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A Cherished Object

By Sverrir Sigurdsson

As a young child, I loved tales of the Vikings: how they traveled abroad to seek fame and fortune, while those who just sat at home tending their sheep were considered “heimskur” or stupid. I realized that it would take me a few years to follow in the footsteps of my Viking ancestors, for after all, I was only 12 years old. But in the meantime, I wanted to create something that a Viking child of yore might have been proud of.

I had always admired a rich family friend’s tasteful furnishing. Intricately woven Persian carpets covered her polished hardwood floors. The walls were covered from floor to ceiling with bookcases filled with important-looking books. But it was the solitary bookshelf with a set of identically bound books, perhaps a collection of the Sagas, that made my heart beat faster. The front of that shelf was elaborately carved with a Viking design. Two fierce dragons twisted and turned as they faced each other in battle.

Mesmerized, ideas for a project began to brew in my head.

On one visit to the National Museum, I came upon an enormous collection of wood carvings from the Viking age. A spark flew. This was the perfect place for gathering material for my project! For Vikings, a piece of wood is as inviting as a canvas to a painter. Anything from the curved prows of their longships to the lids of their wooden eating bowls was subjected to the creative urge of their carving knives. I came back the next day with my sketchbook and eagerly copied some of the carvings.

On returning home, I rummaged through pieces of wood in my dad’s basement workshop. Lo and behold, I found a three-foot-long piece of mahogany, a leftover from a bench Dad had made for our foot pump organ. Perfect! Because of my lack of curved edge tools, straight-line patterns were my only options. I eventually found designs that I could develop, adapt and tweak to my satisfaction.

Once the carving on the front piece was done, I was ready to attach it to the shelf and end pieces, all scraps lying around the workshop. The assembly was rather clumsy, but the aluminum brackets I used were historic. I’d salvaged them from an airplane that had crashed in my neighborhood during the Second World War.

Sverrir Sigurdsson's bookshelf

I was proud of the result and still am. This bookshelf has followed me to different parts of the world, and today it occupies a prominent place in my living room.

When I was designing the frontispiece of my recently published memoir, Viking Voyager, I wanted to hold the book together with a border that spilled into the spine and back, preferably something with a Viking motif. While mulling over it, my eyes landed on my homemade shelf. Perfect! I sent a picture of it to the book designer, and here it is.

Sverrir Sigurdsson is the author of Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir, available at

http:// The Icelandic translation of his book is Á Veraldarvegum, available at Penninn Eymundsson.


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