Iceland is Great!

Aurora Borealis in Iceland

Aurora Borealis in Iceland. © Arnar Valdimarsson_flickr

When we make our return trip to Iceland, there are many things we don’t want to miss.

Within a week or less, you can explore  geysers, waterfalls, geothermal hot springs, boiling mud pools, bird sanctuaries and more!  We also want to have more time in Reykjavik, the world’s northernmost capital.

Fred in Reykjavik © Sharon Lundahl

Iceland is a very young country, geologically speaking.   Its creation, which continues today, began less than 20 million years ago.  Volcanic eruptions on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean created a mountain extending above sea level, which is the island of Iceland.  That is why the volcanic character of Iceland results in so many unusual beautiful natural sites which you can visit and explore with a camera.  You can see volcanoes, mountains of pumice, fields of volcanic ash, lava fields and craters.

Icelandic Girls © Sharon Lundahl

As Iceland is far north, you can also see interaction between volcanic activity and water or ice.  Visit Kverkfjöll, where hot springs rising beneath the Vatnajökull glacier have made beautiful ice caves.  Ten per cent of Iceland is covered with glaciers, which are naturally white.  When volcanic ash has fallen you will see black or layers of white and black.  When the glaciers retreat, you can see fantastic lakes with floating icebergs such as the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon.

Puffin on the Látrabjarg Cliffs, Iceland

Puffin on the Látrabjarg Cliffs. © Kendrickhang_flickr

As Iceland is very young, there are few insect species and only a small number of wild mammals, most of which were introduced by man.  Bird species are increasing, as the birds discover Iceland.  You can’t miss a visit to the northern birds such as the puffing and the ptarmigan.

The legendary first settler, Ingolfur Arnarson, in about 874 AD,named the settlement Reykjavik (“Smoky Bay”) because he saw misty geo-thermal steam rising from the ground.

Húsavík is the major whale watching spot,

Húsavík, for Whale Watching. © Pet_r_flickr

Today it is a major source of energy, as this pollution-free energy source heats homes and outdoor swimming pools throughout the city.

Visit Reykjavik in the spring for their Arts Festival or in the fall for the Airwaves Music festival.  We also want to see a performance in the new Reykjavik concert and Conference Center.  If you like to stay up late, summer brings 24-hour daylight.

Take a swim and a steam in the beautiful Blue Lagoon!

Blue Lagoon Iceland

The Blue Lagoon. © Peter Nijenhuis_flickr

Vikings + Irish = Iceland


Iceland. © Arjen Toet_flickr

In about the year 900 some Vikings grabbed a bunch of Irish lasses and emigrated to the island of Iceland, where they started an unusual country on a big lava rock.

We stopped there recently on our way to an international rug conference in Stockholm, about which we will write later.

Icelandic Language Reykjavik

Icelandic Language on Sign © Sharon Lundahl

The Icelanders kept their Viking language to this day, which is very strange.  Icelandic is so similar to what those Vikings spoke that most of their ancient literature can be read by modern people.  It’s fun to check out the interesting long street names, such as Skólavör∂ustígur Street.

The country is about the size of Kentucky, with a population of only 300,000.  About 160,00 people  live in the capital of Reykjavik, which has no buildings higher than four stories.  It’s fun to walk the streets; with its colorful houses and friendly people, Reykjavik is like  a big village.

Colorful houses in Reykjavik © Sharon Lundahl

In spite of Iceland being a very very small country, we were impressed by the creative and artistic ability of the Icelandic people.  The local shops are full of great design, such as silver and lava jewelry, and unusual and beautiful clothing.

Iceland is one of the places where the earth’s crust is thinnest.   In Iceland it can be just a few kilometers thick, while in most of Europe it is 40 to 60 km thick.

Fred in Iceland © Sharon Lundahl

Volcano eruptions are common, although not usually as big as the one a year ago which paralyzed air traffic and stranded travelers all over Europe.   There is an Icelandic word to describe the darkness after the eruption when ash blocks out the sun, stars and lights; it is “oskumyrkur” which translates to “ash darkness”.

