Representing Sweden

In a bookstore in Christchurch, New Zealand, my husband was delighted to find an inexpensive copy of a botany textbook written by his uncle in the United States, many years before.  His conclusion? That things are often valued less, far from their source or place they were made– or in this case, published.

If Sweden is the source, this might well be true of Swedish rugs. Especially pre-internet. But Swedish embassies offer the exception to the rule: places far from the source where things Swedish are in fact, highly prized. Swedish rugs, furniture, textiles, and art are chosen for these outposts precisely as a means of representing the nature of Swedish-ness itself.

The rugs designed by Märta Måås Fjetterstöm and woven at her atelier in Bastad, were recognized early on for their lush, lively designs, and —not surprisingly—commissioned for Swedish legations and embassies. These rugs furnished ambassadors’ residences in style and were also a way of representing the best of the Swedish hand-weaving tradition in cities around the world.

Märta’s own design, called “The Meadows” (“Ängarna”) pile rug was designed in 1928 for the luxury Swedish ocean liner, the MS Kungsholm, but an example of it was woven, probably sometime in the early  1940s for the Swedish legation in Buenos Aires.

Märta Måås Fjetterström, Ångarna pile rug, 1928. This example is 6’5″x9’1″ (196 x277 cm)and is for sale by JP Willborg, Stockholm via

A vintage photograph of weavers from the MMF atelier sitting on the grass, sewing fringe on this large rug charmingly conveys an impression of weavers happy to be finished at the loom and out in the sun, and also illustrates the many hours of labor required to weave and finish these rugs. ((I’m also using this photo to estimate the date of the rug made for Argentina, based on the  clothing and hairdos!)

Vintage MMF image of the rug for the Argentine Legation from Wright catalog, Wright Auctions, Chicago May 3.2016

During the 1960s and early 70s, designers for the MMF atelier again provided rugs and tapestry decoration to many Swedish embassies. Most of these rugs had originally been designed for other locations, but were considered handsome and interesting enough to reproduce for embassies abroad. This post is a look at several of those. (The rugs shown here are not original to these embassies, nor necessarily the large size of those used at the embassies, but are shown to give a sense of the variety of the designs). The designers of rugs shown below all designed for the MMF atelier during this period, and the rugs were handwoven at this atelier.

Barbara Nilsson’s rug, “Marina,” a rya rug designed in 1956, was used for the Swedish Embassy in Tokyo at a later date. This rug had originally furnished or been commissioned specifically for the head office of the Orrefors glass factory in Sweden and furnished the head office of the Svenska Handelsbanken in Stockholm as well.

Barbro Nilsson, rya rug, “Marina,” This example 8’6” x 10’8” (258×325 cm), sold recently by by Modernity, Stockholm via
Barbro Nilsson, detail of rya rug, “Marina,”showing the thickness of the rya pile and Nilsson’s initialed signature in lower right corner. This example 8’6” x 10’8” (258×325 cm), sold recently by by Modernity, Stockholm via

In 1966, Marin Hemmingson’s “Zorbus” pile rug with a repeated graphic design in several shades of green, by was sent to the Swedish Embassy or Consulate in Washington D.C. This was also originally designed for the offices of the Svenska Handelsbanken in Stockholm.

Marin Hemmingson, Zorbus pile rug, 7’1”x 9’1” (216 x 276 cm). This example for sale by JP Willborg, Stockholm via

In 1970, an example of Barbro Nilsson’s “Yellow Magdalena” (“Magdalena Gul”) carpet, went to the Swedish Embassy in Moscow, and also to the Swedish Embassy in Copenhagen. It had originally been designed in 1967 for a church in Hedemora, Sweden.

Barbro Nilsson, “Magdalena, gul,” pile rug designed 1967. This example, 9’11”x12’4” (302 x 376 cm) for sale by FJ Hakimian via , dealer reference # 03422.
Barbro Nilsson, Detail, “Magdalena, gul,”pile rug designed 1967, with BN signature in lower right. This example, 9’11”x12’4” (302 x 376 cm) for sale by FJ Hakimian via , dealer reference # 03422.

In 1974, Kaisa Melanton’s “Archipelago” pile rug (“Skärgårdsmattan”) was designed for the Swedish Embassy in Paris. The following photo shows two different versions of this rug.

Kaisa Melanton’s “Skärgårdsmattan” pile rug. This (smaller) example, 180×280 cm,from Crafoord Auktioner, Lund, Sweden, sold 10/1/2010.
Kaisa Melanton’s “Skärgårdsmattan” pile rug. This larger example is without dimensions from artnet,com.

