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  • Writer's pictureEinar Páll Svavarsson

Selárdalur valley in Arnarfjörður fjord West Fjords

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

Selárdalur sculptures West Fjords Iceland
Having retired from farming at the age of 72 in 1958, Samúel decided to follow his dreams of becoming an artist.

Selárdalur valley is one of the Ketildalir valleys on the southern shore of the long Arnarfjörður fjord in Iceland; it is one of the few valleys in the area that is a tourist attraction. There is more than one reason why this valley is worth visiting. Most of the valleys of the fjord Arnarfjörður are small and narrow, with high and steep mountains on three sides. Many of these resemble the small fjords that you see all over the West Fjords, except these are filled with sediments at the bottom and have thus become picturesque valleys. The sediments provide good, nutrient-rich soil for farming; they have been providing an adequate livelihood for people for more than a thousand years, right from the time of settlement. Additionally, many of them host good landing spots for boats by the shoreline, allowing one to take advantage of the rich fishing grounds right in front of the valley. It is an interesting comparison between the fjords along which you drive on the southern side of the Ísafjarðardjúp fjord on your way from Ísafjörður to the Steingrímsfjarðarheiði mountain pass and the fjords on the southern shore of the peninsula named Barðaströnd. Unlike Ketildalir, where you drive along the coast, driving along the fjords takes you right to the bottom of the fjord and then out of its mouth.

Selárdalur was a prosperous community for centuries

When you arrive at the valley, it isn't easy, at a glance, to know that the community in Selárdalur actually thrived for many centuries. It had two critical prerogatives to its advantage—good-quality farming land and easy access to the ocean. The farmers and their families would work hard on their land, and then the men would gather in their boats to go out fishing, just a short distance from the shoreline. This provided both food and the possibility of trading fish and fish products. More than one hundred people lived here in the late nineteenth century, and everyone prospered. The valley also always served as a valuable parish and had a church and a priest.

Heartbreaking events that changed the course of history

On 20th September in the year 1900, everything changed. The worst weather in the region's history hit the area mid-morning, just a few minutes after boats had sailed in calm, beautiful weather. Four boats were lost at sea. Thirteen men from the valley lost their lives, leaving eleven widows and twenty-four fatherless children behind. It was a fatal blow for the community; eventually, the valley was deserted in a matter of a few decades. A valley that had been a center stage for the northern part of the West Fjords for centuries. You can only imagine how incomprehensible it must have been for the people living there. The fjord had always been relatively calm, but the hurricane-like weather changed everything in one day—with disastrous consequences. This event is a reminder of the weather’s role in shaping the history of Iceland.

Samúel the remarkable artist and his sculptures

Samúels sculptures museum in Selárdalur valley
His buildings, the church, and the house are also considered sculptures and part of the artwork.

In the last decades of the 20th century, Selárdalur valley was left with only a handful of people living there. One of them was the novice artist Samúel Jónsson. Having retired from farming at the age of 72 in 1958, Samúel decided to follow his dreams of becoming an artist. He created sculptures from concrete. He would carry sand from the seashore to his farm at Brautarholt, out of which he would then make concrete. His sculptures are still standing and very well preserved. Samúel managed to capture the heart of the Icelanders who have dubbed him "the artist with the infantile heart." His sculptures portray a grotesque but charming resemblance to the lion's fountain in the Alhambra Palace in Spain. His buildings, the church, and the house are also considered sculptures and part of the artwork. In the recent years, a group of admirers have contributed to restoring his work and making it more accessible. The road from Bíldudalur village is also quite good and a fascinating drive by the mountains. For all its wonderful beauty and rich history, a visit to Selárdalur is highly recommended.

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