Group of people building a bonfire
Billy next to an ox yoke that belonged to Patrick Kerrigan (1840-1932), one of the few non-Norwegians to settle in the area.
A collection of traditional Norwegian knives made by Jon Roisen.
A shelf Lowell Torkelson carved in acanthus style and filled with some of his flat-plane figures.

Sustaining Scandinavian Folk Arts in the Upper Midwest

Whether it be through listening to a Norwegian fiddle tune, admiring a piece of Swedish folk art, or enjoying a decadent helping of Danish kringle or Finnish squeaky cheese, life in the Upper Midwest brims with reminders of Nordic mass migrations to North America, events that transformed the Nordic countries as well as the United States. Millions of Scandinavians immigrated to the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, settling predominantly in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Northern Michigan, and surrounding states. While some eventually returned to their countries of origin, the vast majority of these immigrants remained permanently in their new country, contributing vitally to its culture and society. So ubiquitous and understated is this Nordic presence that it often goes unnoticed, with only sporadic and uncoordinated attempts to document and analyze its many cultural effects in contemporary Upper Midwest life.

“Sustaining Scandinavian Folk Arts in the Upper Midwest” represents a unique and timely expansion of the Wisconsin Idea in relation to an important but often overlooked demographic of the Upper Midwest. The project expands upon the UW’s already considerable research and outreach expertise in Nordic studies and Folklore studies. We focus on public humanities programming—including field schools, fieldwork and documentation, and folk art and music symposia—designed to extend and diversify the longstanding transnational networks that have connected Nordic communities (i.e., people from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, as well as people belonging to the Nordic region’s Indigenous Sámi culture) to communities and artists in the Upper Midwest.