Iceland is a place of frost
and smoky plumes of fire.
Brilliant colors light the sky
while hot springs warm the mire.
It's there that Vikings, trolls and beasts
seek shelter from the nights.
It's also where my tale begins
beneath the northern lights.
These are the opening lines of The Secret Saga of Uvies. "It's a children's story," says its creator, Ögn Magnusson, "of how the elves in Iceland came to have their special powers."
Ögn has expressed her artistic powers with a professional saga of her own: Art Director, Catalog Designer & Photographer, Creative Director, Industrial Designer, and, her favorite post, Graphic Arts Manager for the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. But this artist, like Iceland herself, has an independent streak. Expressing herself outside the corporate arena, Ögn is making a name for herself creating a digital dream world inspired by the Viking gods themselves. And so, like all proper Icelandic tales, Ögn's story must start on a piece of land surrounded by water...
She grew up in Point Roberts, that small peninsula originally settled by Icelanders, just before the turn of the last century.
"The family home was built from discarded fish traps that washed up on the beach. It was built by my Afi [grandfather], Magnús Magnússon. We still own it today."
Back then, Point Roberts-based Alaska Packers was known as the second largest cannery on the West Coast. "It took only one Icelander to tell his friends back home about the place, and then eventually a whole Icelandic community developed."
Point Roberts was designated as a naval reserve. So the Icelanders--who were basically squatters--sent a letter to President Roosevelt, and requested to have Point Roberts opened up for homesteading.
In those days, everyone took the mail boat to Bellingham for supplies. So, all the men of the community gathered together and rode the mail boat to Bellingham to receive the president's determination: The shoreline was too shallow for large ships. Homesteading would be allowed.
When they returned, the women were all on the shore waiting for the mail boat to come in. The men disembarked and ran towards the women, shouting the good news. Today this whole scene is re-enacted every year at the Lighthouse.
"My sister Kristin claims that the only reason it is still going on is so all the old men get to chase after the women and hug them."
Ögn's grandparents were able to get 80 acres of homestead land. Amma Ögn raised many sheep--there is a photo of her with them as you walk into the Icelandic Room in the Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard. Afi fished, and was the head pipe fitter for the Alaska Packers Cannery at Lily Point. There is also a photo of him in one of the road crew photos from Point Roberts at the Nordic Museum. They had three sons, Sigurdur, Mundi and Ögn's father Agnar, the youngest and only member of the family to be born there.
"We all grew up in that same little house built out of fish traps. My mother says she kept me outside for part of every day for my first year, wrapped warmly in a buggy below the kitchen window.
"As a child, I thought everyone was Icelandic. I heard the language all the time, but when I tried to get my father to teach it to me, he would say, 'Oh no. Icelandic isn't international enough to be of any use to you. You should learn French or other languages.' My older sister Kristin took this advice, and decided to room at the International House at the University of Washington, in order to improve her Spanish. The next thing we knew, she was getting married to a Colombian who sat across from her in the dining hall. After that my father didn't seem to mind my wanting to learn Icelandic."
When Ögn was four, her brother Trygve was born. They went everywhere together, even later to Iceland.
"We spent our childhood floating around on logs in the water at the fabulous beach, Boundary Bay, in Point Roberts. We grew up looking for elves in the woods, building homes for them in case they were shivering with cold in the winter. Our sister, Kristin, who was older, showed us where they lived. Apparently some of them resided in some our of father's broken down old trucks and machinery on the property. Trygve was gifted mechanically, and later became engineer on a commercial fishing vessel, following in our father and grandfather's footsteps."
Ögn's parents also encouraged her artistic side. They sent her to art school, acting school, and to music lessons.
"When I was sixteen, I was accepted to the Banff School of Fine Arts in the Rocky Mountains, where I spent the summer. My mother always said that when I was peeved with her and my father, I would just go into my room and stay there for hours. When I reappeared, I'd have a painting to show for the time I had spent. I have been lucky. Art has always been my outlet."
When she was seventeen, Ögn went to live in Iceland. It forever changed the way she sees the world.
"Iceland is untamed in many ways--it's landscape, it's people, it's horses, it's beliefs, and the way things are looked at. All are kind of wild in their way. It's also a kind of honest place to live. I didn't find that people were trying to be what they actually are not. I love the language, and although I don't find it easy, nor have I mastered it, I love the way it sounds. It's like home to me. My friend, Leif Karlsen, who wrote Secrets of the Viking Navigators, found a saga where my name, and my Amma's name, originated. The character is Ögn, a Viking Queen. I have read and re-read many of the sagas, and am fascinated with the era of history that they depict."
