Axel Helgason at the age of 30
Axel Helgason was born on September 23rd, 1909 in a turf house in Reykjavik. His parents were Sigríður Björg Jónsdóttir and Helgi Þórðarson. Axel lived in the rural district of Hrunamannahreppur in South Iceland, studied carpentry and worked the largest part of his working life as a model maker, first for Guðjón Samúelsson, State Architect of Iceland, and later for the City of Reykjavik until he retired at the age of 80. In April 1940 he married Ragnheiður Arnórsdóttir.
Axel Helgason grew up in great poverty and despite his exceptional talents; growing rich from his work was never his motivation. He was an idealist who focused on his interests regardless of the earnings.
In 1916, when Axel was only 7 years old he was sent away to the farm Hrepphólar in Hrunamannahreppur district; due to poverty his parents could not afford to keep him.
From 1927 to 1932 he worked as a carpenter and soon it became apparent that he was an exceptional craftsman. Before long his interests shifted to model making and in 1933 he made his first embossed replica of Iceland. That replica adorned the wall of Austurbæjarskóli (one of Reykjavík´s elementary schools) for many years and still does.
Between 1934 and 1938, Axel made these embossed replicas to provide for himself and his family. He made them by hand in copper and concrete in four different sizes and they became very popular as souvenirs and gift items, with Icelanders as well as foreign visitors.
In 1940 Axel started working as a model maker for the City of Reykjavik. His job was to build models of the buildings that the city was about to have constructed. He worked closely with the State Architect of Iceland, Guðjón Samúelsson. Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavík’s most prominent church, is probably the most renowned building of which Axel made a model.
For many years, Axel worked on various projects for National Land Survey of Iceland. Among those were embossed relief maps of Iceland that he made out of epoxide around 1970. These maps became very popular as a wall decoration in homes and also were they used for teaching in most elementary schools in Iceland between 1976 and 1990.
Axel´s biggest and most time consuming project was he making of a 80m2 sized model of Iceland that he made together with four other modelers; Arni Hreidar Arnason, Jonas Magnusson, Kristjan Sigurdsson og Sigurður Halldorsson. That project took them 8 years to complete. The model was handpainted by Sigurdur Palsson. The model is one of the world´s biggest handmade relief map in the world and is now on display in Reykjavik City Hall.
This was Axel´s last project, he retired at the age of 80 and died in 2001 at 92.