If you take a stroll along the Ægisida, where locals all year round and tourists in the summer season like to walk, you’ll at some point come across a tangled shape of bronze rising from a pile of boulders. At first perhaps you won’t even pay much attention to it, with the complicity of the beautiful seascape, especially in the high tide. It took me some time to get used to that weird bronze shape placed in the vicinity of an improvised football field; the very first time, from a huge distance, it looked to me like – I admit it with a little embarrassment – a wolf howling at the sky.
I must have watched too many Disney cartoons as I was growing up because the convoluted bronze is actually no wolf nor any other idealized beast. The statue, appropriately named Björgun (The Rescue), represents two stylized male human figures: one bravely standing over a fishhead-shaped wave and holding the other, apparently unconscious and on the verge of drowning, by the hand. A vision of the life of fishermen that puts the stress on brotherhood bonds and human values uniting Icelanders that until just a few years ago were mainly a folks of men – and women – of the sea. The author of Björgun is the renown Icelandic sculptor Ásmund Sveinsson.
Ásmund Sveinsson’s statue was originally cast in bronze in the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Ellingsen store in 1956 and later donated by the Ellingsen company during the Sjómannadagur (Seafarer’s Day) celebrations in 1986.
Othar Ellingsen, born in Norway and formerly a ship carpenter, moved to Iceland in the first years of the XX century where he soon became an important public figure. In 1916 he founded the Ellingsen company, specializing in fishing gear. Business was good and Ellingsen’s authority, especially thanks to his own qualities as a trustworthy businessman, grew stronger over the years. He led the company till 1934, when his son, also named Othar Ellingsen – which caused me a lot of confusion when I was looking for info on the web – took over. He remained in charge till 1992. Ellingsen hf. was bought and merged with Iceland Oil ltd. in 2001. Ellingsen’s field of interest after the merger shifted from the fishing industry, that had made its fortunes for decades, to travel and outdoor activities.
From rescuing hardened men of the sea in their perilous trade to helping wealthy camping enthusiasts with often too much time in their hands… Not bad for Ellingsen. But I wonder what is the moral of the story – if there is one.