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Blacksmith shop

Böðvar beside some of the items he makes for our sales shop.

The Viking Age inspires a lot of re-enactors. Gunnar Marel was of course inspired to build and sail his ship using Viking Age techniques. But there are other re-enactors interested in retrieving other aspects of Viking Age know-how. Here in town there lives a friendly, dedicated, Viking enthusiast who specializes in Viking Age blacksmithing. He does not do replicas, the way Gunnar does, but rather seeks inspiration from the Viking Age. But he looks very much like  a Viking, with long hair and a braided beard, and he believes in the Viking pagan gods. So he is a re-enactor not just on the  weekends, the way some are. Nope, he just lives with the Viking Age on his mind all the time.

He and Gunnar are gathering wood and stones and clay to build a blacksmith hut out in the field beside the museum. It will be a bit of an experiment to see if Icelandic clay can be used in a kiln or not.

I am looking forward to seeing the progress of their endeavors, and I am sure our visitors will be also. He stops by my house every few weeks, to let me know how it is going, just they way they would have done it in the Viking Age.

Play on board

Before the building was even completed, we started wondering how we should let visitors go on board the ship. There were structural questions about the durability of the ship, and also questions about how best to present the ship: is it a precious object that ought to be looked at but not touched, or should it be treated like an everyday object, and people can do what they liked with? Coming up with a good middle ground, where visitors physically engage with the ship but still respect it, was difficult. The building was designed so that visitors can walk under the ship, and I insisted it be low enough so that people could touch the keel, feel the grain of the wood. The computer monitors around the ship also encourage close looking and interaction.

But when we let visitors walk onboard the deck of the ship, well, the echo of footfalls on thick wooden planks filled the hall. Not only was it noisy, it was also dangerous. A Viking ship has a low freeboard, so it is easy for anyone on deck to jump off. But since our ship is elevated, and the floor below stone, this represented a considerable safety concern.

Then our business manager came up with the idea that we should stage a play on board the ship. A museum in western Iceland has been doing that, using the loft of their building for evening performances, and it has been a great way to get people to come to the museum. So from a business perspective it made sense. But I immediately thought it was also a good idea in terms of solving our “people on board” issue.

Now visitors can be formally invited on board when they have a ticket to the play. This addresses both the safety issues, since they will of course be ushured on board by staff, but also the issue of engagement. The play is about a woman’s journey from Iceland to Greenland and then to North America 1000 years ago. It is a perfect way to engage with the ship as an experience, a moment in time, a link to the past.

It is really exciting and such a nice complement to the current content of the museum. Looking forward to seeing the first performance, May 9th!!

The Smithsonian connection

Between 1997 and 2003, I worked at the Arctic Studies Center, Smithsonian Institution. We were part of the Anthropology Department in the Natural History Museum. I do not mind admitting how much I miss working there. Such a remarkable group of colleagues, dedicated and broad-minded.

One of the last things I did before leaving there was to arrange an agreement between the town of Reykjanesbaer and the Natural History Museum which allowed a large portion of the exhibition Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga to be on long term loan to the town of Reykjanesbaer. The township had just purchased the Viking ship Islendingur, and so the mayor of the town and I quickly agreed that this exhibition would be the perfect complement to the ship.

Although I have a tiny piece of the Smithsonian with me here in Iceland, I still miss the colleagues and the comradery. So I am looking forward to this online conference. Though I have been able to keep up with the goings on of my immediate coworkers, there are so many others doing neat things that are also fun to hear about. This also seems to me to be a good use of technology and outreach. I hope it works out well for everyone!

In the best light

We have had a number of photographers come by Vikingaheimar, from the newspapers, from travel agencies, and just visitors with a good camera and a good eye. Back just before we opened, we hired a photographer to come take shots of the museum, and although they are cool, dramatic shots, it is time we updated our website and brochures with something that reflects the current state of the museum.

So today a professional photographer friend is coming to see what she can capture about the museum. I am happy that it is a clear day, so we should have good luck with the lighting.

Trade game

The kids move the cards, which have images of different Viking age products and goods, from one "land" to another.

Well, it kept getting pushed to the back burner, but I finally managed today to finish setting up the trade game I made for kids that come to the museum. There are cards with images of different Viking Age goods and products, and a description on the back of each card, hanging on rings. The idea is to put a card on one side of the ring, and remove something worth the same number of points from the other side. The land masses are rough approximations of different parts of Europe, seen basically from the perspective of their coast lines. I think the kids will have  a fun time, finding items worth the same amount, and trading them back and forth between the countries.

Anyhow, I hope so. I came up with the idea because we had this wonderful plexiglass version of midgarðsormur from another exhibition, and I wanted to find a way to use it again in Vikingaheimar. Plus it is always nice to have something low to the ground, at kid friendly height. Even better if it is something the kids can touch and move around!

Work specific

I have been blogging about my life in Iceland for almost 2 years now on Lately I have found myself talking more and more about my work on that blog, which was not really the original idea So I thought it would be a good idea to start a blog just about work, since actually, I have a pretty neat job.

I am the Exhibition Director at Vikingaheimar Museum, a beautiful facility in a dramatic setting right near the International Airport in Iceland, with a big Viking ship right inside the front door.

Unfortunately, we were gearing up to open just as Iceland collapsed. The largest banking failure ever, followed by a disbanding of a the government.

But Vikingaheimar is coming up on its one year anniversary despite all that, and that strikes me as blog worthy.