Preserving Iceland’s past for future generations
There are probably few natives of South Iceland more worthy of the title ‘local expert’ than the 90 year-old curator of Skógar Museum, Þórður Tómasson. Born in a turf house at Valnatún farm, just 17 km from the museum itself, Þórður has spent most of his life right here in Skógar, never venturing too far from the place his family has called home for the last 300 years. He knows just about everything there is to know about ‘the olden days’ of Iceland, and, with his vivid memory and keen mind he is, for all practical purposes, a walking encyclopedia of sorts.
Although he is slowing down just a little these days, the sprightly old man is still giving tours of the museum in English or the Scandinavian languages, which he speaks with ease. He can often be seen giving demonstrations of wool spinning and carding, or singing the old Icelandic folk tunes while playing the dulcimer or zither, to the delight of his audiences.
Wander around the Open Air Museum with its historical buildings and turf houses, reconstructed piece by piece by Þórður himself. The small chapel, while new on the outside, is filled with fine church relics gathered from churches around South Iceland. There, you will often find Þórður at the harmonium, playing hymns from his youth; the music transporting visitors to another place in time.
A museum is born
Þórður began his collection at the age of 14, at a time when the modern technology of the 20th century was fast replacing h
undreds of years of cultural tradition. Realising the importance of preserving Iceland’s unique cultural history, Þórður would often go from farm to farm, writing down the stories and anecdotes of the older generations living there. Household items, farming and fishing implements, ornate wooden chests, decorative items of brass, silver and gold, and as well as traditional clothing and artefacts dating back to the Viking Age are just a fraction of the 15,000 plus items that Þórður has collected in his lifetime. His foresight and enthusiasm has inspired many others around Iceland to follow his example, thereby ensuring that Iceland’s beautiful and unique cultural heritage is not lost.