Welcome to the website Samuel Jonsson Museum. The museum exhibits the works of artist Samúel Jónsson who died in 1969. Samúel´s
buildings and sculpture garden were his last projects, the site is now a museum. On this page you will get basic information about his life and
some stories about him. For further information click on the links above. The page, where you are, includes the text of HEIM (Home) and SÖGUR (stories).
Samúel was born 1884 in Arnarfjörður in the Westfjords. His parents were Jón Þorsteinsson and Guðríður Guðmundsdóttir. Samúel´s life was a hard one. He lost his father when he was 4 years old and moved to Barðarströnd with his mother. He was a child when his mother became a housekeeper for Rev. Lárus Benediktsson in Selárdal-rectory. According to Samúel, he experienced real hardship and ill treatment during his stay in the parsonage.
After Rev. Lárus´ passing, the mother and son moved to Tóft in Selárdal-valley. Samúel built a house there which he called Fossá. One can still see the remains of the house and the road leading to it. Samúel and his mother lived there for a few years before moving to Neðri-Uppsalir in Selárdal-valley. There, Samúel´s mother passed away in 1916.
After Samúel´s mother’s passing, he hired a housekeeper called Salóme Samúelsdóttir who became his wife. They lived in Krossdal in Tálknarfirði-fjord from 1927-47 where Samúel built a house and a barn. Salóme and Samúel bore 3 children who all died in childhood. They moved to Brautarholt in Selárdalur in 1947. Salóme passed away shortly after that.
Samúel was 65 years old when he received a pension which allowed him to fulfil his life´s dream and dedicate himself to his art. Although he had never received a formal artistic training, he had a natural aptitude for drawing, painting and woodcarving.
Samúel constructed a church, a gallery and various concrete sculptures in his old age. Visitors at Brautarholt can today see Samúel´s creations and it´s rather difficult to believe that this was in fact possible, especially since it is known that Samúel did everything mostly by himself, without electricity or machinery.
Samúel did not receive great recognition for his art, although he got some coverage in the press by friends and visitors. He experienced the beginning of tourism in Selárdalur and he really enjoyed showing his work to curious visitors.
The name of Samúel Jónsson does not have much meaning in the context of Icelandic art but according to art theory it would be regarded as naive folk or ‘outsider’ art. However, it must be said that Samúel was among the first Icelandic artists who didn´t let lack of material and resources prevent him implementing his ideas.
Samúel Jónsson, the artist with the child´s heart, passed away 1969.
Samúel´s artworks bear witness to a creative soul.
It is unfortunate that his name does not appear in Icelandic art literature because his works were visited by a great many people. He painted numerous landscapes, made a concrete sculpture garden and made intricate wooden carvings in miniature, for example the St Peter´s Basilica. Samúel never had the opportunity to travel abroad so copied from books and postcards.
In its centenary year, Samúel created an altarpiece for Selárdal-church which he wanted to donate as a gift. When it was declined by the board, Samúel set about building his own church to house the painting.
Due to lack of resources and timber frames, the work was done in stages. He transported the sand and stones from a beach and obtained cement from a local village.
Samúel finally built the church to house the altarpiece and is testament to the artists’ strength and fortitude.
Samúel Jónsson never wrote anything about his life, but he gave two interviews, in 1955 and 1958. Most of what we know about him comes from people who were close to him. These were his neighbors, visitors and friends. In a newspaper article by Hannibal Valdimarsson in 1976, 7 years after Samúels' death, Samúel´s artworks were introduced and the importance of preserving Brautarholt was voiced. Hannibal transported Samúel´s altarpiece to the ASÍ Museum in Reykjavík for preservation. Remarkable stories and photos of Samúel´s works came into circulation in 1981 when Ómar Ragnarsson, (probably the most popular documentary filmmaker and journalist in Iceland) broadcast his interview with Gísliin Uppsalir in Selárdalur together with an interview with Hannibal Valdimarsson about Samúel Jónsson in Brautarholt. The "Stiklur" series by Ómar Ragnarsson can be ordered from RÚV. In 1999 Kári G. Schram and Ólafur J. Engilbertsson premiered their documentary Concrete Dreams which is about the Samúel´s art and life. Many people who knew Samúel were interviewed. These recordings are waiting to be released on DVD along with the film.
As a result, here are some of the most important reports and stories. What makes Samuel so special to people, is probably his unbroken idealism, his strong will, from which he drew the strength to realize his dreams at an advanced age, in spite of his physical condition. As already mentioned, he had neither electricity, machinery nor animals that would facilitate his work. Everything was made and carried by the old man, braced and shaped. If you wonder how he got the concrete (this was his preferred material) the answer is that he bought the cement for the mixture with his pension and carried the required sand on his back 200 meters from the beach, mixed the concrete and set sliding molds and cast one board at a time.
Path of shells
Samúel´s path of shells is legendary. His eyesight grew so weak with age that he laid down large white shells, as visual beacons along the path to the beach, to make sure he didn’t lose his way.
The most renowned story is about the construction of Samúel´s church. He was aware that the old altarpiece (from 1752) in Selárdalur church could be exchanged for a new one. He thought a suitable occasion for this exchange would be the festival to mark the centennial of the church in 1961. He painted avidly all through the winter months but when he offered his newly painted picture to the community, the church committee refused it. As there was no suitable place for it at home Samúel decided to build a new church for his altarpiece and set about it immediately. It took him three years to build the church and was completed in 1965. In 1968 and due to total blindness, Samúel had to leave Selárdalur and move into a nursing home in Patreksfjördur. He eventually died there one year later in 1969.
Another story testifies to Samúel´s high endurance in old age. An elderly woman told us that once, when she was young, traveling in a car, Samúel was encountered walking on the Halfdán heath between Bíldudalur and Tálknafjörður with a loaf of bread under his arm, which he had bought in Tálknafjörður. It is not known if he was given a lift but if one calculates the distance Samúels must have walked to buy his bread, one arrives at about 60 kilometers. At different times with different people, it is commonly acknowledged that Samúel was an extremely friendly and modest man. And in an article by Hannibal Valdimarsson, was aptly named, the “artist innocent at heart.”