Fall Creek, WI — The 42nd annual Scandinavian Retreat is slated for February 20-22 at the Beaver Creek Reserve in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, just 12 miles outside Eau Claire. Featured Norden Folk speaker this year is Cherie Sampson, art professor at the University of Missouri Columbia. She is an environmental performer and video artist who works in remote, natural and rural spaces. She has done installations in Finland, Norway, France, Greece, Holland, Cuba, Hong Kong, Italy, the U.S. and beyond. Sampson's presentation is at 11 a.m. February 21.

Besides lectures there will be a variety of program options such as woodcarving, band weaving, Nordic films and the winter competitions of axe casting and kick sled races. On Saturday evening there will be traditional folk music and dance instruction, and music by SVIKT, a group including Steven Peterson, Amanda Underwood and Frances Olson of the Twin Cities.


The retreat is open to all — college students, exchange students, families and adults with an interest in the Nordic countries. It began in 1972 as a way to bring together Scandinavian studies students from colleges and universities in the upper Midwest. Those departments tended to be modest in size, and the thinking was that students would benefit by building a network with others who shared similar interests while learning more about their field of study through an academic conference.

Over time, the host, Norden Folk, also known as the Midwest Institute of Scandinavian Culture, began extending the retreat invitation to a wider audience. This was prompted by former college participants who had fond memories of a weekend in the Wisconsin woods, and who wanted to continue to attend, and also by new board members who wanted to invite acquaintances and colleagues.

The accommodations are camp-like. Heated log cabins with bunk beds stand in the quiet snow-blanketed woods, and the new and modern washhouse is a walk down the path. Many things happen at the lodge, including home-cooked meals by chef Dan Rider, who has been with the retreat since its inception. Lectures, discussions and films occur across the road at the Beaver Creek Nature Reserve, which means a walk on crunchy snow down a tree-lined drive, through a tunnel and wooded park area.

Besides the speaker who Norden Folk sponsors at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning, there are numerous other presentations organized cooperatively by the various colleges involved. This year St. Olaf of Northfield, MN takes the lead role in developing the schedule of speakers. Sometimes they are college students who present their thesis projects and others are by instructors or members of the greater Nordic community. The topics are varied and have included life as a college exchange student in Finland, a tour around the ring road of Iceland, a presentation on Beowulf, Norwegian Black Metal, Sami culture, Faeroese ring dance, a presentation on the origins of cross country skiing, and when the student Nathanael Rhody tanned the deer hide, steamed and bent the wood, made his own lashings and carved a pole. He filmed the process of making and skiing on ancient skis.

Beaver Creek also has winter sports equipment for rent, so participants may elect to go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.

The price is reasonable, $40 for room, board, program and costs at the Nature Reserve. Some participants choose a more elegant nighttime accommodation and rent a motel room in Eau Claire, driving in for all program components. Pre-registration is needed by February 12. Contact varrowsmith@scred.k12.mn.us to register.

Norden Folk sponsors the retreat. For more info, see the Norden Folk web site at www.visitnordenfolk.org. For more info on the artist, see www.cheriesampson.net

By Valorie Arrowsmith