“I never saw a purple cow”: Märta Måås-Fjetterström

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.

Korna_MMF1930_240x150_MMFAB
Märta Måås-Fjetterstöm, “Korna,” flat weave rug (rölakan),1930, 240×150 cm, sold by Bukowskis

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.

530 ASTHAGE 340X2765 1923
Märta Måås-Fjetterström, “Hästhagen,” knotted pile rug, 340,5 x 276,5 cm. Designed 1923, Knotted after 1941 and signed AB MMF. (AB Märta Måås-Fjetterström).  Sold at Bukowskis Moderna 587 Stockholm, lot 530

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.

MMf sheep
Marta Maas-Fjetterström (1873-1941), rya rug, “Fären” (Sheep), composed in 1930, signed AB MMF, manufactured after 1942, 220 x 119 cm from Stockholm’s Auktionsverket online. Lot number 367310, auction 3/20/2016
signatureMMF sheep_4
Signature detail, Marta Maas-Fjetterström (1873-1941), rug, “Fären” (Sheep), composed in 1930, signed AB MMF, manufactured after 1942, 220 x 119 cm from Stockholm’s Auktionsverket online. Lot number 367310, auction 3/20/2016
detail MMF sheep
Detail, Marta Maas-Fjetterström (1873-1941), rya rug, “Fären” (Sheep), composed in 1930, signed AB MMF, manufactured after 1942, 220 x 119 cm from Stockholm’s Auktionsverket online. Lot number 367310, auction 3/20/2016

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.

MMF SheepARKM.1988-111-01104
MMF rya rug, “Sheep”, 1930. Image from digitaltmuseem, image id # ARKM 1988-11-01104, Sune Sundal, photographer (born 1921– therefore photo probably not before 1941)

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.

Sources:

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)

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2 thoughts

  1. Thanks Anne. I love the playfulness of these! It is lovely to see the artist’s delight in subverting the serious themes and intentions of an exhibit with choices of color and non conforming animals. I wonder if original viewers laughed.

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