GREEN BAY – The Vikings are coming, and there will be more of them.
The first-time Viking Festival that set up camp last year at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay returns this weekend with a new name, an expanded schedule from one day to two and more than double the demonstrating artists and performers.
Sorry, still no hokey Hollywood horn helmets and definitely none of those purple-clad Vikings from across the Minnesota border who pillaged and plundered the Packers season opener.
The Midwest Viking Festival, as it’s now called, aims to give visitors an authentic look at Scandinavian history and culture by transforming the grounds outside the university’s replica Viking House into a Viking encampment on Friday and Saturday.
Sixty demonstrating artists from across the country will be at work as blacksmiths, silversmiths, potters, glass bead makers, woodworkers, weavers, archers and cooks. Some will tell stories. Others will do battle. Young children will play medieval games like kubb and hnefatafl.
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“I think people when they come to a Viking festival they think they’re going to see men with swords and in armor. We are showing all aspects of daily life a thousand years ago, so that, of course, means women and kids and how people would live,” said Heidi Sherman, an associate professor of history at UWGB and director of the Viking House.
“This is really kind of disabusing or challenging the stereotype that Vikings are just big, dumb brutes. We are showing a little bit more of a sophisticated angle of Vikings, of medieval Scandinavians. I just think it intrigues people. We’re not trying to perpetuate any stereotype or break it. We’re just trying to educate in kind of a gentle Viking way.”
Last year’s event, the first such Viking festival in Wisconsin, featured 25 costumed re-enactors and drew about 500 people on a Saturday with limited advance planning. Sherman is expecting several thousand this year, as it makes the leap to the Midwest Viking Festival and draws from across Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota.
The Historical & Cultural Society of Clay County in Moorhead, Minnesota, hosted the annual Midwest Viking Festival since 2008. When it decided to move in another direction, the coordinator, who is a friend of Sherman’s, asked if UWGB would consider becoming the new permanent site of what is the Midwest’s largest Viking fest.
The Viking House, located near Wood Hall on campus, anchors the festivities. Viking re-enactors Owen and Elspeth Christianson built the structure in 2011 out of Wisconsin white pine and designed it based on meticulous research of building traditions in Norway from the era. It stood on their property in Stratford, where they used it for Vikings-related events and education, including hosting Viking camp weekends each fall with Sherman and her students. When the couple retired and moved, they donated the house to UWGB in 2017.
The Christiansons will be giving tours of the house during festival.
The Historical & Cultural Society of Clay County is contributing grant money to the free festival for the next three years, and Sherman received a Wisconsin Humanities Major Grant that will also help with paying the demonstrating artists.
“It’s a real education festival. Our focus is not really on re-enactment. It’s on teaching the public the origins of traditional craft in Scandinavia through these demonstrations,” Sherman said.
Some of the Vikings will be selling books and things they make. Children will be able to try archery, traditional Viking lawn games and go on a Viking Quest, working their way around the festival finding different performers and asking each a question about the Vikings age.
Sons of Norway will sell homemade cookies and treats, and two food trucks (Caribbean Cruiser and Bacon Burger Company) have been added this year.
Sherman is looking forward to more seasonal temperatures in the 60s this weekend. Last year’s fest weather was on the hot side, especially for Vikings, who tend to wear a lot of wool.
She hopes people will take advantage of the opportunity to learn about Scandinavian heritage, talk with the artists and take a step back in history.
“Once you’re on the festival site you can’t really see modern buildings. You see the Weidner Center if you really look. Otherwise, it’s just a rolling hill in front of the house,” Sherman said. “It really is beautiful for a festival. You just feel like you’re in another time.”
Midwest Viking Festival
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Outside the Viking House at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Take the main UWGB entrance (also the Weidner Center entrance) off Nicolet Drive. Take the first right to the Wood Hall parking lot and you will see the Viking House on the right.
Special events schedule (the same both days): Sven Tunheim tells tales of the Vikings, 10:15 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.; battle demonstrations, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.; folk musician and author Kari Tauring presents “Healing Our Kinship to Nature,” 11:30 a.m.; Tauring presents “Frith and Grith: Divine Female Boundary Setters,” 1:30 p.m. (with a circle dance at the end).
Contact Kendra Meinert at 920-431-8347 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KendraMeinert.