Hey there. I’m Hannah. I’m an American museum professional and Fulbright Fellow living in Reykjavík, and I’m the host of a podcast dedicated to exploring Iceland’s museums. Why? Because Iceland has a staggering 165 museums (that’s way more museums per person than most places in the world), and most of them are fantastic places run by fascinating people who are passionate about their institutions and communities.
I launched the Museums in Strange Places podcast for anyone who loves Iceland, museums, stories, culture, and exploring the world. In each episode, I visit a different Icelandic museum to discover what stories they hold and how they reflect and shape Iceland’s unique cultural identity. If you’ve got suggestions for which museum I should visit next, send me a tweet @hannah_rfh.
A Family, a Mineral Collection, and a Museum in a Gas Station (Episode 6)
When I started this project, I assumed that many of the tiny museums that have popped up in Reykjavík and around the Ring Road in the wake of the tourist boom would be tourists traps or quirky wayside attractions at best. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and frankly I should be ashamed of myself for not keeping a fully-open mind. In fact, it’s been Iceland’s tiny, obscure and border-line oddball museums that have ended up having some of the best stories to tell.
Museums don’t just share facts and tell stories. They reflect the identities and preoccupations of the people behind them. Sometimes, in larger museums, the traces of these individuals can get absorbed into the larger institutional identity, but in small museums you can often get closer to the people whose passions inspired the exhibits and collections. Or, as was the case with my visit to the Hveragerði Stone and Mineral Museum (LjósbráSteinasafn), you may end up as Facebook friends.
When I first heard that there was a mineral museum in the N1 gas station in Hveragerði, I was a bit skeptical. Hveragerði is a small, nondescript town on the Ring Road about an hour south of Reykjavík, so I thought it might just be a way to get a few more tourists to spend a bit more money in town on their way out of Reykjavík. Nevertheless, as I had never been to a museum in a gas station before, I decided to check it out.
What I found exceeded all my expectations—and then some. This free museum fills a large room just off the gas station’s shop. The walls are lined with glass cabinets filled with beautiful mineral specimens, while the rest of the space is used to display thoughtful arrangements of photos and text panels explaining the science behind the stones. Furthermore, they also tell the story of the family that lovingly collected and identified each of the specimens over three generations.
It’s hard to say what’s more interesting about this one-room museum: the mineral collection, the location, the family story, or Hafsteinn Þór—the man behind the museum.
Steinni, as his friends call him, has always been interested in geology, nature, biology, and philosophy…and acting and directing…and singing and learning new instruments—he’s a man of many talents. However, when he met his wife’s family he was drawn in to their decades-old passion for collecting stones and minerals. After years of waiting in boxes and on shelves in the family home, the collection has now found a suitable home thanks to a joint effort by Hafsteinn Þór and his father-in-law.
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