Folk Figures: A Survey of Norwegian and Norwegian-American Artifacts

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Folk Figures: A Survey of Norwegian and Norwegian-American Artifacts brings together, in digital form, a virtual exhibit of objects ranging from the 17th century through the 1930’s that depict animals, humans, birds, fish, or supernatural figures. These figures provide unique insight into the folk beliefs, social, religious, cultural, and political influences present in the lives of their crafters. Folk art constitutes the largest part of the survey but it is juxtaposed with a smaller grouping of professionally or commercially produced objects. These objects demonstrate characteristics of the national romantic movement, or the Viking revival period, which occurred around the turn of the 20th century. Unlike other Norwegian folk traditions such as chip carving and rosemaling, figure making tends to be an art of individual expression. However, these artifacts do suggest long held figure associations with certain household objects, such as the horse (a fertility symbol) serving as the handle on mangle boards, which were known to be given as betrothal gifts. The collection is an expanding project. Currently, there are over 80 objects and 200 images. Each entry includes a full image of the artifact, detail images, and is accompanied by basic artifact information.


Special thanks to Professor James P. Leary for his advice and assistance in planning and guiding this project. Thank you to the following individuals who donated time and effort in providing access and information to the featured collections: Brian Bigler and Scott Winner of Little Norway, Joe Kapler of the Wisconsin Historical Society, Dave Kalland of the Stoughton Historical Society, and Michael Bovre for his personal collection. Thank you to the staff at the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Center, especially Vicki Tobias and Jessica Williams for continued support.

Little Norway Building
Since its founding in 1910 by Isak Dahl, Little Norway has developed into an outstanding collection of Norwegian antiques, homestead buildings, and is now home to the “Norway Building” from the 1893 Chicago’s Columbian Exposition. Little Norway is the largest privately owned collection of Norwegian antiques in the United States and the oldest privately owned museum. The site belongs to the National Registrar of Historic Places, and the buildings are filled with interesting collections of farm tools, furniture, household utilitarian items, and beautiful works of art and crafts.

Wisconsin Historical Society’s Museum
The Wisconsin Historical Society’s Museum has a rich collection of Norwegian immigrant pieces and later Norwegian-American artifacts, especially wooden objects, metalwork, and textiles. Wisconsin’s rich heritage is shared through the museums artifacts, photographs, audio-visual presentations, dioramas, and interactive multimedia programs.

Stoughton Historical Museum
The Stoughton Historical Museum is a museum devoted to the local history of this largely Norwegian community. The museum has a number of displays featuring Norwegian crafts, such as hardanger needlework, woodcarving, and rosemaling. A variety of works by the famous Norwegian rosemaler Per Lysne are featured. The museum collection also holds Native American artifacts, Civil War artifacts, and many antique objects and crafts displayed in era rooms. The Stoughton community is active in celebrating their Norwegian heritage with an annual Syttende Mai festival and through their world famous Stoughton Norwegian Dancers.

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Model Viking Ship