Louisa and I traveled to rural Iceland for artist residencies in 2008 (before we devoted ourselves courtesy-of-farming to the idea of NOT going anywhere ever), and we spent several months driving around the country, exploring the rural communities and adoring the wondrous landscape. Because we were there in the fall, we had the opportunity to behold the annual sheep round-up (réttir), which occurs every year in late September. The shepherds still practice the centuries-old tradition of releasing their sheep in the spring and allowing them to graze freely up in the highlands for the summer months. In the fall, before Iceland's long and dark winter sets in, the farmers ride horses up into the mountains to track down the sheep, herd them up, and lead them back to town, where they are sorted out in the local corral ("réttir") and fetched up by their rightful farmers. It was a very neat experience for us, and in retrospect, it even went on to inform and inspire our own tradition of free-pasturing goats here at Big Picture Farm.
AND, we were struck -- on an aesthetic level -- by the infinitely varied and gorgeous coloring of Icelandic sheep fleece! In most sheep populations, the natural variations in color have been eliminated by selective breeding (as white wool is best for dyeing). But in Iceland, the most important attributes of the sheep are that it is hardy and produces plenty of meat, and so the natural colors have survived. And so we tracked down a small tannery in the middle of nowhere and brought home a few. That was years ago.
Now we are very excited to announce that we reached back out to that same small tannery in Iceland and have acquired some of their longwool beauties to offer up on our website. So here's the deal: each sheepskin comes from a small farm in Iceland, where the sheep are raised humanely, have a high quality of life, and continue to graze freely in the summer months. This particular breed of sheep have been roaming Iceland since 897, when the Vikings first came to the island (that year is stamped on the back of each sheepskin.) All the skins are processed in an eco-friendly way, using geothermal power (produced by the Earth’s internal heat), and come in a variety of natural colors, no two alike. Trust us, they are lovely to live with and they make great gifts.