There is too much to say about our impressions of Iceland in this one article, so the next will be: Things to See and Do in Iceland!

Young Icelanders

Young Icelanders © Sharon Lundahl

A Good Story from Afghanistan

Lapis Lazuli Afghanistan Tribal Jewelry

Asadullah Working with Lapis © Peer Nazar

It is great to share actual pictures of young Afghans working to process lapis lazuli stones in Balkh Province.  Asadullah is from Qultaq Village in Dawlat Abad and is 20 years old.  This hard-working young man is drilling tiny 2mm micro lapis beads.  He has been working for two years and earns the equivalent of $ 7,000 U.S. per year.

Lapis Lazuli Worker Afghanistan Tribal Jewelry

Hait Murad Cutting Micro Beads © Peer Nazar

Hait Murad, another ethnic Turkmen lapis worker from the same village, is 25 years old.  He has been working for 10 years and earns the equivalent of $ 10,000 U.S. per year.  Notice his Afghan “mosque hat” made in Pakistan.

In their village, there is no main power, so they use this generator to provide power

Afghanistan Lapis lazuli Balkh Province

Electricity for the Workshop © Peer Nazar

for their drills and light to work.

There are only 15 people employed in this area, so these young Afghans feed and support large extended families.

Peer Nazar, the Afghan merchant who sends me their lapis beads to sell in our store, says that conditions are better now; there is no tribal war or terrorism, and there is peace in their area.

A Sharpener Powered by a Bicycle © Peer Nazar

The young men invented this sharpener using a bicycle for power and to sew.

What is amazing is that these Turkmen people have carved out a life for themselves in this village with no assistance and no leadership.  They carried the lapis lazuli stones from the mines in Badakhshan and set up the processing facility by themselves.

It is even more serendipitous that we have made contact with these people through Peer Nazar and are able to sell their beads in Langley, Washington.

Lapis Lazuli Tribal Jewelry Afghanistan

Abdul Rehman and M. Qayoom Grinding Beads © Peer Nazar

Talks at “Music for the Eyes”

Fred Lundahl, speaker and owner of Music for the Eyes

Fred Lundahl will give four talks this summer in our shop in Langley, “Music for the Eyes.”

These will focus on the history and handicrafts of each of four of the former-Soviet Central Asian countries, as follows:

11 June:  Tajikistan

10 July:  Turkmenistan

14 August:  Kyrgyzstan

11 September:  Uzbekistan

These will all be on Saturday or Sunday evenings, from 5:30 to 7:00 PM.   Attendance is free, and we welcome guests to bring any rugs or handicrafts from these Central Asian countries.

Fred as a pirate in April "Whale's Day Parade" in Langley

The “Muse and I” Concert

Music Concert WA Langley Music for the Eyes

Ro Purser and Russell Clepper Playing at Music for the Eyes

In March, Whidbey Island musicians performed a  “shop concert” at Music for the Eyes.

This time around thirty guests heard  acoustic guitar music and songs by Russell Clepper, accompanied on seven-string dobro slide guitar by popular Whidbey musician Ro Purser.  Additional vocals were provided by Sarah Primrose, who is the “Muse” to Clepper’s “I” in the ongoing “Muse and I” tour the duo is presently carrying out in Texas and the southwest.

Clepper’s diverse folk and country-style songs reflect his roots in both Quebec, Canada and Texas.  On our “You Tube” channel, we have placed four of Clepper’s songs from his concert at our shop–two in English and two in French.

We hope you will enjoy them and will also have a chance to hear Russell, Sarah and Ro in person at various venues this summer in Langley.

1)  “Steal My Car”

“Steal My Car” on YouTube

2)  “La Valse A Gaetan”

“La Valse A Gaetan” on YouTube

3)  The Streets of Quebec

“The Streets of Quebec” on YouTube

4)  “Fiddle and the Bow”

“Fiddle and the Bow” on YouTube

“East Meets West” Concert at Music for the Eyes

Indian music tabla santoor

Concert in "Music for the Eyes"

On February 12, 2011, “Music for the Eyes” rug and jewelry shop in Langley on Whidbey Island hosted another of its periodic shop concerts.

