From Iceland — Selárdalur: The Cute Kind Of Scary

Selárdalur: The Cute Kind Of Scary

Published June 23, 2011

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Maroesjka Lavigne

As if learning all about local sea monsters in Bíldudalur wasn’t spooky enough, we were advised to drive west from there, along the south shore of Arnarfjörður, until we reached the very tip of the peninsula, where we would find a place called Selárdalur. There, we were told, was a church, a house, and several sculptures—including seals, Leifur Eiríksson, and the lions of Alhambra—made by a self-taught artist named Samúel Jónsson. Naturally, we were on it.

The drive was fairly straightforward. It’s just a two-lane road, no fancy twists and turns or mountains to climb. We thought it was going to be a simple drive. But then we saw her.

Up ahead, walking down the side of the road, was an old woman in green rubber boots, an opened backpack on her back, and nest of frazzled hair around her head. After a brief debate in the car, we elected to pull over and offer her a ride. By chance, she was going to the same place we were. Now, I’m not one to judge on appearances, but this woman—who refused to tell us her name, or be photographed or recorded—gave us a distinctly witch-y vibe. Not in a cooking-children-in-an-oven way, but more of a wandering shamanic sorceress way. She claimed to have grown up in “the next farm down” from  Samúel Jónsson’s place, and told us she’d be happy to tell us a few things about this artist.

Samúel Jónsson was self-taught; what they would call a “visionary artist” today. The bulk of his work didn’t start until after he retired, when he started using his pension money to buy plaster and build these sculptures in this isolated corner of the country. The wind was pretty fierce on this day, although the sky was clear, giving the location an even more forlorn feel. But the almost childlike playfulness and naivety that went into these sculptures seemed to dispel the gloom of this farm (which, like many places in Iceland, was once a site of witch burnings), their cheerfulness in stark contrast to their surroundings.

The site is in the midst of restorations and, when complete, will offer an apartment and workspace for artists, as well as a small shop, designed by the architect Sigurður Pálmi Ásbergsson. For now, it seems the ideal spot for a picnic, inspiration, or possibly a spiritual inner journey that will turn your soul inside out. Either way, definitely worth checking out.

Car provided by Hertz car rental. Book car at

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