Now on Display: The Norwegian Immigrant Trunk
Monday, September 18, 2023
In the 1800s, European immigrants coming to America had to find a way to preserve the objects indispensable to their lives, bringing their most precious belongings on an ocean voyage to a far-away new home. Most families were only able to bring what could fit into one trunk. The belongings immigrant families chose to keep show us what they cherished most, giving important clues about their customs and culture.
All these trunks belonged to a Norwegian family. They traveled from an ocean port in Norway, across the Atlantic, and, eventually, to Wisconsin. When the family arrived in Wisconsin, they probably used the trunk to furnish their new home, where it reminded them of their homeland and their journey to America.
Economic conditions in Norway and the signing of the Homestead Act by President Abraham Lincoln spurred a surge in Norwegian immigration right after the Civil War ended. The 1880’s was an especially busy time when 176,000 Norwegians emigrated to America. Trunks, whether they be large or small, were often decorated with colorful paint and a family name. This was a unique mark of Norwegian culture. These colorful, floral designs adorning their trunks, was a folk-art style known as rosemaling. When people in the countryside of Norway started painting floral designs on wooden trunks, they didn’t know that one day, their art would end up in a museum across the world.
This display, from the Livsreise artifact collection, could remind you of a trunk once owned by an ancestor but still in the family.