The evening of classical Indian (South Asian) music was arranged by Whidbey Island’s own world music impresario Bob Effretz and featured Ms. Anjali Joshi on santoor and Mr. Ravi Albright on tabla.

The santoor is a hammer dulcimer-type instrument, and the tabla is a double-drum set, both long used in classical Indian music.  The musicians, visiting from Seattle, sat on a pile of carpets to play their instruments, and an appreciative crowd of 40 or so attended the concert.   Click this for a classical selection from the concert:

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One of the highlights of the concert was a fusion of Eastern and Western music when Bob Effretz, playing his own hammer dulcimer, joined the other two musicians in playing a very inventive version of the old favorite, “The Irish Washerwoman.”  Contributing yet a third element to the mix, Bob added the drone of his aboriginal didgeridoo to this musical number.  To hear the piece, click on:

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The two videos provided on this blog provide a view of both one of the classical pieces played by Ms. Joshi and Mr. Albright, as well as the cheerful “Irish Washerwoman” fusion piece.

Music India santoor tabla Music for the Eyes

Musicians playing Tabla and Santoor © captivate_flickr

The Little Yurt That Traveled to Both Washingtons

Kyrgyz Yurt or Trellis Tent. © Sharon Lundahl

The Lundahls love yurts.  Living in Central Asia, where the people have lived in these round portable tents for centuries, the owners of “Music for the Eyes” have slept in yurts, have eaten (mutton) in yurts and have drunk (fermented horse milk) in yurts.

Along the way, they have collected a large number of yurt bands, yurt rugs and yurt hangings of many kinds—all of which can be seen in their shop on Whidbey Island in Washington State.

Traditional Central Asian Yurts at Festival of Falconry © Angus Kirk_flickr

When the Lundahls lived in Kyrgyzstan, one of their best friends was Fikret Ozdin, whose business, “Asahi,” produced modern versions of Kyrgyz felt, weaving and embroidery.  Upon their departure, the girls in Ozdin’s workshops made the Lundahls a fantastic model yurt, complete with tiny rugs, wall embroideries, and little people and animals.

In 2007 another friend, Richard Isaacson, put on an exhibition “Architectural Textiles: Tent Bands of Central Asia “ at the Textile Museum in Washington DC and wrote a wonderful accompanying text.     He asked for the Lundahls’ model yurt to be used as an illustration of this home of nomadic Kyrgyz.  In fact, the model yurt traveled to Washington D.C. and, reportedly, was a star of the exhibition.

Model Kyrgyz Yurt Kyrgyzstan Textile

Model Kyrgyz Yurt or Trellis Tent

What we call a “yurt”… Isaacson says is better described as a trellis tent.    Because the wooden struts could be taken down from the roof wheel fairly easily and could be transported to and from high mountain pastures, the trellis tent facilitated the life of nomads in Central Asia for more than a thousand years.

What are yurt bands or  tent bands?  First, they are structural components which wrap around the wood poles and strengthen and hold them together with tension.

Kazakh in yurt with food for guests.

Kazakh in Yurt with Food for Guests © Engle & Smith_flickr

Second, the Kyrgyz wove decorative bands, sometimes with dangles, just for their beauty in the yurt.  If you visit our shop, or even our home, you will see that we have used these beautiful bands for that purpose.  They are often about a foot wide by 50 feet long and were woven on a narrow loom on the ground.   They could take as long as a rug to weave, even up to from one to three years.

Check out this link for a video on the exhibition of tent bands:

The Lakai Tribe of Central Asia

The Wakan Valley in Tajikistan © Robert Thomson_flickr

The Wakan Valley in Tajikistan © Robert Thomson_flickr

The Uzbek-speaking Lakai are the only real nomads remaining in Central Asia.  Some Lakai, and their closely affiliated groups–the Kungrat and the Mangit–have settled into villages in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

A thousand or so Lakai, however, still migrate with their herds of animals and complete households every summer from the hot plains of southern Tajikistan to summer pastures in the mountains of northern Tajikistan.  When winter approaches, the Lakai move again to the southern plains.

