The Icelandic Folk Art Museum, Safnasafnið, was founded by Níels Hafsteinand Magnhildur Sigurðardóttir in 1995. Built on a hill overlooking Eyjafjörður and the town of Akureyri in North Iceland, Safnasafnið’s surroundings attract as many visitors as the art! The museum collects and exhibits folk art together with works by modern artists. The museum’s library houses an impressive book collection and an old fashioned garden adds to its genuine atmosphere. The collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings, watercolours, embroideries, books, dolls, toys and tools, presents a wide range of Icelandic Folk Art, as well as some contemporary Icelandic art.
The museum collects and exhibits folk art together with works by modern artists. The museum’s library houses an impressive book collection and an old fashioned garden adds to its genuine atmosphere. The collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings, watercolours, embroideries, books, dolls, toys and tools, presents a wide range of Icelandic Folk Art, as well as some contemporary Icelandic art.
The museum currently houses over 5000 works. Each year, between twelve, and fifteen exhibitions are hosted here. The museum collects works based only on quality and aesthetic.
My favorite collection was the myriad of Dolls! Although only a few were Icelandic, the other hundreds of dolls from around the world were grouped by country, lining the walls of a single room with a doll house from 1938 in the center.
Be sure to check this out if you find yourself traveling up the A1!
Talking about indigenous musical instruments from Iceland is tricky. Unlike the continental Scandinavian countries, there’s little evidence of past musical culture — far fewer paintings, wood or stone carvings, that depict actual instruments. In fact, the earliest depiction of the national instrument, the Langspil (a bowed zither) is from 1836.
The Langspil is a variant of the instrument Americans know as a Dulcimer. Such instruments, which can all fall under the general term Zither, have a long history in Europe. The Langspil can be played by plucking the strings by hand, with a bow or by hammering. Langspils exist in two basic versions: straight and curved and are generally about 80 cm long.
Icelandic music has a very long tradition, with some songs from the 14th century still being sung today.
Folk songs are often about love, sailors, masculinity, hard winters, as well as other mythical subjects, such as elves, and trolls. These songs tend to be quite secular and often humorous.
Bjarni Þorsteinsson (above) collected Icelandic folk music between 1906 and 1909, and all of the songs he encountered were accompanied by traditional instruments such as the aforementioned Langspil and the fiðla.
Chain dances, known as víkivaki, have been performed in Iceland since the 11th century at a variety of occasions, such as in churches and during the Christmas season.
Iceland’s isolation meant that, until the 19th century, foreign influences were virtually absent, which resulted in the maintenance of a particular rhythm, called hákveða, lost in other Nordic countries and considered one of the main characteristics of Icelandic folk music. Hákveða refers to a special emphasis placed on some of the words of a song, often the last word of each sentence in each verse.
Rímur are epic tales sung as alliterative, rhyming ballads. Rímur can be traced back to the Viking poetry of the skalds. Some of the most famous rímur were written between the 18th and 20th centuries.
In the early 18th century, European dances like polka, waltz, reel and schottische begin to arrive from Denmark. After their arrival, native dance and song traditions fell into serious decline, as Iceland natives wanted to be “up to date with the times.”
For a long time, rímur were officially banned by the Christian church, though they remained popular until the early 20th century. In recent years, efforts have been made to revive native Icelandic forms. If you are visiting Reykjavík, I cannot stress enough how important it is to catch a concert of traditional Icelandic Folk music!
Folk Music Festival in Siglufjordur
If you enjoyed the folk music as much as I did, and you are in Iceland in the first week of July, go to the Folk Music Festival at the Folk Music Center in Siglufjordur!
The festival commences on the first Wednesday of July every year. The main focus is on Icelandic and Scandinavian folk music as well as world music and folk dances. 15-20 concerts are held in a different location of the town.
The entire family will love this special tradition!