In recent years, on the international auction scene, Swedish mid-century rugs and tapestries have achieved record-setting prices, bringing much-deserved attention to their designers. Few of these designers, who practiced in the ‘40s-50s-60s are still alive. One of these designers alive today is a woman named Kerstin Mauritzson, who worked for 33 years at the Malmö County Crafts Association, located in the southwestern-most city in Sweden.
In Sweden, at mid-century- there were several different and somewhat parallel systems of hand-made rug production. One was the work of independent ateliers such as those of Märta Måås-Fjetterström, Alice Lund, Carlander Väveri, and the Greta Grahn-Alf Munthe partnership, who obtained commissions for rugs and tapestries and employed a steady cadre of weavers. Another was the nationally-organized system of the County Craft Associations, which initially at least, had some degree of government support. These supported traditional crafts, producing both large and small handcrafted items in many forms: textiles, woodwork, metal-work, basketry. Of the approximately forty County Craft Associations, a number were focused primarily on one aspect of these crafts in which there was particular traditional regional strength— making damask textiles, or certain kinds of wooden buckets for example. With regard to textile production, these organizations provided seasonal or occasional employment to local hand weavers who worked at home on their own looms under supervision— and had the intended result of keeping alive the long tradition of Swedish handweaving. These home weavers wove small rugs but also tablecloths, dishtowels, and church-related textiles. Some of the Associations which were more committed to weaving rugs also had their own weaving studios staffed by employed full-time weavers, since rugs required larger looms than many homes could accommodate. By the 1940s and 50s, many Craft Association designers were producing work that was very well-designed and woven, yet today, their names are less well known than the designers in the individual ateliers.
The Malmö County Crafts Association, (in Swedish, that’s Malmöhus läns hemslöjdsförening) has always been one of the most active of these associations, particularly with regard to textiles. Located in the province of Skane, with its long tradition of Flemish tapestry weaving, and blessed with an ample supply of capable and talented home weavers, the Malmö Crafts Association was able to employ well-trained and innovative designers, usually young women from the Skane region who had attended the prestigious Konstfack design school in Stockholm —as did Kerstin Mauritzson—before returning to jobs in their home region. Mauritizson began as a designer at the organization in 1953, when she was 25 (having worked for the previous four years at another County Crafts Association, in Kristianstad). In 1969, she became the Director of the Malmö County Crafts Association and remained in that position until 1986, when she retired.
This post will look at one particular rug Kerstin Mauritzson designed in order to understand the process rug production by these County Craft Associations.
Probably sometime about 1956-59, when the church of Hörby, a town located north-east of Malmö, was undergoing a significant renovation, a flat-weave (rölakan) rug was commissioned from the Malmö County Crafts Association for the area in front of the altar of this church. Mauritzson, then Chief Designer, took on the design.
The Stiftelsen Skånsk Hemslöjd Archives in Landskrona have preserved many sketches and elements of Mauritzson’s work. This collection includes a number of individual pieces which help document her process of production of the rug for the Hörby church. Interestingly, although a blue version was proposed and woven for the church, it looks like a brown version was also developed, either at the same time or possibly later. This may have been woven for another church. The archives contains some materials for both blue and brown versions. I will use images of these materials to illustrate the process involved in the production of this rug was as follows (this is as best I understand it— I welcome any corrections here, especially from those of you who are weavers!):
—First, Mauritzson drew a sketch, or a number of them, with one to be chosen and approved by the client
—She then worked out that idea on graph paper, apportioning the correct number of squares to each color and element of the design.
—On another graph paper draft, she worked out combinations of colors for the rug, each numbered square or figure cued to a particular color. This was actually not just one color, but a bunch of yarn threads of very similar tones which woven together created a rich and mottled color rendering.
—Mauritzson selected from the Hemslöjd yarn supplies a whole series of yarn combinations, bunches of wool in slightly varying shades to be used in the rug. These color combinations were numbered and tied directly to the previous graph paper draft
—Mauritzson wove a small sample of the rug
—A more junior designer, a pattern maker, produced a larger graph-paper working drawing for the weavers to follow in weaving the rug. (This piece did not make it to the archive).
—The rug was woven by the professional weavers employed by the County Crafts Association, referring directly to the working drawing and with the yarn selected. (Each of the yarn bunches were hung at the loom for frequent color reference).
—Woven into the lower border of the rugs were the identifying initials of both the craft association and the designer. Unlike other craft associations which used the form “__ LH” as their identifying initials— that is, say, with the example of Kronobergs lans hemslöjdföreningen, “KLH”– Malmö lans hemslöjdföreningen used the identifier “MHF” rather than the more typical form, “MLH.” This went in the lower left hand corner. And then, in the lower right hand, Mauritzson’s own initials, KM. This was her married name, which she used.
What is clear in looking at these two rugs is first, that Mauritzson was a very talented designer, in this case, producing a church design that vividly takes the cross as its basic symbol, but in the repetition of the + element, and in the subtle background color variations, the rug has a powerfully well-balanced graphic quality. It is also fascinating to see how Mauritzson very cleverly inverted her color scheme in these two examples: blue/grey with brown decorative elements becomes something very different in brown with blue ( both equally terrific). The production of the second rug also required much less time and effort than the design and production of the first– an important factor in production of goods for sale at these County Crafts Associations, which were organizations largely supported by the sales of their own products.
–Bondeson, Hideko. Photo of Hörby Kyrka, via Wikipedia and Creative Commons
–Bruun Rasmussen Auction House, Copenhagen
–Interview with Kerstin Mauritzson, April 26, 2017
–Stiftelsen Skånsk Hemslöjd Archives Landskrona, with particular thanks to Åsa Stentoft, Director, and Lena Lundström.
–Turner, Keith Allen, Word Press Blog, http://www.keithaturner.com/tag/horby-sweden/
Please reference as follows:
Whidden, Anne, “Designing a Swedish Rug: Kerstin Mauritzson” theswedishrugblog (6/27/17); theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (day/month/year)