From Iceland — The Islanders: The Wood Master Of Patreksfjörður

The Islanders: The Wood Master Of Patreksfjörður

Published June 10, 2023

The Islanders: The Wood Master Of Patreksfjörður
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Einar Vignir Vatneyr Skarphéðinsson’s wood workshop is located just a few steps from his house in Patreksfjörður. It’s his private sanctuary, a place where his art comes to life. Although Einar feels a bit uneasy during interviews, he willingly showcases his handicrafts – wooden bowties, chandeliers, curtains, gifts for his partner and a toy car for his daughter. Let’s take a step into Einar’s garden to explore where one can find driftwood these days and uncover the story behind the film award named for him.

I was born and raised in Patreksfjörður and lived here my whole life except for one winter in Reykjavík and one in Eskifjörður.

I’ve been doing handiwork ever since I can remember — for about 30 years. I am a carpenter, and I’ve been a shop class teacher in the elementary school for 20 years before I stopped last year. 

Despite living next to the sea, I was never interested in it. I worked in a frozen storage facility, and I donʼt really know why I ended up working with timber. I remember the first time I went to a woodturning workshop — I was in Reykjavík while waiting for my wife to give birth and I used the chance to go. Since then, I’ve always been at it, more or less.

Photo by Art Bicnick

Although I learned the craft from a relative, woodwork wasn’t a traditional skill in my family. My dad started to do some handiwork when he retired. I teased him that he had gotten the skills from me rather than the other way around.

Signature bowties

When I started using the woodturning lathe, I made a lot of bowls and all sorts of things from worm-eaten driftwood. Then I started making pens and keychains. These past few years, I’ve mostly been making wooden bow ties. I developed them from scratch, and they have been the most popular things I make.

Photo by Art Bicnick

I advertise by putting it on Facebook and Instagram, and people call me. I’ve sent my pieces all over the world — the bowties are going pretty far and wide. I think that the furthest I’ve sold has been to Brazil.

When I started making bowties, I was living with my ex-wife, and she was crocheting bowties. I was observing her, and I thought that if she could crochet them, then I must be able to make them. Getting the right bowtie took a long time, but I got it down with time. It is going well — there are at least two presidents and one prime minister who own bowties that I’ve made. 

Driftwood crafts

When Iʼm making bowties using driftwood, the biggest challenge is to see the pattern emerge and remove parts of the wood so the pattern, the veins can look their best.

“My dad started to do some handiwork when he retired. I teased him that he had gotten the skills from me rather than the other way around.”

There used to be a lot more driftwood here a few years ago, and then the driftwood left Russia, got stuck in the ice near Greenland, and was 3-5 years on its way before I could pick it up here and then I had to dry it. I don’t see much driftwood in this area now, so I’ve been using it much less.

My favourite places to find driftwood are between Látrabjarg and Rauðasandur. When I need more and larger pieces, I go north to Strandir, thereʼs a lot more of it there. Once, many years ago, I needed to send the driftwood to Reykjavík, and the guys in BYKO helped me to dry it in their kiln, which took quite some time.

The Einar’s Award

This is the 16th Einar Award I’ve made for the Skjaldborg Documentary Film Festival. It started 16 years ago when a good buddy of mine, one of the founders of Skjaldborg, approached me and asked if I could fashion some sort of trophy. Out of that came the Einar as it is today. I joked with my friend that this film festival naturally couldnʼt give out an Oscar, so it has to be called the Einar instead and that just stuck. Thatʼs pretty fun.

The motif is always a camera, but I allow myself to play around a bit with the implementation of the idea. The combination of this year’s Einar is an oak plaque with a plywood camera covered with a copper film.

I usually participate in the festival a little, go to see a few movies and visit the Plokkfiskur party and the fish feast. I enjoy it a lot.

Tools of the trade

There are always kids who are interested in all sorts of handicrafts. I know of some kids I taught in shop class that have gone on to learn carpentry or all kinds of related professions.

Photo by Art Bicnick

For those interested in starting out doing carpentry, the most important thing is to have quality tools. That makes a big difference. You need to have an interest in it. I donʼt think it will work out if you go into carpentry without really being interested. You should sign up for a workshop, and then youʼll pick it up quickly. I just want to keep growing and going forward to make as many pretty things as possible. There is always something to do, like, for example, chandeliers and curtains that I made out of worm-eaten driftwood. Thatʼs the most fun, to do things differently than others!

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