'Little museum' in Seattle designated National Nordic Museum

By:  Joel Connelly
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Having envisioned something "cute," perhaps of white clapboard construction, visiting Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski was wide-eyed beneath the white walls of Seattle's year-old National Nordic Museum.

"I am here in a venue I could not have imagined," said Murkowski, joined by her frequent bipartisan collaborator Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

Senators, diplomats, and those with sweat equity in the engrossing, eye-pleasing new museum gathered to celebrate a name change. By act of Congress, the Nordic Museum along NW Market Street has become America's National Nordic Museum.

"Congress wanted to recognize the museum was of national significance," added Cantwell.

The designation came about over grumbles from Minnesota and Wisconsin, as part of the sweeping public lands bill coauthored by Murkowski and Cantwell, and passed earlier this year by an otherwise paralyzed Congress during a partial shutdown of the federal government.

It's appropriate in that one-eighth of Washington's population claims Nordic heritage, which stands out despite the gentrification of Ballard. Alaska, too, boasts Nordic heritage with the Panhandle fishing village of Petersburg.

The so-called "gentle ladies" of the U.S. Senate continue to work quietly, even as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won't give a hearing to House passed legislation -- even on election security -- and rams through far-right nominees to the federal bench.

Hence, related Republican Murkowski, Cantwell approached her one day to say, "'I need your help with this little museum' . . . 'Just trust me on this one,' and, Maria, I did."

The national recognition is not just symbolism. Of the museum, "It has the soul of the Nordic countries," said Kirsti Kauppi, Finland's ambassador to the United States. As well, she said, the striking museum recognizes two "two important areas of cooperation, technology and the arts," between the United States and Nordic countries.

The museum previously had cramped digs in an old Ballard elementary school which closed in 1979. The new building, designed by Mithun, Inc. -- which gave us the REI flagship store -- creates a linear fjord which weaves together stories of homeland and the Nordic American experience.

"We don't have a museum like that anywhere else in the world," said Una Saerun Johannsdottir, counselor for economics and culture of the Embassy of Iceland.

The National Nordic Museum also does a remarkable job, particularly on cold dark days of winter and "NovApril," of capturing light. It is a very bright place even on a day, like Thursday, with clouds setting in.

A part of the brightness was seeing the kind of cooperation across party lines that Americans have come to miss.

"Isn't it wonderful to see a Republican senator and a Democratic senator on the same stage?" asked Tom Malone, board chair of the renamed museum.

The remark was greeted with a warm ovation. Murkowski and Cantwell exchanged hugs.