Travel Journalist, Kendra Greene, Wants Us To Embrace The World’s More Offbeat Museums

Kendra Greene is a travel journalist who specializes in exposing some of the world’s most fascinating and unknown vacation spots.

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Greene is currently based in Europe, and has spent her time in lockdown writing/publishing her new novel “The Museum of Whales You Will Never See: Travels Among the Collectors of Iceland.” The book focuses on the small historical landmarks that Iceland has to offer. Many of the museums in her novel started as fun hobbies among friends, memorials for lost loved ones, and other more niche origin stories.

Greene describes her novel as less of an informative book about tourist locations to visit the next time we’re able to travel, and more of “an enchanted story of obsession, curation, and the peculiar magic of this isolated island.” 

Recently, she reflected on her time in Iceland and what she experienced while compiling information for her new novel. Greene discussed how she got her first museum job 18 years ago and ever since she was fascinated by how well-preserved so many of the artifacts and pieces within the museum were. This fascination stemmed from the fact that many of these smaller less established museums experienced countless natural disasters such as floods, fires, community-wide famines, and more, but have always been able to bounce back to continue to spread history. 

“If museums exist to make us pay attention, they offer two stripes of novelty: the thing so rare we have never seen it; and the ostensibly common thing we have never really managed to consider.”

Greene claims that Iceland is able to capture both of these novelties in every establishment. One of her favorite examples of this comes from the Sundry Collection, located in Iceland’s more isolated northern countryside. Within the collection patrons will see countless white boards with thousands of old nails sticking out of each of them. 

The nails in this establishment were collected over the years by the original owner of the collection, who would spend his free time restoring heritage houses. During his restorations he would collect all the old antique nails in the wall, and thus the museum collection began. Now the museum is full of old antique doorknobs, telephones, and more, but the nails are the real star of the show, and while antique nails may not compare to century old fossils in more mainstream museums, Greene describes the experience as unforgettable and unique. 

Greene took a total of seven trips to Iceland to collect information for her novel, and she never ran out of material either. According to her the nation has about one museum for every thousand people living in the country, many of which are just as unique, if not more, than the Sundry Collection.

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“Something I love about Iceland’s museums is how many of them start in a living room, or maybe a shed or a school basement or across your boss’ desk. Which is to say, they start on a human scale.”

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Greene claims she saw maybe one-third of all the museums that Iceland has to offer, but of the museums she saw she was more than impressed by the dedication that these otherwise regular citizens put into their collections. For example she describes one collector who she was able to interview at her home, where she described seeing a sofa covered in binders that are full of paper napkins. 

The same collector had another room full of old archived children’s toys from the early 20th century, as well as other textiles and fabric samples from fabric stores that used to thrive in Iceland. At the Herring Era Museum in northern Iceland, Greene describes a collection of artifacts that were found in the sea. Many of these collections highlighted older aspects of Icelandic culture, such as fishing for the herring or the hand stitching of old paper napkins. 

A lot of the material that is used in Greene’s book comes from chance encounters that she fell into while in Iceland. She describes visiting one small establishment, talking to the owner who then called his friend who he thought Greene needed to meet, and then from there she found herself talking in the kitchen of an antique paper napkin collector. 

The point of all of it, according to Greene, is to give a spotlight to passionate collectors who curate the parts of history they want to remember. It’s not about finding the oldest or rarest piece of art from a given period of time, or gathering the biggest crowds, it’s just about doing what they love and sharing that with the world. She hopes that after reading, many will look at the parts of their own personal histories and begin to curate the artifacts of their own life.