Sweden’s First Interior Decorator: Elsa Gullberg

The last post looked at Elsa Gullberg as an advocate and organizer for the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design, and the efforts of that Society in the early 20th century to encourage industry to hire artists in order to make good design more affordable. Today’s post is about Gullberg’s role as Sweden’s first real interior decorator–someone who saw a need for a comprehensive design service, and went about providing it.

Perhaps it was out of both ambition and some frustration that Gullberg started her own firm in 1927: Elsa Gullberg, Textilier, intending to design machine-made carpets, and upholstery materials. She still designed the occasional handwoven wall hanging and flatweave rug, which she signed, but the bulk of her production seems to have been machine made and unsigned. Not all of her manufacturers are known. Among them are the Mauritz Textile and Interiors firm in Jönköping, and Almedahl Dalsjöfors in Dalsjöfors. It should be noted however, that either for reasons of cost or quality, even into the 1940s, some of Gullberg’s pile rugs were in fact, handwoven. It is an interesting comment on the economy of Swedish textile production that as late as the 1940s, certain rugs might be better produced by handweavers.

As a designer and textile entrepreneur, Gullberg had the foresight to recognize that modern society would want not just single hand-woven rugs or tapestries to be used in elegant homes, but that entire public rooms would need to be furnished. This was the niche her firm filled. The year after she started her firm, she furnished the Swedish liner the MS Kungsholm. For almost 30 years, her firm provided carpets, designed with interesting textural patterns, to theaters, offices, university settings and city halls, as well as drapery and upholstery material. She seems to have established a reputation for reliability, an awareness of current style, and quiet elegance.

Gullberg’s carpets, mostly relief pile, were generally in neutral colors, with overall repetitive patterns. Although early in her career she designed some pictorial tapestries, her rugs tended to texture rather than pattern. During the 1930s, she occasionally employed  classical motifs seen in other Swedish rugs typical to the period but did not use the more folkloric ones . If anything, her designs have a subtle art-deco quality, reflecting Gullberg’s awareness of European models as well as Swedish ones. In their neutral palette and uniform pattern, these pile rugs also anticipate the style of “contract furnishings” of today, in which the carpet is simply one part of an overall furnishing scheme.

The following pile rugs are representative of her work:

1 EGHkimian chinese
Elsa Gullberg, relief-pile “Chinese rug,” 287 x 325 cm (9 ft. 5 in.x10 ft. 8 in.), for sale by FJ Hakimian on firstdibs website 6/30/16. (A smaller example of this rug was sold at Phillips Nordic Design auction Sept 24, 2014, item #78). Note shimmery gold/silver quality. Produced by Mauritz Textil & Inredning AB, Sweden.
arkm-1988-111-08401
Archival image from Elsa Gullberg’s firm’s own (promotional?) files. Shows a handsome wood- paneled office or library furnished with rug shown above, “Kinesen” (Chinese). Digitalmuseum # ARKM.1988-111-080401. Sune Sundahl, photographer.
2EG Modernity
Elsa Gullberg, relief-pile rug, handwoven, 260 x 320 cm (102-1/2″x 126″), sold by Modernity, Sweden.
3Jacksons hanwoven 208x296
Elsa Gullberg, relief-pile rug, handwoven, 208×296 cm ca 1940s, for sale at Jackson’s Sweden, 6/30/16.

Gullberg designed several flat weave rölakan, some of which are signed EG in the lower left corner. Below are two such designs. Both were made in several different colors.

4Fiskar blue elsa_gullberg_bb6062
Elsa Gullberg, flatweave rug (rölakan) “Fisker”  in blue. For sale by Doris Leslie Blau on firstdibs website, accessed 6/20/16. Note subtle “wave” edge design.
5.922 EG  2012 rolakan
Elsa Gullberg, flatweave and tapestry weave rug, blue diagonals, 164.5 x224.5 cm .1960 signed EG. Sold at Bukowskis Spring Modern Sale 566, 2012, item 922
6EG signature bukowskis
Detail of above, EG signature on flat weave rug, 1960.

Gullberg’s commissions and work on both the 1917 Liljevalchs exhibition and the 1930 Stockholm fair brought her notoriety abroad as well as in Sweden. One of her major projects was supplying both fabric and interior design for the luxurious Swedish cruise liner, MS Kungsholm in 1928. By 1936 she was regarded as a spokesperson for Swedish textiles. That year the Swedish American Review, a periodical aimed to keep Americans of Swedish descent abreast of what was going on in Sweden, published an eight-page article by Gullberg on Swedish tapestry, looking at current work. The following year, her article, “Textiles in the New Interiors,” appeared in an influential Swedish book on interior design, The Modern Home (Det moderna hemmet)by Hans Raben. In 1939, her textile design, “Lilies,” was shown at the 1939 World’s Fair. Her drapery and upholstery material was consistently published in British and Danish design reviews throughout the 1940s and 50s.

Gullberg also commissioned many of the designers she had met through her work for the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design to create both tapestries and printed fabrics for her firm. An early tapestry called “Black Diana” was designed by the artist Nils von Dardel. Arthur Percy, an artist whom she had helped place with industry as a ceramics designer, designed a fabric of palm leaves for her in the late 1930s. In the 1940s and 50s, the artist Vicke (Victor) Linstrand provided Gullberg with textile designs which now have a definite mid-century feel. His 1944 design for the Malmö City Theater, shown below, was the largest piece of fabric printed in Sweden at 8 x 32 meters.  Its design combines classical theater motifs such as the masks of comedy and tragedy, and musical references such as Orpheous and his lyre and a shepherd and flute with images of a contemporary jazz band and dancers.

8EG malmo opera curtain
Vicke Lindstrand, printed fabric for Malmö City Theater, designed 1944. Curtain taken down in 1978, but recreated and rehung after original designs in 1999 by the artist’s son.
8Vicke Lindsrom designed for Elsa G1930s --sanderson design
Vicke Linstrand “Cats” design, designed for Elsa Gullberg, 1950s.
9Stig Lindberg for EG
Stig Lindberg fabric design for Elsa Gullberg ca 1950s.

Gullberg’s daughter took over her firm in 1955, but Gullberg continued to be active in the field, with work in England, an exhibit of her firm’s textiles in 1973, and a retrospective exhibition of her work in 1989 at Sweden’s National Museum.

Sources:

Bukowskis Auction house, Stockholm

Dahlbäck Lutteman, Helena and Elisabet Stavenow-Hidemark, Arthur Hald, Barbro Hovstadius and Eva Hallström-Goliger, Elsa Gullberg,  Textil pionjär,  Stockholm: Nationalmusei katalog nr 523, 1989.

Digtaltmuseum designer biography and archival image

FJ Hakimian, New York

Gullberg, Elsa,  Textilutställning i Ramslätts Skänkstuga., Borås Museum, 1973.

Jacksons, Stockholm

Ridå, Malmö Opera

Phillips Auction house, London

Wickopedia for Vicke Lindstrand, accessed 6/20/16

Please reference as follows:

Whidden, Anne, “Sweden’s First Interior Designer” theswedishrugblog (7/1/16);  theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (day/month/year)

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3 thoughts

    1. Thanks, Laurence! I appreciate it. She’s clearly an important figure but I’d held off writing about her for a while since ideas seem hard to illustrate. The rugs are a bit easier! The Danes obviously have their version of Arts and Crafts with Skonverke (sorry, no slashed “o” on my phone).

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