6. The grand old lady

Nobody that paid Petra a visit, failed to recognize that she was a dedicated collector but not many people know that she not only collected minerals but marked pens, drinking cups an handkerchiefs are among the numerous small items that she collected, but in addition to this she left a large collection of various seashells. To build her seashell collection she had two distinctive methods. She either took long walks by the seaside or she took a group of children to the local fishermen to collect some fish guts to study on her kitchen floor. Petra, and her little helpers, found many rare species by using this perhaps unpleasant and smelly research technique.

When questioned Petra used to say that she had limited interest in geology and other natural sciences. She claimed that she was interested only in the beauty of nature, not the science behind it. This wasn't always the case because her letters show that through the years she had been corresponding with geologists, marine biologists and botanists. The letters are both answers to her questions about matters connected with geology and natural sciences and renderings of thanks for specimens that she contributed to scientific research. One of these specimens, that Petra sent to be researched, was a conch that a local boy found near his home. It proved to be special because one like it hadn't been found anywhere else in the world and was therefore given the name Stöðvarkóngur, to signify where it was found.

Even though Petra invited thousands of guests to view her collection every year, she didn´t like the attention that her life work had brought upon her. In 1995 the then president of Iceland, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, decorated Petra for her mineral collection, and on that occasion she was invited to a special dinner at Bessastaðir (the presidential residence), but Petra simply answered when asked: "No thank you." Her argument was simple: "I got this decoration for my stones and not for myself. It was the stones that were decorated!" After some persuasion from her family and friends she finally decided to go, and had a lovely time.

Petra disliked attention so much that, that all her live she tried to choose her clothes in such a way that she did not attract any attention. She never thought about fashion and never cared one bit about whether things were fashionable or not. She always felt so-called "better clothes" to be uncomfortable and "everything that goes with them" a waste of time. She never used make up or wore any kind of jewellery. When she travelled she carried a plastic bag instead of a handbag. Her taste was like an echo of her interests and how she lived her live.

Petra's interest in the wonders of the world was rooted in her respect for everything that belongs to it. In her one words: "I remember thinking that it was horrible to be unable to write a song or a poem about all the beautiful things that I have witnessed, not to be able to give something back. I have seen such beautiful things, incredible beauty that I can't express with words. Many times I sat down and admired God's creation. It's all so variable." These words prove that in her heart, Petra was an artist and she used the stones as her material for artistic expression. Her guestbooks show that many of her guests experience her museum as a work of art. So in her own way she fulfilled her dream of being able to "give something back" even though she might not have realized it.



A Time to say Goodbye (From the book Petra)

I often imagine myself in the mountains as I lay my head on the pillow

Petra Sveinsdóttir"I have been very fortunate as my health is concerned, particularly with my hands which I have used incessantly through my days. That must be due to my spending much of my time out of doors. I am by no means afraid of death. I do not expect to be able to keep going as if nothing had happened, but most surely I shall not be wiped out altogether. I do not necessarily believe that the Devil is lurking on one side of the road, trying to hunt me down, with God Almighty hovering on the other side and I am convinced that there is a lot more of exciting phenomenon’s in this world than meets the eye in our everyday existence. I do not regret anything, I am reconciled and I wouldn´t like to change anything, even if I could live life all over again. I do some knitting from dusk to dawn and I often imagine myself in the mountains as I lay my head on the pillow."

Petra passed away on January 10, 2012, six weeks after the book was published in Icelandic