Revisiting Peace Without a Plane Ticket

by Kenneth Rayman on September 10, 2018
I decided to make my first museum visit, with this as a full-time venture, to the Nordic Museum in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. The building is very modern but the only thing that stands out to say what it is, is the Museum's logo near the entrance at the street corner to park in their garage. If you're walking the street, however, from the east, you will pass a Nordic boat in an outdoor courtyard.

I felt a feeling of excitement to learn more about Norway, as I arrived, and the other countries I have yet to visit like Sweden and Denmark, for example. I would later find out that the term "Scandinavia" is often used to describe the entire region, however the term only refers to those three countries specifically; collectively they are the Nordics.

The first exhibit I found was a collection of modern art by regional Nordic artists. I did not do well in art class to be able to appreciate the medium fully, but I loved the artwork for its aesthetics. Each piece was unique and as I walked the room not really knowing what to think about some of the pieces, I saw myself as Ferris Bueller at the Chicago Museum of Art making funny poses in front of the artwork, as he did in the movie. My favorite piece however was of a small girl with a birdhouse carried like a backpack with the girl and birdhouse made to look like moss. To borrow from another movie, "House of Cards," it reminded me of the scene where the girl paints herself to blend into the tree in the window. At that thought, I hoped the girl wouldn't look up and turn her head towards me.

Next was the Orientation room where cultural nuances were highlighted by country and biographical facts were displayed about each, as well as the subset populations in the far north of Norway, Sweden, and Finland that maintain their own government (sort of like our sovereign Native American nations here in the States) along with little recognized areas, when thinking of the region, like the Faroe Islands. Entering the Orientation exhibit, I saw on the wall, "Who Are the Nordic People?" and as I read the information, the room was filled with voices repeating with emotion, empathy, and pride, "What does it mean to be Nordic?"

The video had a fascinating view of the region's place in the world stage where one person said, “the Nordics are unique because of our small population size relative to the world, alone." Others featured built on that sentiment by talking about the resources being finite so that each resource had to be properly used which fostered a care for the land that extended to fellow countrymen. I left the Orientation room excited to see what I'd find on the second floor.

At the top of the stairs I walked in to a room made to look like a forest with pillows to sit on that resembled rocks, with a huge projection screen showing a film on the region's waterfalls, fjords, and forests with some narration. I was instantly transported back to Oslo remembering the peace I felt, with that ambience, and it once again enveloped me. I marveled at the scenery that I had yet to see in person and daydreamed for a moment on seeing it for real. When the video ended, a woman stood up and said to her mother, "Now we have an idea where we want to go and what to see." I turned to them and said, "I highly recommend going. I was in Oslo for a week last year and fell in love. I almost didn't come back."

Walking in to the main exhibit on the second floor I saw that the history was not just pictures and writing on the wall but also tactile, with objects and examples of technological ingenuity created by and uniquely of the Nordic region though the eras. Seeing the featured furniture of the previous era, I flashed back to the monument to the deported Norwegian Jews outside of Akershus Festning, with the resemblance to the chair used as a model. Though it looked slightly different, I reflected on the symbolism of the bottomless chairs that the artist had portrayed, "a typical chair you'd find in a Norwegian home of the day but bottomless to show that the Jewish population couldn't even sit for a moment's rest.”

My favorite parts of the history were that which built on what I’d already known a little about; Sweden’s imperial military dominance, the two unions between the Scandinavian states, and Norway's own version of the U.S.'s Benedict Arnold, Vidkun Quisling and the WW2 occupation. In Oslo, I had learned about the Kalmar Union, though not in name. It's simple description that I was given was, "The Danish period... that's our Dark Ages, we don't talk about it much. With Sweden it was much better." What that means I still don't know but learning the snippet of history behind the Union and the breakup that led to Sweden's dominance gave it some context at least; and learning more about the Telemark Heroes along with other efforts in the region’s resistance brought back memories of the museum at Akershus Festning, about World War 2.

Finally, what capped it all off for me was examples and history that led to the peace and uniqueness I felt in Oslo personally. Harkening back to the Orientation video referencing resources as finite fostering a care of the whole as well as the individual, the countries forged the region's identity through that same ideal. During FDR's presidency, he looked to the Scandinavian system of welfare as a model to emulate for his Social Security program. They also have what was referred to as the "Nordic Way," regarding gender equality, immigration assistance, environmental preservation, and the peaceful existence amongst themselves to be a beckon of empathy on the world stage through those ideals. The final exhibition room built on that theme, with models to the Nordic Perspectives of "Innovation, Connection to Nature, Social Justice, and Openness," highlighting initiatives throughout the whole that the Nordics have influenced either directly or in consultation with other world leaders.

Leaving this museum was hard personally, as I do get attached easily, but I once again felt the peace I had experienced in Oslo and was first exposed to in Helsinki. I had learned more to incorporate and answer questions during my own talks of my short Nordic experience but had been left in awe of their model of life and what they've done with their influence through that model to help the world at large, because that is "the Nordic Way."

Visit the Nordic Museum in the Ballard neighborhood with it's own Nordic feel, itself.