During a walk on any of Spitsbergen’s beautiful beaches, you can’t help it but be amazed about the impressive amounts of driftwood. Not only does it add a aesthetical aspect to the otherwise rather sterile shoreline, but it does also have a fascinating history: Just as Fridtjof Nansen did with his famous ship the Fram, did the wood drift all the way from Siberia with the pack ice across the Arctic Ocean and all the way to the north Atlantic, where it was thrown onto an arctic beach in Svalbard, Greenland, Iceland, Jan Mayen or Frans Josef Land.
Driftwood at Wigdehlpynten – Woodfjord, Spitsbergen
And there we have it. If you are a trapper, you can use it to build a hut (that was rarely done, too much effort) or as firewood (that was very common). I am not a trapper, but a photographer, so it was an obvious idea to use the driftwood to make picture frames. Can you imagine a more appropriate picture frame for arctic pictures than one made of driftwood from Spitsbergen?
Turning driftood into picture frames required more effort than we expected to begin with. We made the first serious attempts several years ago, when master carpenter Wolfgang Zach opened his carpenter’s workshop in Longyearbyen. He called his little company “Alt i 3”, which is a play of words: “3” is “tre” in Norwegian, which also means “tree” or “wood” at the same time. So it translates to “Everything out of wood”. We found also out that you do actually need a license to export driftwood from Spitsbergen, so that was another thing we had to take care of.
So I started collecting driftwood in small amounts. The first project was a bookshelf for our flat in Longyearbyen, and at the same time we started making the first prototypes of picture frames. We just had to find out what works well with this very special material. One of the discoveries that we made was that if you cut and sand it, it looks as fresh and new as a wooden board that you just bought in the building supply store. Which is of course not the idea with picture frames made from arctic driftwood. So I started looking for pieces of wood that had a good shape to start with. Most pieces of driftwood are not natural, but rather trees cut in forestry in Siberia or even ready-made boards. Completely natural driftwood – trees with roots – are actually quite rare.
Rolf Stange transporting driftwood to Longyearbyen.
I took this driftwood in small amounts to Longyearbyen, were it had to be stored and slowly dried over longer periods of time. Then, Wolfgang and I could start making the first picture frames in his carpenter’s workshop. After some experimenting, we had a prototype that we both liked, so the master carpenter could start to produce the first set of 16 picture frames – all of them were made by Wolfgang Zach in Longyearbyen.
Now, these had to get to Germany. If you know me, then it won’t surprise you to read that they travelled from Spitsbergen to Franeker in the Netherlands on the good sailing ship Antigua and from there via Münster and Dresden to my shipping department in northeastern Germany.
After this long journey from Siberia, down a river, with the ice across the Arctic Ocean to a beach in Spitsbergen, from there to Longyearbyen to Wolfang’s carpenter’s workshop, from there on a sailing ship to Europe. And there they are now, the very first series of 16 picture frames from Spitsbergen driftwood, available for the first time since November 2017.
Every single picture frame is a unique specimen. This has to do with the history of the wood, the natural character of the material, the manual production. So I took photographs of all frames, which you can see on this page (click here), which also has all the technical information (dimensions, price etc.)