Karl Dangel was a German art student who immigrated to Sweden at age 20, to avoid disturbing things he saw happening in Germany with the rise of Nazism, and then studied weaving in Sweden after he arrived. After marrying, he established his own weaving studio with his wife, Ebba in Malmö, in 1946. Ebba herself was a weaver originally from Lund who worked at the Hemslöjd in Lund and later in Malmö. As a designer, Dangel found a particular vocabulary of forms and colors which he explored consistently throughout his career. I will look at his work in several posts, trying to look at several of the different ways he combined these elements, and the way patterns mutated into the next ones.
The Dangel studio (“atelje” in Swedish), which operated out of a shop located first at number 12, Löjtnantsgatan (“Lieutenants Street”) in Malmo, and later at number 14, was very much a business. Dangel’s daughter recalls that Karl and Ebba wove every day, sitting together at a large loom 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Saturday was Karl’s day to design the rugs they would weave, and Sunday was their day for museums, culture and refreshment. From about 1948-78, Ebba taught weaving classes as well to supplement their income.
Karl Dangel’s designs can seem hard to date, because he found a vocabulary of forms and colors and explored those throughout his career, with many of the forms repeated and reused with variations to become new designs. It should also be noted that while his name was Karl Dangel, he signed his rugs CD— because the C was easier to weave than the K! Most of Dangel’s rugs seem to have been flat-weave “rölakan” rugs. A later post will try to suggest a chronology for these rugs, based both on the memories of his daughter, some written and photographic evidence, and the designs of the rugs themselves.
One series of rugs designed probably in the late 1950s, suggests the way Dangel’s forms evolved and his patterns became more subtle. A slight change in a pattern gave a design quite a different visual feel, as did the use of different colors. This post shows three such transformations of an initial idea over an undetermined time period—transformations which produced four very different rug designs. I should note that, since both sketches and rugs are undated, this analysis is based on my own sense of the chronology of these rugs.
The “first” undated sketch shows a very regular, gridded design, with notched squares and a center figure in each square, alternating two or three arms. The rug was to be small: 83 x 140 cm.
The next sketch develops the previous idea. It is also on graph paper but this one is colored in a 50’s color combination of pink and grayish green. The two colors of alternating squares correspond to two kinds of central figures, with either two or three-arms. The sketch also shows the rug framed with a black inner border, as well as a border of wiggly shapes which seem an abstraction of the greek-fret border which Dangel had used on earlier rugs.
The rug shown below was clearly based on the previous sketch, but here made in a larger size— the format has 6 x 9 squares instead of 4x 6. The black inner border indicated in the sketch was not used here, and the inner figures were also further differentiated by the use of slightly differing tones.
The following sketch shows the same design in gold, also with a format of 4 x 6 squares, here indicated as 140 x 200 cm, which seems to have been a size the Dangels wove frequently. The squares are in alternating tones of gold, and a yellow toned background for the border and between rows also seems to be envisioned.
The next sketch shows the first transformation of the initial design. In a terrific modification of the previous design, on a rug of precisely the same dimensions, Dangel has both simplified and made the pattern more complex. He has eliminated the border, but taken the shape previously used in the border and made it the basis of the new design. He has integrated the two-armed central shape of the more static earlier design with the border shape, placed two of these “3” shaped border shapes back to back, and notched and interlocked all of them with additional colors- now five colors including dark gold, light gold, yellow, pale pink, and white. This is now a very lively yet well-balanced composition. In addition, he has begun to use the twist stitch (which appears as tiny vertical stripes) as a decorative element, above and below the back-to back “3” shapes.
The following sketch for a runner or gallery rug, is the same pattern, but with shades of sage green, darker green, yellow, cream and white, with a contrasting use of red twist bands, not placed over the back to back “3” shapes, as per the prior sketch, but over the single cross arms which are residual from the notched vertical elements in the original design. This rug also shows back-to-back “C” shaped borders at either end of the rug.
A “gallery rug” or runner, of this same design shows what this rug looked like woven in overall tones of gold and yellow. This woven rug combines elements of the two previous sketches— that is, it has the gold coloring of the first sketch, but employs the “C” borders and the locations of the twist stitch rows shown in the green design.
