Museums Off the Beaten Track


Museums Off the Beaten Track

We often travel far and wide to see unusual places. Even so, we often miss very interesting sights right in front of our very eyes. Three unusual museums in northeastern Iceland are a find for the tourist who thinks he has seen it all.

Published in the 2012 issue of Issues and Images. Text and photos by Benedikt Jóhannesson.


The Icelandic Folk and Outsider Art Museum

Folk art and naïve art or nativists are not high on every art fan’s list. The sometimes primitive and often unusual works of art by little-known members of the public may bring forth a smile of pity or arrogance. Many find it hard to take the art of “amateurs” seriously. One who does is Marínó P. Hafstein, who runs the so-called Safnasafn or Museum-museum just off the road by Svalbardseyri, a few kilometers east of Akureyri.

The modern, bright exhibition halls are in sharp contrast to the stereotype of a museum of outsider art, often found in seedy old barracks or dark basements in shady alleys. In the summer of 2012, it features an exhibition by Pálmi Kristinn Arngrímsson, an old man who carves figures out of wood. Another show features the primitive and often scary statues by Ragnar Bjarnason, who used to display them in his garden in Reykjavík.

The formal English name is the Icelandic Folk and Outsider Art Museum. At present it stores approximately 4,100 works. The museum has an extensive exhibition area, a library and research facilities, as well as accommodation for tourists, visiting artists, and scholars. Every year 12-15 new exhibitions are on display in the museum, along with paintings, drawings and sculptures. The collection also encompasses embroidery, models, souvenirs, books, dolls, toys and tools, thus presenting an interesting view of various outlets for creativity and what inspires them.

You will leave this museum in a better mood than when you came in.

Mánárbakki Folk Museum

Another very special museum is situated about 20 kilometers north of the town of Húsavík, the now famous whale capital of the north. Many folk museums in Iceland collect items from the 19th century. The museum at Mánárbakki is different. Sure, it features the old spinning wheel, but what makes it different is that is displays so many everyday items from the 20th century. The owner and curator, Adalgeir Egilsson, has been a compulsive collector from early childhood. He collected matchboxes, chocolate wrappers, cups and saucers, stacks of playing cards, postcards, etc. You name it, Adalgeir collected it. In many marriages this might cause a problem, but Adalgeir was lucky because his wife shared his interest in collecting. In the year 1995, they moved the collection from their basement to a wooden house called Thórshamar, which they bought in Húsavík and moved to their farm at Mánárbakki.

You can read the remainder of this article in the 2012 issue of Issues and Images. Click here to download your free copy.