4. The collector

A collector and a naturalist are two terms that have been used to describe Petra since she was a little girl. From the day she opened her eyes for the first time she perceived her surroundings differently from most of us and it is almost as her parents knew that when they named her. The word "Petra" simply means "stone" in Greek.

Petra began building her mineral collection when she and Nenni bought their house in 1946. The reason was that for the first time she could keep all the stones she found in one place. Before that time, she had found a lot of minerals and stones but she them left in their place because she couldn't store them. In a way, her collecting work had taken place in her mind until she could keep her stones in one place. "I knew where to go when I started my true collecting work", she explained.

For the first two decades of her collecting work, Petra almost solely looked for stones in the north slopes of the mountains in Stöðvarfjörður. She simply walked out of her front door and up to the mountains above her home. The reason was that it was extremely hard to travel around this part of East Iceland before 1962. The roads were primitive and no bridge over the river Stöðvará. Stöðvarfjörður was in that sense very remote and that limited Petra's possibilities to collect stones in neighbouring areas; therefore her minerals are mostly found in Stöðvarfjörður. Later she limited her collecting work to East Iceland and her collection is therefore first and foremost an example of the types of minerals that is to be found in that part of the country.

Many people think that a mineral collector must be a little bit weird and through the years Petra heard this from many different directions. Some people told her that she should be doing more "productive" things, like baking bread or doing something around the house that was more becoming a housewife like herself. Petra said she could understand that it appeared a little bit strange to spend so much time looking for stones, but on the other hand she did not care what others thought about her.

It is obvious that Petra had a special talent when it came to locating a beautiful stone. A number of people can tell stories of when Petra picked up a magnificent mineral from where they had been walking minutes before. Petra compared mineral collecting to hunting or fishing. She found something new in every stone and the thrill of finding or "hunting" a new one was one of the reasons she returned to the mountains for all these years, even though that feeling was mixed with a little bit of remorse. Petra always believed that the stones belonged to those who live in the wild nature, whoever they might be.


5. The collection

In the last three decades, hundreds of thousands of people visited Petra. Understandably this has affected the daily life of her family. Many of her guests, who come here to view her stones, fail to realize that they are visiting a private home. The house and garden, especially in the last few years, have taken the shape of a nature museum but never the less Sunnuhlíð was primarily Petra's home. She didn´t mind the inconvenience because she felt it very rewarding to be surrounded with all these people.

When the long Icelandic winter comes to an end, the task of spring-cleaning awaits the family. As one can imagine this is no easy task. First of all the fallen leaves, flowers and other plants have to be cleaned up along with all kinds of litter that blows into the garden during the winter. Next, all the stones, both in the garden and inside the house, are taken from the benches and shelves and cleaned. This takes a few days and that time is used to fix all the shelves and benches that are worn out or broken. This time is also used for all other kinds of maintenance and construction work that is necessary.

The summer and fall are a busy season for the family. For the last ten years the number of guests in Sunnuhlíð has increased steadily and reached 20.000 in 2003. In July and August, a few hundred guests pay a visit each day, and it is not uncommon to find over one hundred visitors viewing the collection at the same time. For the past few years Petra´s mineral collection has been the most popular tourist attraction in East Iceland.

Petra's guests come from all over the world and are sometimes a colourful group of people and through the years she had a number of memorable visits. Few years ago a group of twelve cyclists from Italy arrived. They had been travelling around Iceland for a few days when they were drenched in a rainstorm. Petra took them in, gave them food and shelter and dried all their clothes before they continued on their journey. In her guest-books, many stories similar to this one can be found. Many years ago three tired young Americans called in and Petra offered them to sit down with her family and have supper with them and then offered them a bed to sleep in through the night. Thank-you letters from them and many others that have enjoyed her hospitality, still arrive at Sunnuhlíð.

An American that had been seriously wounded in the Vietnam War and was bound to a wheel chair, visited Petra here once. His group didn't have a lot of time to view the mineral collection and when they had to leave, the disabled man refused to go. After three hours he finally agreed to leave but he told Petra that after the visit, he knew what kind of place was waiting for him after this life and therefore he found his condition to be more tolerable. Another tourist had a similar feeling when he visited Sunnuhlíð. He left his shoes by the gate and said that this was a holy place and it wasn't proper to walk around with his shoes on.

People come here for all kinds of reasons. Most of them because of the beauty of the minerals, others come because of their interest in geology and others still because they believe that the stones possess some energy or power. Many guests come here repeatedly, for example a geology professor that had visited Petra over twenty times along with his graduate students and a group from a German institution for the blind.

Many show a very strong reaction to what they experience inside the collection. Some guests have started to cry when they walk in to the house and others have said that they had a strong physical reaction when they viewed the stones. Whether a beautiful stone holds the power of healing will never be proven. On the other hand there are many that belief in these powers and visit Petra´s in large numbers each year.


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