Back in the early days of Eimskip, the century-old Icelandic shipping company would carry passengers as well as cargo on its journeys across the North Atlantic, including artists who would use their art to pay for their passage.

That tradition ended with the arrival of affordable air travel, but not before Eimskip had amassed a collection so big – in the thousands – that it keeps some of it in storage, using it to refresh the revolving collection of art in offices across the globe.

But the American division of the company, which is headquartered in Portland, is reviving that tradition. Over the last year, it has carried four artists – two photographers, a painter, and two documentary filmmakers – aboard its cargo vessels to Iceland.

“I don’t know why Eimskip started doing this, but I can tell you why we are doing it now,” said Larus Isfeld, managing director of Eimskip USA. “Business is about building relationships, building connections between our cultures. Artists can help with that.”

The Maine artists who have sailed with Eimskip on the so-called container residency include photographer Justin Levesque, painter Anneli Skaar, photographer Jonathan Laurence and documentary father-daughter filmmakers Tom Bell and Ihila Lesnikova.

While on board, the artists bunk in a small state room adjacent to the rest of the crew in the tall tower under the bridge, and are allowed to mingle with the small crew on the journey, eating dinner with them and watching them do their jobs.

Skaar was drawn to the residency as a way to get back to the Arctic. As a Norwegian American, she feels connected to the region, and both the imagery and the sense of loss that accompanies climate change strikes a deep chord in her.

“Loss is a great and terrible muse for an artist,” Skaar said. “It is beautiful, but tragic.”

While on board, Skaar took in the sights and sounds, and the haunting palette of colors, then retired to her room to paint. She barely saw her artistic partner, Laurence, who spent the trip scampering up the rafters of the ship, and even atop the bridge, for the perfect shot.

“It was an unforgettable experience,” Skaar said.

Eimskip will display the bartered works of these artists, and hopefully some from Eimskip’s historic collection, in their new American headquarters inside the refrigerated Americold storage facility that will be built next year, Isfeld said.

Eimskip has not selected its next artist-in-residence, but is considering several local musicians.