Eric Nelson, National Nordic Museum CEO and Executive Director, was named Swedish American of the Year by the Vasa Order of America in August in recognition of his work in establishing the Museum as the only museum in the United States – and indeed the world – that showcases the impact and influence of Nordic values and innovation in contemporary society. He was previously awarded Knight of the Order of the White Rose of Finland by the President of Finland Sauli Niinistö.
Among the other Americans so honored since the award began in 1960 are astronaut Buzz Aldrin, actress Ann-Margaret, UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson, musician Nils Lofgren, civic leader and businessman John Nordstrom, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and Nobel Laureate Glen Seaborg, among others. Nelson was presented with the award on August 8 during the annual ceremony celebrating Swedish American Days in Vȁrmland, Sweden.
“I’m humbled to be the recipient of these honors. It’s really a tribute to the entire community that has supported the National Nordic Museum and our mission,” said Nelson. “All of our volunteers, staff and donors have worked so hard to make the Museum a special destination in Seattle and to introduce visitors from around the world to Nordic culture and arts.”
Nelson joined the Museum as Executive Director/CEO in January 2008 when organization was called the Nordic Heritage Museum. Since that time, he has overseen the expansion of the Museum from a small and beloved local heritage site into a nationally and internationally recognized center for sharing Nordic culture, values and innovation. Nelson also oversaw the development and move of the Museum into its stunning new $52.5M facility in 2018. The Museum showcases the impact and influence of Nordic values and innovation in contemporary society, and tells the story of 12,000 years of Nordic history and culture, across all five Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – and the Sámi and other indigenous people of the Arctic. In addition to its collection, exhibitions, and events, the National Nordic Museum serves as a convener on critical issues including innovation, economic development, environmental policy, cultural identity and societal issues.
Nelson’s family emigrated from Sweden towards the end of the 19th century. While they left Sweden to pursue new opportunities in the United States, their Swedish heritage and values remained an important part of their lives which has been passed on through the generations. Among his ancestors are Olof Nilsson and Maria Gustafsdotter, who left their home in Kulleberga, a village in Bosjökloster, Skåne, just south of Västra Ringsjön, and settled in Kansas where they changed the family name to Nelson.
Photographer: Marcus Larsson