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.
Museums in Strange Places #14: The Museum Of Sundry Objects
If I asked you to tell me what things you typically see in museums, your first thoughts might be about priceless art or objects of historical value. We often pick our museum objects based on the value society assigned to their owners or creators. So, if you see an ordinary object like a pin cushion or a pen in a museum, it’s usually because it belonged to someone extraordinary. But what would it look like to have a museum of objects collected for their own sakes, where highlighting the beauty in utility celebrates the everyday lives of everyday people? You’ll find the answer in Sverrir Hermansson’s Museum of Sundry Objects.
Tucked away in an ordinary building in a narrow valley just below the town of Akureyri in the North of Iceland, the Smámunasafn Sverris Hermanssonar is one man’s spectacular collection of ordinary things. Sverrir was a self-described eccentric whose main goal in life was to simply collect things. He was a carpenter, specializing in the restoration of old homes and churches. The only time he went to Reykjavík was to get his wife, a woman he had met in Akureyri while she was visiting. According to those who knew him, Sverrir had an uncanny sense for artistry and a deep respect for everyone and everything, caring equally for every object in his collection.
The moment you walk into the main gallery of the Smámunasafn, you stumble across rows and rows of beautiful displays filled with meticulously arranged nails, saws, doorknobs, keys, matchboxes, lightbulbs, pencil nubs, and every other kind of ordinary household thing you wouldn’t imagine to find in a museum. This is not the home of a hoarder. Instead, Sverrir’s beautiful organization and the work of the artists who set up the museum (his collection was in his home before that) has turned this into a truly modern museum.
The highlight of the trip, however, was listening to Sigga Rósa, the head of the museum, tell amazing stories about Sverrir and the stories behind all the objects. Thanks to her perspectives, I’ll never look at a piece of driftwood or a set of keys the same again. You can hear more of her stories in this week’s Museums in Strange Places episode.
- The museum is only open in the summer, but can be seen by appointment in the winter if you have a group of ten or more.
- Don’t leave without driving up behind the museum to see the historic turf church on the hilldside! It’s one of thirteen original turf church left in Iceland.
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