Iowa Alumni Magazine | April 2006 | People

Crown Jewels: Liz Bucheit

By Angie Toomsen

Stretching their arms from a sparkling perch of gold, garnets, and green gemstones, graceful female spirits hoist waterfalls of fine silver chains into the air. The figures anchor a dazzling headpiece, worn to affirm a bride's virginity and protect her from evil.

One of only a handful of metalsmiths in the country to practice the 16th century art of making Norwegian bridal crowns, Liz Bucheit spent three months crafting the intricacies of the "Lanesboro Millennial Crown." In September 1999, she unveiled the crown and has since received e-mails from people across the country who wish to rent the piece for their weddings.

"The crown is more well traveled than I am," jokes Bucheit, 82BFA, 86MA, who owns a jewelry shop in Lanesboro, Minnesota.

Bucheit's fondness for Norwegian silversmithing began when she was a girl growing up in Decorah. Raised to embrace her Norwegian heritage, she remembers visits to the Vesterheim Museum, where she gazed at silver dress jewelry, pins, and buttons sparkling in their cases. Of all the spectacular ornaments worn by a traditional bride on her wedding day, the crown captivated Bucheit the most.

"I couldn't get over the fact that when girls got married they got to wear these big crowns," she recalls. "I was overwhelmed—they're not little bridal tiaras like you see today."

Bucheit pursued her passion in earnest at the UI, where she studied metal jewelry and cultural body ornamentation. At her family's suggestion, she turned her attention toward Norway—namely the crown that first intrigued her as a child. As Norwegian silversmithing is largely an oral tradition and few instructional texts exist, Bucheit packed up her tools and traveled to Scandinavia in 1999 to study the historic techniques and design with local artisans.

"Everything about the bridal crown is unique and has to be made from scratch," Bucheit says. "I'd been a goldsmith for 20 years and thought I knew it all. It was a very humbling experience."

Last summer, she returned to Norway on a research grant to produce 12 more crowns.

"Brides want their weddings to be unique, and I want to channel their enthusiasm into traditional pieces," she says. "I suppose you could call me a missionary for Old World tradition."