Gelett Burgess, an American art critic and humorist wrote in 1895,
“I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one,
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one!”
But Burgess, though he lived long enough, probably never got to see Märta Måås-Fjetterstöm’s purple cows. Actually, these cows are not strictly purple, but they stare placidly and inscrutably, from the purple background of a small flat-weave rug. And like Burgess’s imagined cows, they are well worth seeing.
The composition of tan and white, black and white, and red and white cows, some standing and some sitting, is organized in a simple grid. Each line also has an abstract garden element, which adds green to the color palate.And repetitive forms on side and top frame the composition and fence the cows in. Here and there, around the cows are miscellaneous small abstract flowers, adding a little randomness to the design.
Måås-Fjetterstöm designed a number of compositions of cows, of horses and of sheep. Horses appeared early, in designs which were more like oriental rugs in their organization and complexity. See, for example, image of her Hästhagen design for a 1923 pile rug below.
The purple cow rug has instead, a kind of art-deco syncopation. It also has an unexpected sense of humor. The purple rug, titled simply “Cows,” was designed for the 1930 Stockholm fair which presented functional modernism to Sweden. This fair, which I will look at in my next post, carried serious polemical weight and the organizers clearly saw it as a kind of moral crusade to encourage design of affordable houses and furnishings. Although photos show Märta as a rather stern and reserved figure, one wonders if her submission of this rug to this fair was a humorous comment, expressing her opinion of functional modernism. From all accounts, although she participated in the fair, she was not completely aligned with its purposes.
Several of Märta Måås-Fjetterstöm’s most charming compositions use oddly abstracted farm animals. Her rya rug, “Sheep”, had a design very similar to that of the cows, with gold and yellow sheep alternating with blue bushes and dashes of blue grass, and framed by quite explicit fences at top and bottom. These sheep, like the cows, have several postures: walking or grazing, and like the cows, they alternate direction.
Like the purple cow rug, “Sheep” was also designed in 1930. It is shown in a somewhat later (but undated) archival photograph in a display of furniture of Carl Malmsten.
Part of the charm of the wooden figures in a childrens’ Noah’s ark is in their simplified forms and often, their lively non-realistic colors. The animals in these two rugs by Märta Måås-Fjetterström have very much the same playful quality, and are a tribute to her joyful observation of her rural environment.
Bukowskis Auction house, Stockholm
Stensman, Malis, “Stars, Cows, Deer, Flowers,” in Märta Måås-Fjetterström – Märta Flies
Again! 90 Years of Märta Måås-Fjetterström, catalog of 2009-2010 Liljevalchs kunsthall exhibit
Stockholms Auktionsverket, online
Please reference as follows:
Whidden, Anne, “I never saw a purple cow,” theswedishrugblog (August 3, 2016); http:// theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; Accessed (month/day/year)