Lakai Shield centralasia silkroad

Lakai Shield Embroidery © Fred Lundahl

Their migration route takes them straight through the Tajikistan capital of Dushanbe, where police block off streets to allow huge herds of animals and numbers of nomad families to move through the city.  The Lakai have camels, horses, goats and sheep, but move their households of tents, clothes, furniture and cooking utensils by truck rather than on pack animals now.

The Lakai, at least since the Russian Revolution, have not woven carpets…probably because they have few sheep, preferring goats in modern times.  They have become–instead of rug weavers–accomplished embroidery makers, using several different embroidery stitches with bright primary colors of silk thread.

Lakai tribe centralasia silkroad

Lakai Bag Made into Seat © Fred Lundahl

Lakai women decorate almost anything made of cloth in their households–horse covers, saddle covers, shawls, dresses, hats, wedding head-dresses, bedding covers, container bags, tent bands, and door frame surrounds.   They even keep mirrors in special embroidered mirror bags.

In the 19th century, the Lakai embroidered on homespun rough wool or cotton fabric dyed with madder root to various shades of red.  In the 20th century, the Lakai moved to using machine-made cotton fabric, still favoring  bright red as background to their embroideries.

Uzbekistan Lakai flatweave kilim carpet

Lakai Wall Hanging © Sharon Lundahl

Tibetan Aprons Tell A Story

Kathmandu Nepal Tibetan Aprons

Tibetan Women with Aprons and Modern Dress © Sharon Lundahl

During our recent trip to Nepal, we met Tibetans who are trying to save the art and culture of “pangdens”…the colorful woolen aprons that Tibetan women wore as part of  their traditional dress.  Even though many of these Tibetans are now in exile in Nepal, India, or other places, many women still wear their aprons, the stripes of which identify their home area and village..

Today, sadly, synthetic materials are replacing the original woolen fabrics, which were dyed and woven in traditional ways.

Tibetan Aprons Vegetable Dyes

Old Tibetan Aprons © Sharon Lundahl

In the traditional old ways of animal husbandry, the wool was considered purer if the animals fed on uncontaminated, clean grass.

The “pangden” striped apron is sewn of three narrow pieces of horizontally striped fabric woven on a “pit loom”.  Weaving on a portable loom enabled nomadic Tibetans to carry their unfinished work along with them when they moved their flocks of animals.

The warp is usually woven from wool or cotton, and the weft from wool.  The dyes were natural, vegetable dyes, except for a pink chemical dye  with which the women liked to brighten their work.   The vegetable dyes were grown in the wearer’s home area, which contributed to the unique quality of each apron.   You could identify a Tibetan lady’s home village, just by reading the “language” of her apron’s different colored stripes.

Tsering Pasang Tibetan Aprons Kathmandu Nepal

Tsering Pasang © Sharon Lundahl

In Kathmandu, at one of the world’s greatest Buddhist sites–Boudhanath–we met a man, Tsering Pasang, who has dedicated his life to preserving this very beautiful textile art.  Born and educated in exile in Nepal after his family fled from Tibet, Pasang has devoted his life to preserving this fragile Tibetan culture.

He buys old aprons and torn fragments of aprons and then cuts and designs them into works of art.

Cushion Covers Made from Aprons © Sharon Lundahl

The largest remaining pieces are sewn into beautiful quilts, using designs such as the mandala.   Smaller pieces end up as table runners and cushion covers (some of which we now have for sale in our store).

The money earned in the export of these items goes to support Tibetans in Nepal.   Worn-out aprons are unravelled and the woolen thread is used again in weaving rugs.  In addition, Pasang is teaching young weavers the craft of making new items of good quality.

Sometimes older Tibetan women are delighted when they can see a part of a design which represents their home village.  In this way exiled Tibetans can continue to feel a link to their past and to their home country of Tibet.

Nepal Kathmandu Tsering Pasang Fred Lundahl

Fred and Tsering Pasang © Sharon Lundahl