Happy Danes on the Plains

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Happy Danes on the Plains

Exhibit celebrates communities that seek to preserve Danish culture in the United States

November 27, 2015 – April 10, 2016

A new installation, “Happy Danes on the Plains,” will open in The Kramme Gallery for Julefest on November 27. Through photos, text, and interviews, this exhibit describes the story of Danish-American communities who have worked to preserve Danish culture – even into the 21st century, long after the immigrant generation has passed on. Many of these towns were started as intentional colonies of Danes in the Midwest and Great Plains in an attempt to create communities that shared a common cultural heritage and worked to keep that heritage alive through generations.

This exhibition is an English-language version of “Grundtvig på Prairien (Grundtvig on the Prairie)” that is traveling among Danish museums from 2013 to 2015. The Danish curator, Henrik Bredmose Simonsen, created the exhibition to explore how an immigrant culture could be maintained over several generations. The Danish exhibit title refers to N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783-1872), a Danish church leader whose influence encompassed social issues, education, and politics, and who continues to resonate today. Grundtvig was an advocate for “education for life” through the creation of folk schools. He believed that cultural heritage – songs, literature, dance, and other folk traditions – was important for communities to celebrate together.

At the Museum of Danish America, visitors will enjoy a special addition to the exhibition that highlights Kimballton, the Danish Village only three miles to the north of the museum. Kimballton is one of the communities featured in “Happy Danes on the Plains” and local artifacts, photographs, and interviews bring to life the experience of growing up in a “Happy Dane” town. Danish-style gymnastics, community bands, theater productions, and folk dancing were some of the activities that set Kimballton apart from its neighbors.

“Happy Danes on the Plains” has been traveling to Danish-American communities nation-wide since Summer 2014: Tyler and Askov in Minnesota; Yorba Linda, California; Racine, Wisconsin; Greenville, Michigan; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Denver, Colorado. After the exhibit closes at the Museum of Danish America in April 2016, it will again be available to travel.

Contact curator Tova Brandt to learn more about hosting this exhibit in your community.

Listen to Tova talk about the exhibit on Iowa Public Radio's "Talk of Iowa" program.