Torfljàr – Drawing Turf Building
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Torfljàr – Drawing Turf Building

During our week in Iceland I made use of every opportunity to record visual material by making photos and sketches, and as a result I now have at my disposal a valuable source of material to continue to work on in my art studio. I will make a series of works on the subject that will be exhibited during Perthshire Open Studios in September 2019.

History of Turf Building
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History of Turf Building

From the late 19th and early 20th century turf building ceased to be the main form of construction in Iceland surpassed first by timber construction and soon after by the widespread use of modern concrete. This form of construction is now only used to maintain historic structures and in demonstration projects to keep the knowledge of these construction techniques alive.

Turf Building Presentation
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Turf Building Presentation

Much like in Scotland, turf building is in serious decline, this leads to a skills shortage and a danger that the skills might eventually be lost.
The beauty of turf building is that it has evolved over generations in response to factors such as the socioeconomic
changes, materials shortage and the effects of the everchanging climate climate.

Thankfully, the work that Skagafjörður Heritage Museum is doing, helps to keep the skills and knowledge alive.

Icelandic Turf Building – Tools and their uses.
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Icelandic Turf Building – Tools and their uses.

What is sometimes forgotten though is that for traditional trades to be carried out in a truly traditional way they rely on the correct tools being available. This is felt in the UK – at present a number of tool making crafts feature on the Heritage Crafts Association ‘Red List of Endangered Crafts’. This is not an issue unique to the UK. It became apparent that sourcing replacement parts for the Icelandic turf building tools, the turf scythe in particular, was a challenge

Tyrfingsstaðir – Iceland 2017
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Tyrfingsstaðir – Iceland 2017

we headed up the valley to Tyrfingsstaðir to begin our first day of turf building. Here we donned bright waterproof cagoules and met Helgi Sigurðsson, our turf-building teacher and expert. Sigurður Björnsson and Kristín Jóhannsdóttir own and live on the farm.

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