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Monday, October 8, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Scandinavian celebration: an old statue, a new face

Seattle Times staff reporter

The local Nordic community celebrated Scandinavian Heritage Day on Sunday with the rededication of a landmark statue and the introduction of a new museum director -- all in a driving rainstorm characteristic of the motherland.

Eric Nelson will take over Seattle's Nordic Heritage Museum at the beginning of next year, overseeing what many hope will be the museum's rise to national prominence as it moves and expands.

Nelson, 49, is a California native and directs the Napa Valley Museum in Yountville, Calif.

Nelson replaces Marianne Forlssblad, who left this spring to move to Sweden after 27 years as museum director. The museum has been housed in the old Daniel Webster school building since its founding in 1979.

"One of the things that really excited me is the vision that the current board has for the relocation of the museum to Market Street in Ballard right next to the locks," Nelson said. "What a great opportunity to have a museum in your neighborhood."

Nelson says he believes it's important to keep the museum in Ballard "as a legacy of the Scandinavian heritage of that neighborhood."

Nelson, who is of Swedish descent, spoke briefly to a soggy but hearty crowd of several hundred who turned out for the unveiling of the refurbished Leif Erikson statue at the Shilshole Bay Marina.

The group, many in traditional Scandinavian clothing and at least one in a Viking helmet, huddled under umbrellas to celebrate the completion of the statue and plaza.

The 9,500-pound bronze statue is surrounded by stones in the shape of a ship -- a traditional shape for Scandinavian memorials. Plaques at the site are engraved with the names of Scandinavian immigrants.

The names were chosen by the 900 or so donors who each put $125 toward renovation of the landmark statue. The Leif Erikson International Foundation is still raising money to pay for the project, which cost about $150,000.

Leif Erikson is the first recorded European immigrant to the U.S., arriving 500 years before Christopher Columbus. The statue went up for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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