Also in 1974, a new Swedish Embassy complex was dedicated in Brasilia. The Brazilian government had invited Sweden to move their embassy from the former capitol of Rio de Janerio and made a site available in Brazil’s new inland capitol city. Modeled on a traditional Swedish farm with a u-shaped one-story building framing a fore-court, the new embassy complex was situated in a most un-Swedish environment. As if seen through a kind of antipodean circus mirror, the quiet bucolic Swedish farm became something flamboyant and tropical in Brazil, with 28 versions of tropical fruit trees, and flowering plants on the embassy grounds— including hibiscus, gardenias, yellow ipe, jambo, bougainvillea, hydrangeas, and banana, lemon, orange, papaya, and avocado trees.

AM 2003-102-6600-122-1
Photo of living room in Swedish Embassy in Brasilia from Arkitektur och Design Centrum bildarkiv, #ARKM.2003-102-6600-122-1. Rug probably by Ingrid Dessau for Kasthalls. The Parnassus Apollo fabric on the chairs was designed by Viennese-Swedish architect and designer, Josef Frank.
Detail of Josef Frank’s Parnassus Apollo fabric, designed 1940, and sold through the Nordiska Kompaniet textile department.

Astrid Sampe, the entrepreneurial doyenne of the textile department of the Swedish department store, Nordiska Kompaniet (now at the end of her career), worked on the interiors of the embassy for Brasilia. Rugs were commissioned from Ingrid Dessau designing for Kasthalls rug factory. (Dessau did not design for MMF). And two hand-woven dining room tapestries were designed by Marianne Richter, another Märta Måås Fjetterstöm designer. One was based on a tapestry of schooners and a coastal village she had designed in 1961. There is only scant information on the other tapestry.

Marianne Richter tapestry, Strandvägsskuta, designed 1961.. This example of this tapestry from Märta Måås Fjetterstöm Vintage  is 104 x 97 cm. Handwoven by Sara Richter, Marianne’s daughter.
Photo of dining room in Brasilia Embassy ca 1974 from Design Anual magazine
Close-up view of tapestry from photo of dining room in Brasilia Embassy ca 1974 from Design Anual magazine.

The Brasilia version of this tapestry -which seems to be a one of a kind piece- takes the schooner design and sets it in a curious decorative frame. Richter uses a kind of flattened perspective and symmetrically arranged decorative dining-room elements: plates and urns piled high with fruit. Is the central frame a kind of fireplace, a visual hearth for a tropical environment? The pitchers filled with flowers resting on top of it suggests this. But the Staffordshire dogs look like they are standing on a window sill. Is the ship tapestry instead meant to be a kind of window shade within an ornate window frame? And are the urns with the garlands of fruit possibly resting on little tables next to the mantle/window frame? The elements of this piece are fanciful and somehow welcoming, even if their precise meaning is unclear. Nevertheless, the tapestry warms the dining room, evoking the pleasures and colors of summer fruits and flowers as well as the handsome shape and weight of decorative white ceramics—the dogs included.
During the mid-century period, other Swedish embassies were provided with rugs by other designers who did not design for the Märta Måås Fjetterström atelier— Astrid Sampe, Ingrid Dessau, and Ulla Schumacher-Percy, to name a few—but these are not as well documented. What is clear is that in these embassies far from Sweden, these diverse rugs and tapestries by both the Märta Måås Fjetterstöm atelier, and by other designers, were appreciated for their ability to represent traditional Swedish craft and for their individualistic and playful expression of modern design.

Anual Design, online publication of Brazilian magazine. Accessed 1/17/17 (and in 2016)

ARKITEKTUR OCH DESIGN CENTRUM, photograph of Brazilian embassy, archive # ARKM.2003-102-6600-122-1.

Bukowskis Auction house, Stockholm

Crafoord Auction house, Lund, Sweden

FJ Hakimian, New York

Landstrom, Inga, article, “Konst: Till det enkla – INGRID DESSAU, textildesigner
Textilmuseet i Borås till den 27 april” in Borås Tidning, 20 februari 2008 at Last accessed 1/3/17.

Märta Måås Fjetterström: Märta flyger igen! 90 år med Märta Måås Fjetterström, catalog of exhibit 3/10/2009-6/1/2010 Liljevalchs konsthall.

Märta Måås Fjetterström Workshop, Wright Auction house catalog, 5/3/2016 auction

MMF vintage website accessed 1/17/17
Also, online copy of magazine Mölle Kuriren, #4 2015 pp.10-13, interview with current Swedish ambassador to Spain and Andorra

Moller, Vigo Steen, En Bok från Barbro Nilsson, Bokförlaget Trevi, Stockholm, 1977.

Phillips London auction catalog, 15 December 2015

Stritzler-Levine, Nina, ed. Josef Frank, Architect and Designer, published by the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts by Yale University Press, 1996

JP Willborg, Stockholm

Wright Auction house, Chicago


Please reference as follows:

Whidden, Anne, “Representing Sweden,” theswedishrugblog (January3 0, 2017);
http://; accessed (month/day/year)






8 thoughts

  1. Thanks- this is very generous. I feel like there is so much information I don’t have that I am still trying to discover! But I’m getting there! Thanks for being company for the ride.


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