Elverhhoj Museum of History & Art, the Heart of Solvang

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danish kitchen

This lovely museum is housed in the former home of Vigo Brandt-Erichsen, a Solvang sculptor and artist.  Vigo Brandt-Erichsen was an internationally recognized painter and sculptor and  his wife Martha Mott was an accomplished painter and art teacher. The home they lived in together is now enjoyed by all as they tour the hand-crafted structure built in a style derived from the large farmhouses of the 18th century Denmark. The home was built in 1950 and served as both home and studio.

The museum profiles Solvang’s history through the use of photos, artifacts and displays.  The museum is also a site of activities, events and classes.  On the day we were there, a group of young women were painting on cloth to create either a towel or table scarf.

I had heard that the community was founded by Danes in search of a land where they could build a school in a place more affordable than the Midwest Des Moines, Iowa where they were living.  The Elverhhoj Museum history section states, “Solvang, founded in 1911, began as a dream of three Danish immigrants: Reverend Benedict Nordentoft, Reverend J. M. Gregersen, and Professor P. P. Hornsyld. They planned to raise money to buy a large tract of land on the West Coast and subdivide it into plots for farms, homes, and a town for Danish immigrants. Profits from the sale of land would be used for building a Danish-style folk school. Also planned was a Lutheran church.”

Their dream became a reality in January, of 1911 when the Danish-American Colony corporation bought almost 10,000 acres of prime land in the Santa Ynez Valley, California. Thtraditional clothinge name is derived from a Danish word “Solvang” (meaning sunny field).  The pioneers advertised in Danish-language newspapers and the early settlers were almost all Danish, came from, California, the Midwest, and Denmark. The fertile soil served the new community well since most of the early settlers were farmers. I found it interesting that someone mentioned that they quickly built barns for their livestock, sometimes living in tents until the animals which the Solvang resident said, “was their livelihood”  was taken care of.  Once the animals were housed, then they built houses for their families.

The group were innovated building irrigation systems in 1912, they grew a variety of crops year round which was surely a change for those that came from the Midwest.  Dairy farming, a tradition in Denmark, flourished. Some of the men worked on nearby ranches. The ultimate plan to build a folk school became a reality on November 15, 1911. History on the site states, “Designed for young adults as a “school for life,” it offered a broad range of courses, from Danish arts and crafts, singing, folk dancing, and gymnastics, to bookkeeping, history, English and Danish language classes, and more. Out-of-town students lived at the school. In 1914, the folk school moved to its new home, an imposing white structure on a hill overlooking the town, and took a new name, Atterdag College. For years Atterdag was the heart and soul of Solvang. It was used as a folk school, a community meeting hall, a performing arts venue, a gymnastics center, a summer school, and a boarding house.”

The community grew and survived World War II.  Then things changed the face of the area when in January 1947, the Saturday Evening Post magazine published a feature article about the “spotless Danish village that blooms like a rose in California’s charming Santa Ynez Valley.”  This story brought visitors to Solvang, a tradition that never changed.  What did change was the look of the community.  Deciding that they should look the part, the citizens of Solvang remodeled their older buildings and the new ones were built in Danish style along with the numerous Danish-style windmills. This town of 5400 residents love their history and so do those that come to visit. At the Everhhoj Museum visitors can learn more about Danish customs.

The museum has art exhibits and a Viking exhibit currently on display along with the traditional Danish cultural items. The museum is open 11 am – 4 pm Wednesday through Sunday.  They are closed Monday and Tuesday.  Log onto http://www.elverhoj.org/visiting.html for details!

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