Triangles 3 Ways: Berit Koenig Woelfer

There was a point (probably now past) in the life of trendy restaurants where customers encountered on the menu some food — say, mushrooms, or fennel— prepared three ways. These three forms were generally rendered as 1) familiar, 2) creatively enhanced, and 3) unrecognizable. So much for culinary fashion!

The work of Swedish textile artist, Berit Koenig Woelfer, offers a similar variations on forms, though happily, nothing unrecognizable. Many of her best rugs play with triangle or diamond (double triangle) shapes.

In her work are also variations in method of fabrication. Koenig Woelfer is one of several textile designers of this period — from the mid 1950s to the mid 60s— in Sweden who designed for both hemslöjd (home craft) organizations and for industry. So they were designing both rugs which would be hand-woven, as well as those to be woven by machines. Trained as designers for hand-weaving, they adapted their skills to the new possibilities of industrial fabrication. Yet few of these designers turned strictly to industry for their livelihood, but often continued to design for both kinds of fabrication. It seems as though the kinds of forms, designs and techniques which they worked out in one area provoked new challenges for what they might try in the other.

Berit Koenig designed for the Svensk Hemslöjd in Stockholm from the mid 1950s, after working for several years at Elsa Gullberg’s interior design firm. One of the largest of these home-craft organizations, Svensk Hemslöjd employed a number of talented designers at any given time. For Svensk Hemslöjd, Koenig designed at least five or six flat weave rugs (rölakan), each of which were made in a couple of color variations, and a number of rya rugs as well.

The rug that follows is called “Mexico,” designed in 1956, and woven by the Svensk Hemslöjd weavers. This is a complex pattern which takes a basic repetitive diamond shape (a nod to the traditional Mexican “God’s-Eye,” or “Ojo de Dios” design), and then splinters that, creating a play of foreground and background. Only three “colors” are used, but each of the browns is made up of a range of shades. The rug is symmetrical around the center axis, a string of triangles in groups of 5, arranged in alternating directions. The rug’s two long edges each repeat half of that center string. The design is seductive: since those edges are part of the pattern, one can imagine the pattern going on indefinitely in ever larger rugs. The overall effect is a pattern-play of rich earth-tones. It is “signed” BK on the lower left and “SH.”

berit-koenig-mexico-1956flatweave-p225-sh-book-svensk-h-artnet-no-size
Berit Koenig, “Mexico” flat weave (rölakan),1956. Image via Artnet (size not given). Shown with the furniture of Marianne von Munchow in a photograph in the book, Karaktär och känsla, (translated as Character and emotion, a century of Swedish handicraft) p.225.

Several years later, when she had married, and was using the initials BKW as her signature, Koenig Woelfer designed another brown flat weave rug. This one again employs the pattern of radiating rotated squares (ie diamonds), and adds to the two browns a wonderful string of white and orange triangles. There is an unsigned blue version of this rug too, with a string of purple diamonds.This is also assumed to be by Koenig Wolfer. There are subtle differences, but the form language is clearly similar. Neither of these two rugs carries the SH signature, but they are assumed to have been woven at Svensk Hemslöjd.

bkw-flatweave-jp5-1x7-8155x233-willborg-first-d-1_5_17
Berit Koenig Woelfer, flat weave rug, 5’1”x7’8”/155×233 cm, signed BKW, (here initials appear in upper left corner, but would be read correctly in lower right), undated, for sale at JP Willborg Stockholm via first dibs as of 1/5/17. Another larger copy of the same rug is for sale at Jackson’s, Stockholm.
bkw-signature
BKW Signature

BKW triangle string and orange and white detail

bk-unsigned-prob-sh-55x710-tapestry-and-rolakan-1_6_17-first-dibswillborg
Probably Berit Koenig Woelfer, flatweave rug, 5’5”x7’10”, unsigned, for sale at JP Willborg, Stockholm, via firstdibs.com as of 1/5/17

By the mid 1960s, Berit Koenig Woelfer had joined her friend Ingrid Dessau in designing for Kasthalls AB, one of the first Swedish companies able to industrialize the weaving of fine Swedish-style flat weave and rya rugs. Koenig Woelfer and Dessau designed many rugs for Kasthalls: in flat weave, pile and rya, for residential, commercial and institutional use. Embassies and government offices also found these rugs attractive. Although these rugs were largely unsigned, some were initialed by the designer, and they originally carried a tag identifying them as by Kasthalls. Today many of these double weave, slightly heavier, reversible rugs have become valued as a more affordable version of the Swedish handwoven rugs of this period. The rugs designed by designers who also designed handwoven rugs means that often the design quality is very high.  As they had been taught to do in their designs for hand-woven rugs, these designers  produced machine-made rugs with a wonderful mix of colors in the yarn, giving the finished rugs much more depth and subtle coloration.

One of Koenig Woelfer’s most spectacular designs was called “Zanzibar”. This was made in several color ways: red with strings of blue triangles, and grey with strings of orange,red and purple triangles. Here the strings of triangles are not just the added fillip; they ARE the design of the rug. The new element here is the “negative space,” —that is, the space around every 7th triangle. In both colorways, that is highlighted, so that lively flashes of color dance across the surface of the rug.

bkw-kasthall-zanzib-goteborgs-auk-2_20_16-via-auctionet
Berit Koenig Woelfer, “Zansibar,” flat weave rug, red ad blue version, 515x325cm, Göteborgs Auktionsverk via auctionet, 2/20/16. sold online for 162,030SEK, about $17,000.
bk-zansibar-kasthall-515x325-auctionet-2016
BKW for Kasthalls, Zansibar rug, detail of red and blue version
bkw-zanzibar
BKW for Kasthalls, Zansibar flatweave, detail of triangles, red and blue version.Note color mix of yarns.
bkw-247x167-5_29_16-goteborgs-auktionverk-9000sek
Berit Koenig Woelfer, “Zansibar” flat weave rug, 247×167 cm, grey and orange version, sold Göteborgs Auktionsverk 5/29/16, detail, triangles sold for 7000SEK
wolfer-etikett-est-10000sek
BKW for Kasthalls, Zansibar rug in grey and orange showing Kasthall’s tag. Note green and purple threads mixed in with grey.
woelfer-zansibar-kasthall
BKW for Kasthalls, Zansibar rug, detail of grey and orange version

What a feast of triangles!  Berit Woelfer’s husband was a restauranteur: were he alive today he would undoubtedly appreciate  these three delicious variations.

Sources

Artnet

Göteborgs Auktionsverk via auktionen.com

Gustafsson-Seif, Inger. Ingrid Dessau, Textildesigner. Textilmuseet, Boras, 2008.

Jacksons, Stockholm

konstnärlexionett amanda.com listing for Berit Woelfer

JP Willborg, Stockholm

Lundahl, Gunilla. Karaktär och känsla Ett sekel med Svensk Hemslöjd. Raster Forläg, Stockholm,2001

Sweden’s National Encyclopedia website, NE, on Berit Woelfer

Sydsvensan newspaper, January 18, 2014. death notice for Claes Woelfer

Please reference as follows:
Whidden, Anne, “Triangles 3 Ways ,” theswedishrugblog (January 7, 2017);http:// theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (month/day/year)

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