THE BIG TIME
As an adult, Ögn's enchanted design sense became a good match to the magic of Las Vegas. She designed advertising for big name acts such as Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Buffet, Cher, Britney Spears, Sting, NSync, Roger Waters, Pearl Jam, Sarah Brightman, and many more.
"My office at MGM Grand, the largest hotel in the world, was backstage to the EFX theatre. When they were rehearsing, my office would literally shake from the sound and vibrations. If you went out a door in the back of my office, there was a hidden catwalk that protruded right out over the stage, but could not be seen from the audience. I loved that catwalk. It allowed me to watch bits of rehearsals, exotic people from around the world. Although the most beloved entertainer that I hung out with in Las Vegas was Merle Haggard. And it's a small world--his fiddle player had played many times at one of the taverns in Point Roberts years before."
[Ögn has a website dedicated to her artwork from Las Vegas at www.art-world.net]
Although Ögn is still working as a Creative Director, she has returned to her real passion, creating original art.
"Portraits, mermaids, wild abstracts, seascapes, illustrations for children’s books, and many other images. Only now I create them digitally. It's a combination of creating vector drawings in the software Illustrator, and then exporting them. Then I utilize many digital airbrushes and other techniques in PhotoShop, and other programs. It is all done on the computer, although originally I created all my art in traditional mediums. The commercial art in Vegas, the rock star portraits, and the art for my children's book have all been created digitally this way. Some of my digital paintings have over 600 layers."
And many of them have been influenced by Ögn's Icelandic heritage, and are named in Icelandic.
[The paintings are for sale at www.etsy.com. Just type Ogn in the search window, and that will take you to her page.]
THE OLD ARTS
Despite mastering art in the digital age, Ögn can't resist the traditional nordic arts.
"Recently, I have begun to bring back to life beautiful old chairs by recycling them, repainting them, and adding tile and glass stones to them."
The one pictured here is called Sestu a andlit mitt. In English that's Sit on my face.
"It's a recycled, re-utilized, green antique art chair." Hand painted with Ögn's original mermaid art tile.
Q&A with Ögn
What inspired your children's book?
I think it may have originated during my childhood with elves. But the book also includes Vikings, Trolls, Icelandic horses, and the unbelievable Icelandic landscape, including the Northern Lights. These are all things that I love and wanted to share with the world.
What Icelandic creative types currently inspire you?
Well, I like to listen to SigurRos. And I love two authors. The first one is Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, and the second is Arnaldur Indridason. I met Yrsa in Seattle. She's cool. She read the opening passage to her next book, which was so chilling, I almost didn't read it. But in the end I couldn't resist.
Your name is from a Viking queen. So what parts of Viking culture are still relevant?
So many things. Starting with the democratic way of dealing with crimes, such as the Althing. I love reading Njal's Saga, where Njal acts as a lawyer, trying to bring justice to his cases. This was a radical concept 1,000 years ago. I couldn't help but include this idea of attempting to settle quarrels without violence in my book Secret Saga of Uvies, in a very simplistic way. And respect for women. I think the seed of this concept may have started with the Vikings. What other culture at that time allowed their women to have a say in who they married and how things were run? And fashion! The Vikings liked to be fashionable and trendy, Just look at their jewelry. And where else would there be a highly respected man nicknamed "Olaf Peacock?" When they traded for silver with the Arabs, they melted the silver coins down, and made them into jewelry.
How did Leif manage to include you in Secrets of the Viking Navigators?
Right before it was going to press, Leif told me that he had "written" me into his book. I didn't see how that could be when it was a non fiction subject. But the first part of the book is a fictional story about a young Norwegian Viking who commissions the building of a knarr to sail to Iceland with. He told me, 'In my story, I married you off to Thor, and your father gives you both some sheep as a wedding present'. Then, because my father Agnar and my brother Trygve were both dead, I asked him if he could change the names in the story. And he did. My father in the story is Agnar, just like in real life, and I marry Trygve instead of Thor. A bit kinky, but I figured--what the heck? He's dead, and probably won't mind.
"It's my hope to move back to our family home next spring, the Elskan House in Point Roberts. That will finally bring me to working independently. I would like to try a few UNtraditional seascapes. The ocean views in Point Roberts looking toward the San Juan Islands and the Gulf Islands are incredible. And I just know that some mermaids (who might like to have their portraits painted) must reside somewhere in the vicinity."
my interviews w/