Hanna Dís Whitehead
Hanna lives and works in Hornafjördur, a starkly beautiful place around 500km from reykjavik. Her studies had taken her as far as denmark before the icelandic landscape drew her back.
Hanna Dís Whitehead lives and works in Hornafjördur in Southeast Iceland, around 500km from the capital Reykjavík.
She first travelled to Hornafjördur 16 years ago and it was in this starkly beautiful place she met her partner, whose family were farmers in the area. Hanna’s studies in design had taken her to Denmark then to the Design Academy in Eindhoven, but the Icelandic landscape drew her back:
“My friends think I’m a little bit crazy, that I like to be nowhere. I enjoy travelling to Reykjavík or London but when I’m back here time slows down a bit.” It’s a place where Hanna’s design identity has had space to develop:
“I’ve been lucky in a way, I’ve been allowed to be myself, I am my own boss. I trust my gut feeling when making decisions.In Hornafjördur, Hanna’s natural borders are the mighty Vatnajökull glacier, the Atlantic Ocean and mountain peaks such as Eystrahorn and Ketillaugarfjall.The designer’s atelier is a converted outbuilding in the grounds of the old farmhouse she shares with her partner and three young children.
“I’m still seeing something new every day after 16 years, in the city of course you see new houses, new people; here you see new things in the nature.”
“There is always some kind of story behind every piece, I’m very process driven, the story evolves during the project then in the end I can tell it.”
“My friends think I’m a little bit crazy, that I like to be nowhere. I enjoy travelling to Reykjavík or London but when I’m back here time slows down a bit.”
Home is a landscape of craggy mountains, black sand and ice. Yet Hanna’s work is characterised by its vibrant colour: “Colour has so much character. A part of my process is when the colour comes in, then it comes alive. But the colours here are very interesting, the glaciers turn blue, the skies are all different colours, the greens are endless. You absorb it.”
Despite her mother being an artist, Hanna always imagined herself following a more practical path, her early ambition was to be a surgeon.
“I was not one of those kids who was always drawing. I didn’t really know about design; I only knew I wasn’t an artist. Someone suggested I try design then I thought ‘oh, I can do that’, it was somehow more practical, it’s funny now because some would not describe me as the most practical designer.
Hanna’s work has a unifying thread of storytelling that weaves together the colours and the shapes she selects: “There is always some kind of story behind every piece, I’m very process driven, the story evolves during the project then in the end I can tell it.”
When it comes to process, Hanna has a simple goal that also becomes an essential component in how she works: “I have a lot of fun making stuff, it’s a very joyful process. This joyful playfulness is evident in the way Hanna experiments with functionality; handles are placed in unusual positions, circles are pulled apart to be recreated.
“It’s a game. I didn’t give the pieces a specific function, I play with putting handles everywhere, inside, outside. People look at them and form their own opinions.” Aside from printing her textiles, all Hanna’s work is produced in her remote workshop. She laments the Viking’s clearance of Icelandic wood but, with reforestation underway, relishes the prospect of one day creating furniture using local wood.
Craft, fashion, art, materials are all passions; in the winter travel to Reykjavík can be difficult but inspiration is never far from hand: “I’ve always been a book person and treat myself to books on various subjects. I use the books as tools. My library is in my atelier, I find inspiration there.”