Vikings, snow and candlelit Christmas trees all come to mind when most people think about Norwegian and other Scandinavian cultures, but the Scandinavian Cultural Center (SCC) at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) offers a more elaborate perspective. On the ground floor of the University Center of the PLU campus is the Scandinavian Cultural Center. There, you can find extensive information on the school’s Norwegian history, see museum-worthy artifacts, participate in classes and attend many events year-round.
The university was founded by Bjug Harstad, a Norwegian Lutheran Pioneer, who traveled from Minnesota on a mission to establish a new school. After visiting Portland, Seattle and Tacoma, Harstad returned to Minnesota to report he had found a place to build the school in Parkland, a community just outside of Tacoma. (PLU Archives/PLU.edu). From there, the school grew into the prestigious university it is known as today. Throughout the years, the school has stayed true to its Norwegian roots, dedicating a large portion of a building to the celebrating all branches of Scandinavian culture. Today, you’ll find traces of this heritage in displays around the school, class offerings and more.
The area that is considered Scandinavia covers many countries, including, but not limited to, the five main Nordic countries: Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Denmark. Another area considered to be part of Scandinavia is the Farroe Islands, located between Iceland and Norway. Perhaps the most unique group of people included in Scandinavia are the Sami, who are most famously known for their reindeer herds in the frozen north of Norway.
Visitors to the Cultural Center can’t help but be directed toward the entrance with the sight of a Viking ship prow cutting through the sky. The SCC was founded in 1989, nearly 100 years after the opening of the university, and represents the strong Norwegian history from the founders of the school. The president of the board for the Scandinavian Cultural Center, Ed Larson, describes the center as “a place to celebrate all Scandinavian heritage, modern and historic… It’s fun to see the relics, the antiques that come from the past, but we try to tie in some modern things and how they relate with programs that relate to immigration and other current social issues.” The SCC features exhibits, literature and a full kitchen for cooking demonstrations and classes.
Glass cases line the walls and hallways of the SCC, featuring art and relics from many Scandinavian artists and craftsmen. The center owns “3,000 artifacts on display and in storages. These items range from spinning wheels to small trinkets, clothing in various countries – they all have their own special dress – that represent the Scandinavian background, and many other things,” says Larson.
Most notable among the summer, 2017 exhibits are the collection of handmade ceramic flowers located in the Stuen Room of the center. SCC’s newsletter, “Scandinavian Scene,” explains how: “In Norway, flowers are a way of life,” which is what inspired the collection. Crafted by a group of 12 Norwegian artists from Bergen, Norway, the flowers have traveled across the world and will travel farther once they leave the SCC. Another featured display in the Stuen Room is the collection of wooden bowls featuring rosemaling – a type of hand-painting that includes beautiful flowers and filigree. Other exhibits include tools, hand-painted wood figurines and books.
There are many classes and areas of study pertaining to Norwegian and other Scandinavian cultures at PLU. Students can study Scandinavian culture through official university classes like language, culture, literature and even have opportunities to study abroad in Norway. The SCC offers its own private classes where community members and students alike can study Scandinavian languages, culture, Swedish songs, Scandinavian cooking and much more on a one-on-one basis.
The SCC hosts many Scandinavian events throughout the year. For over 60 years, Sankta Lucia has been a major event at PLU. The Christmas time occasion is explained by Ed Larson as an event “where students get involved with learning Swedish songs and doing handicraft. One girl of usually a dozen are selected based on an essay to represent Lucia. She wears the crown with candles and all hold candles together and sing around the Christmas tree,” explains Larson. Among the many other events, dinners and meetings at the SCC is the Norwegian Heritage Festival. The festival typically takes place annually on the last Saturday of April and features food, crafts, music and much more from people of the Norwegian culture.
If you are in the Parkland-Tacoma area, be sure to check out the current exhibits and stop in for a conversation with volunteer docents like Margie Ellickson at the Scandinavian Cultural Center.
The Scandinavian Cultural Center is located at PLU’s University Center, Room #100, Tacoma, WA 98447. PLU is located at 12180 Park Avenue S, Tacoma, WA 98447.