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Learn Chip Carving at Vesterheim Museum

Thu, Mar 14th, 2013
Posted in All Arts & Culture

DECORAH, Iowa — Looking for a traditional Norwegian craft that’s easy to master and requires only one basic tool? Local artist Ellen Macdonald is teaching “Introduction to Chip Carving” beginning at 6:00 p.m. Friday evening, April 12, and meeting throughout the day Saturday and Sunday, April 13 and 14, at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

Chip carving is a centuries-old art form of decorating wooden items. The decoration is formed by making angled cuts into the wood. “It can make an otherwise plain object into a piece of art and there is no end to the variety of designs possible,” Macdonald said. “Also, the work is portable, done inside or out, at home or away, with just one inexpensive chip carving knife,” she added.

“Beautiful examples of chip carving can be found in Vesterheim’s collection, like on a mangletre, which Norwegians used as an iron to press out wrinkles in cloth,” Darlene Fossum-Martin, Vesterheim’s Education Specialist, said. “Mangletre were often used as betrothal gifts because it was important for the husband to prove he was a good carver,” she explained.

According to Fossum-Martin, a man would carve a mangletre for his girl friend and leave it outside her door. If she accepted the gift that meant she accepted his proposal. If she did not accept it, he would carve a new one, because a man would never use the same mangletre twice. Therefore the saying went, ‘Beware of the man with many mangletre.’

Curious about chip carving? You can find instructor Ellen Macdonald chipping away at Java John’s in Decorah every Tuesday around the lunch hour.

To register for this class contact Darlene Fossum-Martin at Vesterheim Museum—563-382-9681, or The cost is $148 for museum members and $198 for non-members. There is a 50% discount for class tuition on a space available, stand-by basis to any year-round residents of Winneshiek County. Students will be notified about availability of class opening one week before the starting date of the class. Also, youth ages 13 through 17 signed up with a participating adult, as well as Luther students, receive a 25% discount.

Vesterheim’s Education Program includes rosemaling (Norwegian decorative painting), woodworking, fiber arts, knifemaking, cooking, and other traditional arts. Each class is geared toward different levels of experience, from beginning to advanced, so there is something for everyone.

Vesterheim is a national treasure that explores the diversity of American immigration through the lens of Norwegian-American experience, showcases the best in historic and contemporary Norwegian folk and fine arts, and preserves living traditions through exhibitions and educational experiences. For complete schedules of events, exhibitions, and classes, and more information about ways to donate, check out Vesterheim online at

Through 24,000 artifacts and 12 historic buildings, Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, shares the most comprehensive collection of Norwegian-American artifacts in the world. This national treasure is also a center for folk-art education. For more information on the museum’s exhibitions, classes, events, membership opportunities, and ways to donate, check Vesterheim’s website at, call (563) 382-9681, or write to Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, 502 W. Water St., P.O. Box 379, Decorah, IA, 52101-0379.

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