect with the wider Nordic community.
Towards the end of the main hall on the second floor there were two exhibits that I found especially interesting. The first, Nordic Folk Art, utilized a more traditional gallery space to display their woodworking and textile artifacts. The display of folk costumes was a real treat! The second, Dressing Swedish, had an almost art gallery feel to it as it discussed the changing trends in Swedish fashion. Not simply about what's 'in' this year, the exhibit looks at cultural shifts which result in costume change. An especially profound example of this is the Mother Svea hijab which sought to incorporate Muslim women into the Swedish identity. The exhibit also brought to light efforts in fashion to bring the Sami people more into the mainstream of Swedish culture. This was a side of Sweden I had not previously seen and it was fascinating.
On the top floor of the museum guests are able to explore rooms dedicated to each Nordic country, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. Each was firmly centered on the American experience of these individuals and featured elements of their religious, social, and home lives. It was clear that many of these objects had been donated by the local Ballard community, making it truly their museum.
The Nordic Heritage Museum is currently working towards a move to a purpose built facility. There is a small space to look at the design for the facility toward the exit, with pamphlets available to take home. Images of the new space can be viewed here. For more information about the project and details on how to donate please visit their website.
Not only a place for static exhibits, they house a school for international language classes and teach traditional crafts throughout the week. For more information about the fun and educational activities happening at this museum see their website. The Nordic Heritage Museum is a wonderful museum dedicated to serving its community. I had never visited this museum before, but I know now that I'll continue to visit for years to come.