From Iceland — Museums in Strange Places Podcast #3: Gljúfrasteinn, The Halldór Laxness Museum

Museums in Strange Places Podcast #3: Gljúfrasteinn, The Halldór Laxness Museum

Museums in Strange Places Podcast #3: Gljúfrasteinn, The Halldór Laxness Museum

Published February 25, 2018

Photo by
Hannah Hethmon

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.

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“Where the glacier meets the sky, the land ceases to be earthly, and the earth becomes one with the heavens; no sorrows live there anymore, and therefore joy is not necessary; beauty alone reigns there, beyond all demands.”

Halldór Laxness wrote these lines in his novel ‘World Light,’ but it wasn’t the only time he referenced Icelandic nature in his prolific career as a novelist, essayist, and poet. The Icelandic landscape was always an important part of his work and his daily life. When I visited Gljúfrasteinn, his home-turned-museum in Mosfellsbær, I found myself surrounded by the same trees, river and mountain views that he looked at every day as he searched for ideas and inspiration.

Laxness’ remarkable life spanned almost the entire 20th century, from 1902 to 1998. He published his first novel at 17 and would go on to publish more than 60 books in his lifetime, mostly novels, but also volumes of poetry and short stories. In 1945, ten years before winning the Nobel prize for ‘Independent People,’ he built a home for his family in Mosfellsdalur, now a short drive away from Reykjavík. This house, Gljúfrasteinn, soon became an important hub of Icelandic culture, attracting the country’s most important writers, artists, musicians, and thinkers.

On a gorgeous sunny fall day, I drove out to Gljúfrasteinn to talk to Guðný Dóra Gestsdóttir, the museum’s director. The home itself is absolutely gorgeous, with wood panelling and floors, huge windows in every room, and mid-century Danish furniture in pristine condition. Upstairs, you can walk into Laxness’ study which still looks just as he left it and admire the works of some of Iceland’s most famous painters and friends of Laxness’.

I won’t lie, sometimes even a bone fide museum nerdlike myself finds historic house tours to be a little boring. They are often focused on little home details that don’t bring you closer to the museum’s subject. At Gljúfrasteinn this is not the case. The house has almost no barriers to detract from its cozy feeling, so the whole time you feel as if you’ve just dropped by for coffee. If you love Laxness and want to get to know him better, this is a pilgrimage you must make. If you aren’t familiar with this great Icelander, Gljúfrasteinn is a great place to start, and by the time you leave you’ll probably want to go straight to the book store to pick up a Laxness novel.

You can also listen to this episode of the Museums in Strange Places podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Radio Public, Libsyn, Youtube,, Stitcher, and Castbox. Learn more about the podcast and other episodes here.

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