Museum of Danish America in Elk Horn

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Elk Horn is a cute little town in western Iowa, just north of I-80. It’s the one that advertises its Danish windmill like crazy all along the interstate.

IMG_0412The Danish windmill is nice – there’s a museum and an Iowa visitor center inside – but there’s more to the town than the windmill.

Like Decorah with its Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum and Cedar Rapids with its National Czech & Slovak Museum, Elk Horn is home to the Museum of Danish America.

The museum opened just west of downtown in 1994 as a national center for the Danish-American community. The facility itself is worth the visit. Its architecture, as expected, is Danish modern, with high ceilings and exposed wooden beams (below).

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More than 35,000 artifacts are housed in the museum – but many are on the lower level and can’t be viewed up close. That was a frustration to me. Apparently the facility is undergoing an 8,000-square-foot expansion, so maybe these artifacts will be on display in the future. Right now you can look through glass walls just enough to glimpse some wonderful toys, dishes, and other family heirlooms and long to see more.

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The immigration story “Across Oceans, Across Time” begins on the lower level and is told through display panels with words and pictures. On the main level, the story continues with more words and pictures but also a multi-media presentation and a number of objects in display cases.

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Upstairs on the mezzanine level is the Kramme Gallery. When I was there, the exhibition was “Schleswig-Holstein: Turmoil on the Danish-German Border,” but the display will be changing in September.

Also on display in the main level gallery was “Nude Vases, Cubist Faces: Modernism at Rookwood Pottery.” I wasn’t expecting a quality art exhibit at this museum, so I was pleasantly surprised. The show includes pottery from the collection of Riley Humler and Annie Bauer, plus paintings by Danish-American artist Jens Jensen (1895-1978) that are reminiscent of Pablo Picasso. Both are terrific.

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Other exhibits include the Jens Jensen Prairie Landscape Park, Jens Dixson’s House, the Bedstemor’s House, and Victor Borge’s piano, donated by Borge himself.

Kids will enjoy the LEGO area, and there’s a museum shop as well. The museum is open daily; admission charge is $5 for adults and $2 for kids.

 

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