How many curly pink objects… Ann-Mari Forsberg

…can you count in this tapestry?

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Ann-Mari Forsberg, Apotekt Rosendoften, gobelangteknik, 1964, 210×262 cm. This example, one of four, was woven by Sara Richter (whose initials are to the left of the green chest) and Birgitta Cervin in 1978-9.

This amusing and wonderful tapestry by Ann-Mari Forsberg (later Ann-Mari Lindbom) is called the “Rose-Scented Apothecary,” and was designed in 1964.

Forsberg herself grew up as the daughter of two pharmacists, but trained as a weaver and designed for the Märta Måås Fjetterström studio from the 1940s-60s. Her work was much admired for both its whimsicality and its technique, and often published. A story-teller who worked in the medium of textile, Forsberg’s tapestries capture the sense of bygone summers (Beehive, of 1961), and small-town life (this one; The Family Bakery, also 1964; and Medicinal Advice of 1971.)

Like a few other mid-century international designers such as the American Alexander Girard, Forsberg was inspired by folk art– in her case, the 18th-century style of textiles from Sweden’s southern county of Skåne.

I looked at these traditional folk textiles in my post of August 5, 2015. This fanciful work is a secular version of those earlier Skånian evocations of biblical scenes. It is not a small piece like those 18th and early 19th c. chair or carriage cushions; it measures almost 7’ x 9.’ Yet like those earlier woven testaments to faith, this tapestry captures a similar sense of wonder. Its subject is the old-fashioned kind of pharmacy where potions and remedies were concocted by the pharmacist himself, and were made out of familiar, if exotic, ingredients.

In” Rose-scented Apothecary,” Forsberg affectionately re-imagines the format and imagery of those traditional textiles. Drawing on those earlier chair covers and carriage cushions, she sets her figures and objects against a flat two-dimensional background, mingling flowers and figures in an ordered fashion, but without regard to scale or perspective. Using a red, rather than the traditional black ground, already lightens the piece.

The central figure of the apothecary himself is given an 18th- century wig and lace collar, in a humorous nod to those earlier textiles in which biblical figures are clothed in contemporary skirts, coats, hose, shoes and tricorn hats. Like many of those early Skånian weavings, the central figure is encircled, not by the traditional tight wreath of leaves, but here by a more casual arched frame, an almost accidental yellowish halo of roses, pears, garlic and crocus. Roses—those pink curly objects — are everywhere, framing a spiky urn on the lower left, and a giant basket on the lower right. Rose petals even make pale little arcs which define background and borders.

The upper right and left corners of the tapestry are visual catalogs of the sources of the apothecary’s wares: lemons, garlic, oranges, pears and pomegranates; jars of various scented waters: rose, cinnamon and currant; pitchers with flowers and berries steeping; and and all kinds of glass flasks and flagons for distilling scents.

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The apothecary, with his mortar and pestle and balance, stands behind another literal catalog: the drawers containing his herbs and dried flowers. Naming the ingredients— anise, lavender, salvia, cardamom, hyssop and others —on the drawer labels, evokes these scents. These are added to the all-pervasive rose scent, which is the theme of the tapestry itself. Even the curls of the apothecary’s wig echo the shapes of the rose petals: it is as though the rose scent pervades even his hair.

For me, this piece is one of the great pieces of 20th-century tapestry: a design tour-de-force of memory, humor and imagination –  coupled with exquisite weaving technique.

Sources:

MMFvintage.com   All three images I show are from this MMF website.

Märta Måås- Fjetterström och hennes efterträdare. Barbro Nilsson – Marianne Richter – Ann-Mari Forsberg, Båstad/Stockholm 1951.

Please reference as follows:

Whidden, Anne, “How many curly pink objects…” theswedishrugblog (April 22,2016); http:// theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; Accessed (month/day/year)

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