The Sogn Fjord Museum is a subsidiary of The Heiberg Collection – Sogn Museum of Cultural History. The museum is located by the Kaupanger ferry dock, and was opened by then Crown Prince Harald in 1990. The ferry dock was a major communications hub at the time, giving the museum a central location. This changed when the Manheller-Fodnes ferry route was established in 1995, though many tourists still take the Kaupanger-Gudvangen ferry.
The museum owns a large property along the fjord in Amlabukti, with 200 meters of shoreline, a large three-story exhibition building, and an old tavern from Glavær in Gulen. In addition, the museum owns the old Kaupanger petrol station. We also have a quay that can accommodate relatively large vessels. The museum has also welcomed the Indre Sogn Coastal Association onto the premises, and they have set up a cross-framed boathouse, and built a beautiful quay on the foundations of a former sawmill belonging to the now defunct Kaupanger lumber mill. In this area, the museum is also planning to rebuild a timber boathouse from Leikanger, currently in storage.
The old heritage museums have, rightly so, been criticised for only focusing on the Norwegian farmers and farming traditions – the guiding stars of Norwegian nation building. However, the founder of The Heiberg Collection, Gert Falch Heiberg, was well aware of the significance of the fjords and the tools and artefacts that were part of fjord culture. He sought to collect such objects from the very start. The large exhibition building he commissioned in Amla, which opened in 1934, had the boat hall at its centre. They had a unique collection of utility boats from Sogn, along with fishing equipment, boat building tools and other objects connected to the fjord, and how it was used for travel and sustenance.
When the museum moved from Amla to the new large exhibition building at Vestreim in 1980, there wasn’t room for these large objects. A second stage of construction was planned, which would house the boats and all the other fjord objects. However, a few years later, a relatively new and fire resistant abandoned sawmill building, close to the fjord in Amlabukti, became available. The Sogn og Fjordane County Municipality purchased the building, and the museum was granted financial assistance from nearby municipalities and the Norwegian Cultural Fund for the rebuilding. The museum also invested considerable financial and human resources into the project.
The exhibition was envisioned as two-fold: First, a natural history exhibition would cover topics such as geology, plant life and wildlife both at sea and on land. In addition, they imagined a cultural-historical exhibition that would focus on how people have utilised natural resources through the ages. “Key words here can be hunting and fishing, forestry and agriculture, mining, hydroelectric power, industrial development, trade and transport”.
The plans were extensive and ambitious. They had probably underestimated how many objects connected to boats, fishing and fjord travel the museum actually possessed. In any case, the initial plans had to be revised, as the building was barely large enough to house the museum objects most closely connected to fjord culture. First and foremost, this included boats, boat building tools and a large selection of fishing equipment.
Originally, the museum was given a name that reflected the focus of the collection: It was decided that the new museum branch would be called Sognefjord Boat Museum. The name was relatively short-lived, since it was too narrow in scope to accurately describe the material contained in the museum. In 1994, it was therefore decided that the museum should be renamed Sogn Fjord Museum.
In recent years, attention to the fjords has seen an increase both locally, nationally and internationally. The Nærøyfjord’s world heritage status and the establishment of Nærøyfjorden World Heritage Park, the focus on the fjords as the world’s foremost tourist destinations, fjord swimming festivals and more, has allowed us to better understand – and value – the unique cultural heritage associated with the fjords.
Sogn Fjord Museum is an excellent starting point if you seek a deeper understanding of what the fjord has meant for the Sogn settlements and way of life.