From Iceland — How To View the Woodcarver

How To View the Woodcarver

Published June 24, 2005

How To View the Woodcarver

After reviewing Jón Adólf Steinsson’s work, one can’t help asking: is it craft, or is it art? In my opinion, the answer lies very much in the viewer.

Take “The Judge,” for example. Well-crafted and accessible, Steinsson describes the piece with remarkable passion. He says the piece was inspired by current events. He had read a piece in the local dailies about a miscarriage of justice and had been pondering the thought: “He who passes judgment without righteousness.” The Kópavogur wood carver, who trained in England and Australia, deals with a concept deep in the local mythology.

In another of his more striking pieces, “Time,” Steinsson comments on the theme: “Time conquers all. Nothing can arrest it.” This grim take on mutability is actually a very typical Icelandic attitude dating back to the Norsemen and the Vikings. They practiced the ritual of the “Öndvegissúla,” casting a totem-like carving into the ocean and leaving them to the fate of the winds and currents. They believed that the gods guided the totems and thus they settled where they totems were later found.

His “found” pieces, often created from driftwood, display a more subtle talent. “I look at the wood for days, sometimes months, until I know what it wants to become.” An image is “suggested” to him, a latent expression of Jón’s imagination and the inner life of the wood.

Jón Adólf Steinsson’s work can be seen at Kársnesbraut 91, Kópavogur, Phone: 896-6234. Call for appointment. Images are also available online at

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