Who are these girls in the window? And how old are they?
“Girls in the Window” is the name of one of the best-known flat-weave rugs designed by Edna Martin, and everyone has thought that it was designed between 1945-51. But I think that Martin’s design for the rug was inspired by a well-known photograph, also called “Girls in the Window” taken in 1960 by the New York photographer Ormond Gigli. Look at the Y shapes in the boxes on this rug, and see if you don’t see an echo of Gigli’s models. I think Martin too is playing with the idea of figures in a window — and having a little fun with the idea that the Y shape that seems like upraised arms can, upside down, look like skirts. Too much similarity of shapes and title to be coincidence for me!
Martin was Artistic Director of the Swedish Handicraft Association or Svensk Hemslöjd from 1945-51, so we have assumed that this rug was designed and woven by the Svensk Hemslöjd weavers during this period, since it is signed EM and SH. If the rug was in fact inspired by Gigli’s photograph, it must have been designed and woven later than we have thought, even after Martin left Svensk Hemslöjd and became head of another organization called the Friends of Handicrafts.
Gigli recounts how he saw a building across the street about to be demolished and imagined what it would look like with models in bright formal dress in each window. You can read his story here. In the window openings, the models pose as if in small boxes, unhampered by actual windows. Their bodies have a Y shape, arms upraised, framed by the windows. In Martin’s flat-weave rug, she has brilliantly abstracted the shape of the figures, the space behind them, and the outline of the window frame. And using different colored figures and frames, her textile captures the startling quality the women framed by the window openings. In her rug design, the pattern alternates up and down, so that it can be read in both directions. The triangle shape becomes both arms and skirts, and manages to be an abstraction of both at the same time.
Edna Martin, Flat-weave rug, Rölakan, Girls in the Window (“Flickorna i fönstret”)Executed by Svensk Hemslöjd. Signed: EM SH. 6’ 6” x 8 ‘3” (197 x 252 cm)sold by Bukowskis, Stockholm. Rug also produced in a blue version.
In her book, Swedish Textile Art, published after she retired as manager and artistic director of the Friends of Handicrafts, Edna Martin expressed her great interest in seeing textiles move from utilitarian functionality to become an art form in themselves. She postulated a new form of “textile picture.” Perhaps this piece was one of her own first steps in this direction.
I love the fact that these two different pieces of art, in such different media, are connected by their expression of a single idea. To me, the title and design of this rug seems to be too close to that of Gigli’s photograph for this to be a coincidence.
Bukowskis Auction House, online catalog for Moderna 587 sale, Oct. 20, 2015 , Object # 593
Martin, Edna and Beate Sydhoff, Svensk Textilkonst/ Swedish Textile Art, Liberforlag Stockholm, 1979.
Please reference as follows:
Whidden, Anne, “The Girls in the Window,” theswedishrugblog (December 3, 2015);
http:// theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (month/day/year)