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New land, new life

This is part of the Norwegian immigrant exhibit at the Runestone Museum in Alexandria. (photo by Caroline Roers)

By 2009, there were 868,361 self-described Norwegians in Minnesota. That number is equal to that of the combined populations of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington, Duluth and St. Cloud, according to the 2009 U.S. census.

With such a strong Norwegian influence, Judy Burkey, president of the Alexandria Sons of Norway Runic Vennskap Lodge, said that Norway had a vital impact in shaping Minnesota's history.

"Norwegians took part in so many things in Minnesota history but not many people know exactly what they influenced in Minnesota," Burkey said.

So with that mindset, the Sons of Norway created an exhibit that highlights the history, culture and lives of Norwegian immigrants with first-hand accounts of these early immigrants, why they came here and what they did when they arrived.

"The exhibit really gives Norwegians a chance to show off their nationality, and by doing so, I think people will learn and get to hear their whole story," said Laura McCoy, volunteer and board member at the Runestone Museum in Alexandria.

The exhibit, called "New Land, New Life: Norwegian Immigration in Minnesota 1825-1925," will be at the Runestone Museum from July 20 to September 15. It was created by St. Paul Sons of Norway Synnove-Nordkap Lodge. The exhibit contains 20 panels, each 22 by 34 inches large, as well as numerous artifacts from the time period.

The panels have a combination of writing and pictures that depict what the Norwegians did when they immigrated to America and how that affected Minnesota.

"This is really a Minnesota exhibit because it talks a lot about the history of Minnesota. But it also talks about what the settlers did when they got here, like building churches and schools," said Burkey.

The panel topics range from why the Norwegians immigrated to Minnesota, to their political endeavors.

"Knute Nelson is one of the big parts of the political panel because he had such a large political influence," Burkey said.

Nelson was a Douglas County attorney who served as a state senator, representative and governor.

Artifacts from the Runestone Museum, Sons of Norway and the Douglas County Historical Society have been added to enhance the exhibit.

"Honestly, most Sons of Norway members just don't have a lot of people looking at the collections they have in their home, so it is wonderful that we are able to share them now," Burkey said.

Some of the artifacts include dishes, place settings, dolls and dresses made in different parts of Norway. They also have an 1886 map that shows where Norwegian immigrants were located at the time.


There will be a grand opening event on July 20 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to kick off the two months that the Runestone Museum will host the exhibit.

Exhibits and demonstrations include rosemaling, wood carving, children's crafts and stories, ethnic dancers, Norwegian knitting and spinning and a story teller performing at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

"We really wanted to bring the museum alive on opening day," McCoy said. "Knute Nelson might even show up, who knows."

The historical society will also be open at 1219 Nokomis Street during opening day with many attractions including food tasting and special artifacts.

Tickets for the Runestone Museum exhibit are $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $15 for families. Sons of Norway members will get a reduced rate and people who join the Sons of Norway that day will get free admission.

Whether you have a few minutes or a few hours, the exhibit is a great recollection of history.

"Around here especially I think people will really appreciate this and enjoy it. Germans, Scandinavians - they will all be interested in it because it is really about the whole immigration process. They can look at things and say, 'Oh, so that is what it was like when my immigrants came over'," McCoy said. "It really is a spectacular exhibit."