Eric Nelson joined the National Nordic Museum in Seattle as Executive Director/CEO in January 2008. Under Nelson's leadership, the National Nordic Museum earned national and international recognition. Nelson led a successful $53 million campaign to build the award-winning and iconic building that now houses the Museum’s collection of more than 80,000 objects. The Museum received an outpouring of public acclaim upon the opening of its new building in May 2018; the following year the Museum earned national designation by an Act of Congress becoming the National Nordic Museum. In addition to collecting objects of cultural and historical significance and presenting internationally important exhibitions, the National Nordic Museum serves as a convener on critical issues including innovation in the Nordic region and United States, economic development, environmental policy, cultural identity, and societal issues.
On July 18, 2023, Nelson was made Knight, First Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit conferred by His Majesty King Harald V of Norway for his longstanding work advancing Norwegian-American relations. This award marks the third time that Nelson has received a knighthood from a Nordic Head of State. He was previously named Knight of the Order of the White Rose of Finland by the President Sauli Niinistö of Finland and was awarded Knight First Class of the Royal Order of the Polar Star by His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. He has been honored with the rarely awarded Hazelius Medal in Gold by Sweden’s Nordiska Museet, the only non-Swedish citizen to receive the recognition and was inducted into the Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame. In addition, Nelson was awarded Swedish American of the Year/Årets Svensk Amerikan by the Vasa Order of America in Sweden in recognition of his work establishing the Museum as the only museum in the United States – and indeed the world – that showcases the impact and influence of Nordic values and innovation in contemporary society.
Nelson is a graduate of the prestigious Getty Museum Leadership Institute and holds a Master of Art degree in History. He has served as a guest lecturer at the University of Washington, California State University, and Sacramento and San Francisco State University. A native of Napa, California, Nelson previously served as Executive Director of the Napa Valley Museum from 1999 to 2007. Prior to this role, he was Curator of Exhibits and Collections and then Executive Director of the Sonoma County Museum in Santa Rosa, California.
Nelson's paternal family immigrated from Sweden, towards the end of the 19th century. His father’s grandparents Olof Nilsson and Maria Gustafsdotter left their home in Kulleberga, a village in Bosjökloster, Skåne, just south of Västra Ringsjön, and immigrated to the United States (in 1873 and 1881) and settled in Kansas where he changed the family name to Nelson. His father’s maternal grandparents immigrated to Durango, Colorado in the 1880’s. His great grandfather Lars Magnus Larson (who changed his name to Louis Magnus Naslund) departed from Gräsmark Värmland in 1882. His great grandmother, Christina (Kristina) Marie Nilsson, immigrated from the village of Hässjö, close to Härnösand on the high coast to Colorado in 1886. While they left Sweden to pursue new opportunities in the United States, their Swedish heritage and values remained an important part of their lives which has been passed on through the generations.