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A Knack for the Nordic

A Knack for the Nordic

A Knack for the Nordic

February/March 2014 issue of American Craft magazine
Dala Horse

A carved and painted Dala horse, imported from Nusnäs, Sweden. Photo: American Swedish Institute

The Museum Shop at the American Swedish Institute
2600 Park Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55407

Tucked into a quiet neighborhood in South Minneapolis, the Museum Shop at the American Swedish Institute is housed in the Nelson Cultural Center, a LEED Gold-certified addition that the museum opened in 2012. It’s a place where a colorful, contemporary Nordic aesthetic reigns, stylish jewelry abounds, and handcrafts are the cornerstone of the showroom mix. We asked retail manager Danielle Langehaug about the store and its mission.

How do you see the Museum Shop’s role meshing with the larger mission of the American Swedish Institute?
We bring in what’s now relevant in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland, and reintroduce people with Swedish backgrounds to the new Nordic. People have had so much of the traditional Minnesota Scandinavian that that market is saturated, and the shop is a great way to bring in new audiences and keep people interested in what the Nordic countries are doing.

How did the decision come about to branch out into contemporary Nordic culture?
We saw our traditional audience start to age, and we thought “We need to do something to bring in younger audience participation.” To do that, we needed to bring in something that’s going to pique younger people’s interests. They can go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house and see the kurbits or rosemaling [traditional decorative painting techniques], which so many people of Nordic heritage are familiar with. So why don’t we bring in modern items from Nordic countries to keep people interested in their heritage?

How do you keep your finger on the pulse of trends over there?
I have some friends in Sweden who will send me what’s happening, what’s popular there right now. You also have to be on the blogs following what’s current over there. It’s a lot of social media and internet research.

How do you choose items for the shop?
We want to find things that are really hot in the Nordic countries and bring them over here so people can say, “Oh, that’s so cool. You know, I haven’t seen that anywhere except at ASI.” And obviously being attached to a museum is important to our whole mission, so for the exhibition about the indigenous Sámi people, we sold Sámi bracelets. With the glass exhibit we obviously did a lot of glass pieces.

You have a selection of slöjd [handcraft]. Do you work directly with the makers?
It depends on the slöjd. Our Sámi bracelet vendors are actually based in Minneapolis, so we have a lot of contact with them. But some of our slöjd from Sweden, like the Dala horses, involves a typical business-to-business relationship. Where we get the direct interaction is with our youth and family and our adult program departments here, where we can say: This is what’s hot in the shop, this is what people are looking for – is there some way we can tie that into something that you would be able to create a program out of?

What’s an example?
After we had some good sales with felt purses, our programming staff turned that into a program and did felted slippers and felted bags; I think they might have even felted some jewelry as well. I think that’s really exciting.

Who tends to come in here?
A lot of our audience is people who aren’t necessarily familiar with things Nordic. They heard about the new building or they heard about the new restaurant, and they’re coming to see what it’s all about. You don’t have to be Nordic to enjoy things here. 

Elizabeth Ryan is American Craft’s interactive editor.