All discussions about 20th century Swedish rugs begin with Märta Måås-Fjetterström (note all those nifty Swedish vowels!) — familiarly known as MMF. An astonishingly prolific designer, she founded her own weaving studio at the age of 46, and over the course of her lifetime, designed somewhere in the neighborhood of 650 different rugs and tapestries. Many of the most talented designers in the country later worked for her studio.
Yes, this blog is mostly about mid-century Swedish rugs, but one can’t ignore MMF’s amazing legacy. Her earlier pieces fall outside my 1935-65 parameters, but are worth looking at to understand her later work, and that of the weavers who followed her. She designed gobelin tapestries, like this one, in the style of the Swedish romantic movement. She also designed rölakan, the typically Swedish version of a kilim or flatweave rug, flossa or pile rugs and half-flossa, which had a rölakan base with tufts of pile. (I’ll look at all of these rug types in later posts).
Born in 1873 in rural Skåne– which is the southernmost county (in Swedish a county is called lån, a word which will come up again in these blog posts), Märta loved to draw, and thought she wanted to be an illustrator when she grew up. Being the second-eldest of 8 children and daughter of a minister, she seems to have decided she needed a more practical occupation. She trained as a weaver, but many of her earliest pieces show a distinct story-telling impulse.
The piece shown below is called “Staffan Stalledräng” (Stephan the Stableboy), based on a Swedish folksong about a stableboy and his horses. In one version he so kindly tends the horses on Chrismas eve that he misses the celebration. In repayment, Stephen is given a magical vision of a starry sky. In another version, there are 2 red horses, 2 white and one dapple grey, and Stephen is riding. In this piece, one version of the text is woven into the tapestry, as are the horses and stars. Märta herself said that it was the vision of a starry sky captured in a blue oriental carpet which prompted her to design this piece.
The story-telling charm of this piece belies its importance: it was the composition of this piece which –unintentionally–set Märta on her independent course. She had been working as a “pattern constructor” for the Craft Society of Malmö (Malmöhus låns hemslöjd), whose intention was to revive the traditional folk and peasant traditions of Skåne, and to encourage the traditional practice of home-weaving using beloved and familiar patterns — not to create new ones. With her submission of this much too untraditional piece to the 1909 Stockholm Exhibition, the Board of the Malmö Craft Society felt they had no option but to fire her. Happily for the history of Swedish rugs, Marta moved on.
Lundgren, Tyra. Märta Måås-Fjetterström och väv-verkstaden i Båstad, Bonniers 1968.
Mårta Måås-Fjetterström, catalog of exhibition Märta flyer igen! 90 år med Märta Måås- Fjetterström 3.10 2009 – 6.1 2010, Liljevalchs Konsthall, 2009.
Röhsska Museum website article on Steffan Stalledräng at http://www.rhosska.se/en/814