Sæmundur was born on Barðaströnd in the West Fjords, where he worked at sea and on the land until he was thirty. In 1948 he moved to Reykjavík, where he worked at the fertiliser plant at Gufunes. In his later years he started to carve trunks of driftwood to make human figures – mainly female. If the male figures did not sell, he simply changed their sex. Sæmundur searched out driftwood along the south coast and elsewhere, brought the trunks home and dried them out in a tent, before taking them into his garage where he conjured up the beings he felt resided within each trunk. His works are sought-after, almost status symbols, in Icelandic homes. They are highly diverse – large and small, some with metallic hair or a painted hat of woodchips, sawdust and adhesive.
One of the striking features of Sæmundur’s figures is that they have no arms – he does not affix limbs or carve them out of the trunk – so the figures are slender and streamlined. Some have a belt of fishskin, while eyebrows are made of marigolds and eyelashes of broom bristles. Sæmundur took part in the first exhibition of folk art in Iceland, held at Gallery SÚM and Ásmundarsalur in 1974 on the initiative of novelist Guðbergur Bergsson. He subse- quently held many solo exhibitions, and his work has been showcased many times at the Icelandic Folk and Outsider Art Museum. At his death he left a large body of work, over 400 figures.