In Iceland, the day that you are born, you are somebody, whether girl or boy. Your family name is your father’s, however, Icelanders take it one step further and tack on your gender. For example, when the artist Kristin Halldorsdottir was born in a small village inland from Reykjavik, she was given the name Kristin by her parents, but her surname was “the daughter of Halldors.” Had she been a boy, she would have been named “the son of Halldors.” This clears up any confusion in communications as to the gender of the newborn child, a matter of extreme importance in Iceland. In the Icelandic language, there are different greetings for males and females, nouns have gender as in German, and opportunities for girls, until recent times, have been limited.
Kristin Eyfells, the eldest of six children, grew up admiring her father, a rural doctor serving Icelandic families. He recognized her keen intellect early on and took her with him on his visits to his patients living on isolated farms throughout the territory. Very early in her life she developed an unquenchable ambition to make large contributions. Her interests were many. She loved clothing and design, psychology, music, photography and especially visual arts. By the time she met Jóhann Eyfells in Berkeley, California in 1948, she was already a very independent dress designer and businesswoman. She owned a dress shop in Reykjavik, while attending design school in Berkeley.
By the 1950’s, she was married to Jóhann and embarking on a new career as a painter and sculptor. Kristin would leave a lucrative career as a clothing industry entrepreneur to become a visual artists. Jóhann, would also eventually distance himself away from working as a licensed architect and ambitiously devote his life as a fine artist. With a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from the University of Florida, she continued her studies in fine art, applying all of her experiences and education toward her goal of producing formidable art.
What is great art? Simply put, it is art that has the power to change your thinking in a “truthful” way. It does not shock or offend, rather it brings you to new insights and heightens your esthetic appreciation of the world. This is what Kristin Eyfells attempted to do when she began painting people. Her most ambitious and recognized body of work is entitled “Famous Faces“, in which all of her subjects are people of notoriety. Not all of her subjects were famous though. She did a body of work entitled “Anonymous Faces” that reveal her subjects’ deepest feelings and strengths. In this series she wanted to focus on women whose surface beauty is defined by a mask of make up, yet still exposing underneath another more subtle mask of defensiveness, which suggests that Kristin, in spite of this double mask (mask within a mask) carried by her subjects, had the uncanny ability to reveal the inner beauty and vulnerability of the person through the layers of paint and color.
After 32 years of producing “great art”, Kristin Eyfells died in Orlando, Florida from complications brought on by a stroke. She was 85 years old. In 2003, Jóhann Eyfells moved to Fredericksburg, Texas from Orlando, and brought with him both his large body of work as well as Kristin’s. It was a monumental undertaking, but it presented him with a new challenge of being and creating without his life partner. He continues to work to this day on new bodies of work, and his major goal for the remaining years of his life is to see Kristin Eyfells, the artist, move to the forefront of American art. Presently, her “Famous Faces” series is being exhibited at the International Museum of Art and Science (IMAS) in McAllen, Texas.
We, here in the Hill Country, are lucky to have Kristin Halldorsdottir Eyfells’ large body of work housed at the Eyfells & Eyfells Sculpture & Art Ranch, just 5 miles west of Fredericksburg, Texas. Jóhann, her husband of 52 years, is also exhibiting her “Anonymous Faces” series in the Sunken Gallery. Outdoor visitors are welcome to come and visit anytime and see this exceptional collection.
Written by Sherryl Brown