Karl Dangel, gallery rug 110 x 345 cm, signed CD lower left; private collection.
The following sketch shows how much an entirely different palette and a change in scale affect the design. The format uses the same elements, with 5 colors and borders of “C” shapes, but this sketch is for a rug of 140 x 200 cm or slightly larger than the green rug shown in the sketch above. As a result the pattern is organized slightly differently, and it is a tribute to the clarity of that pattern that it can be organized differently and yet still maintain its coherent coloration and organization. Here the back-to-back “3”s stand in the center of each end, with notched colors to both sides and another “3” at the outer edge. In the smaller green rug, pairs of back-to-back “3”s alternate with notched colors; there are no single “3” elements at the edge.
The rug shown below uses this same pattern, but with several significant changes. In this rug, the border runs all the way around, with “C” shapes used on the sides, and a kind of interlocked reversed “C” shape used at the ends. This border is not dissimilar to that in the first rug shown, so perhaps this rug was made before those rugs shown above. But what is most significant here is that the familiar “3” shapes are all UNcolored– to me this feels like an evolution from those with the colored “3” shapes. The color occurs only in the notched interlocking shapes and in the vertical one and two armed elements, giving the rug a very different but equally interesting balance of vertical and horizontal elements.
Looking at all of these as “rugs”— that is, assuming there were rugs made from the sketches above—it is difficult to determine if they were not designed in the sequence I suggest. It’s possible that the ones with the softer colors, i.e. the gold, greens and this blue one which also contains elements of the sage green and the raspberry pink that Dangel liked, were all made about the same time, but that the bright pink one was made later, during the 60-70s when Dangel’s colors became brighter and sharper. (It is clear from rugs he made to the same pattern in the 60s and 70s, that this was the case with a number of his designs, that they were rewoven later with more vivid colors).
The next sketch however, seems to me to mark a second transition. Dangel’s color palette is similar, but he has taken the “C” shapes and moved them into the body of the rug, and the whole relationship between shapes and background seems somewhat less resolved. This also seems to be the first occurrence of diamond shapes in his designs.
The rug shown below is woven in the pattern shown above, but in more typical Dangel colors of raspberry pink, green and light yellow, as well as touches of blue and pale lavender. Like the blue rug shown above, it uses the stacked reversed “C” motifs as border elements as well as in the rug itself. The use of the twist stitch here is again consistent with prior examples.
At the bottom of the paper on which the last sketch shown above was drawn, was another sketch for a second rug. Dangel was clearly working on both this and the last design simultaneously— in this case, pulling out the small diamonds from the first design to make them the primary element of the second design. This was what I think of as the third transformation of the initial design, a process which yielded four such different rugs. Here the “C” and “3” shapes of the previous designs have given way to large and small diamonds, simple horizontal bars, and serrated edge patterns— all of which will become features of later rugs.
The following images are examples of this rug as woven— again in the familiar Dangel color palette.
In another collection is a smaller example of this rug with slightly different colors (or perhaps just photographed in different light), and in which the vertical bars in the design have been eliminated. It is also interesting to see again how different the pattern becomes when made in differing sizes. It is clear that Dangel continued to tweak and alter designs from rug to rug, both in color, compositional details, and kinds of borders.
The team of Karl Dangel as designer, weaving with his wife Ebba, produced a remarkably coherent body of work from their own small workshop. Unlike designers for larger operations who had more time to develop and perfect their designs before committing them to the loom, the Dangels worked out modifications to their designs from rug to rug, and drew on a consistent palette of symbols and forms over time. While less known than other more published designers from this period, many of their pieces are wonderful examples of the Swedish modern flat-weave tradition. And it is fun to discover the work of another male designer, when the majority of the designers were clearly female.
Bukowskis Online Auctions
Collection Karl Dangel’s daughter.
Crafoord Auktioner, Lund
Please reference as follows:
Whidden, Anne, “Evolution of Pattern: Karl Dangel ” theswedishrugblog (7/21/17); theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (day/month/year)