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Eloping in Iceland and the story of folk artist Samuel Jonsson

Natalie MedinaComment

It's like being on another planet. Surreal landscapes, other-worldly rock formations, natural geothermal pools and miraculous, untouched terrain.  Iceland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Its volatility only adds to the majesty and mystery of this arctic wonderland. 

Colin and I eloped in Iceland this past March. We planned to drive around their famous golden ring road that goes around the perimeter of the island seeking the most rural and off-the-beaten-path places we could find along with right of passage tourist traps. The capital, Reykjavik, is their big city--housing 2/3 of their 330,000 population. Although a big city, each shop, restaurant and establishment is celebrated for its uniqueness and local ownership. Upon landing in Reykjavik it was very apparent that Icelanders take pride in the history of their culture and heritage. It's obvious that art is life for Icelanders as the businesses downtown are predominately owned by local artists and local vendors. It was fascinating to see the many independent jewelry artists, makers, and individually owned boutiques(yes, even vintage ones! Spuutnik and Nostalgia were my favorites) to be successful and thrive in their community. 

Ironically, the most intriguing and mentality-changing experience I had in Iceland was an experience I didn't have. While in the west fjords I learned about a sculptor that had lived on the coastline of the rural and rugged northwest fjords named Samuel Jonnsson(1884-1969). After he retired at age 60 from a lifetime of farm work, Samuel decided to spend his retirement creating art While he dabbled in painting and other mediums earlier in life, he had no formal training or education to be a sculptor or an artist. Gathering inspiration from travel magazines, he would collect sand and dirt from neighboring beaches to create mixtures to sculpt replicas of famous monuments and statues. He once sculpted an altar piece that he donated to his local church. The church rejected his donation so Samuel built his own church that still houses his handmade altar. Unscathed by the church's rejection he continued to sculpt to his hearts content. Some notable sculptures of his are: a replica of The Court of Lions Fountain in Spain, Icelandic explorer Leif Erikksson, an Indian temple, native Icelandic animals such as sea horses, seals and puffins. His folk art collection eventually became large enough to build a museum for all of his sculptures and paintings. He passed away at age 85 in 1969 leaving his creations uncared for. His art farm was in such a out of the way area known for harsh weather that a lot of his artwork suffered from the elements. In the early 2000's the Icelandic government and other art agencies stepped in to preserve, restore and convert Samuels art farm into a museum and studio workspace. 

the church jonsson built for his altar

His inspiring story and unique folk art is something I always remind myself of when I find myself in a cycle of self loathing and worrying about the opinions of others. He created for the love of sculpting and painting and creating, not to be liked or celebrated. Rejection or disapproval did not define or deter his inherent need to create.  We were in Iceland towards the end of their winter so I was disappointed to learn that there would be no way for me to visit his museum because of the road conditions. While I didn't get to see his artwork first hand, to know someone like him existed with an unwavering drive to create is a fond memory I will always look back on when I think of Iceland and our wedding. 


When the church rejects your altar, build your own church. 

Samuel Jonsson

sculptures from  samuel jonnsons art farm