Anna Maria Hoke was a major designer of Swedish mid-century rugs, but her name is not as well known as some of the other designers I have looked at in this blog. She was nevertheless highly regarded throughout her career.
As a young woman, Hoke studied dance. But color and sketching had been interests since childhood and she decided to train for a more practical career as a drawing teacher. In 1934 however, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis at a time when the treatment for this was not simple, before sulfa drugs were developed. She lost a school year to recuperation. She described this period years later as one where she felt she had been given a death sentence, but she also concluded that the spiritual struggle she had during that period spurred her artistic development.
When she returned to school, she found that the process of frequent competitions encouraged hard work and instilled new confidence in her design ability. She won multiple prizes for her designs and weaving, at one point taking first, second and third prizes in a single competition. Her final school tapestry even attracted the interest of King Gustav V and his son Crown Prince Gustav VI Adolf.
This tapestry, called The First Snow was not even completed for the last student exhibition (since she had spent the previous summer helping weave a friend’s final project) but a small sample of it, together with the croquis, or sketch for the tapestry was attractive and compelling. A reviewer from the newspaper singled out this tapestry, describing it as a “funny faithful depiction of a few children in a cityscape with the air full of singing snow stars.”
We should note that this tapestry of Hoke’s, with its air of naivete, draws on a long Scandinavian tapestry tradition of woven faces. Hoke spoke about how much school visits to Swedish museums enriched her growing design abilities. Her faces here certainly seem to draw on a particular group of weavings– gobelin weavings in Norway in the 17th through 19th centuries which represented Biblical stories and New Testament parables. The images below represent the story of the five wise and five foolish virgins in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt. 25), but despite the modeling with color she added to her childrens’ faces, the facial shape and stylized frontality in Anna Maria’s composition (not to mention the arrangement of buildings as background) is remarkably similar.
Hoke was recruited directly out of school in 1935 by Barbro Nilsson (see several blog posts on Nilsson) who had been one of her professors at the Higher Industrial Arts School in Stockholm (predecessor to the prestigious school now called Konstfack). She began to work as a pattern composer for Johanna Brunsson’s weaving school (see blog post of Nov. 1, 2016 on this school). Her talent for design developed rapidly with exposure to both Nilsson and the senior Brunssons’ designer, Hildegard Dinclau.
Ready for a new experience, and having obtained a certificate that she was now free of TB, Hoke applied for and was given a post as drawing teacher at a new boarding school outside Stockholm, only to have that offer rescinded by order of the doctor who had issued her medical certificate. It was a shock to realize that having had TB would disqualify her for any work as a drawing teacher for children, but the doctor’s judgement turned Anna Maria decisively away from teaching and firmly toward textile design.
Hoke was quickly offered a position of head (chef)of Värmland County Crafts Association. It is a measure of the regard in which she was held at the time, that at just 28 years of age, she was one of the designers invited to show her rugs the next year at the Swedish pavilion of the1939 NY World’s Fair.
During the next 24 years, Hoke directed several county crafts associations. First Värmland from 1938-40 ; from 1941-44 she was director of the Stockholm City and County Craft Association; she was artistic director and consultant in handicrafts for the Gotland County Craft Association from 1946-52, where she designed a huge amount of church textiles: rugs, altar cloths (called “antependium”) and priests’ robes; from 1952-54, beginning when she was forty-one, Hoke was head of the County Craft Association of Västmanlands, a rural inland county northwest of Stockholm, which borders her childhood county of Dalarna; and from 1956-60, she was director of the Kalmar County Craft Association. While there were textile designers who were tethered for most of their career to a craft association in one location —Irma Kronlund at the Kronberg lans hemslöjd, or Kristen Mauritzson, at Malmö lans hemslöjd, for example— Anna Maria Hoke, like a number of the other artists I have profiled in this blog, brought her talents to a number of different county craft associations for shorter periods. This makes it somewhat more complex to date the work of these designers.
Her own confinement for the treatment of TB had made Hoke well aware of the need for both mental and physical engagement by hospital patients, and from 1944-46 she stepped away from the demands of running a country craft association and ran a program in occupational art therapy for a Stockholm hospital. During this period, she also showed her own work and designed for a number of weaving studios.
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One rug Hoke designed was an elegant red one, probably designed for a church, given its dimensions. I thought it would be interesting to look closely at this rug in order to understand a bit about the process of designing these rugs and to see the clues these rugs carry as to their makers, and how we can decipher those clues.
The following is a somewhat murky view of this rug:
When a rug was designed, first there was a sketch by the designer, usually on tissue paper, and this was followed by a working drawing on graph paper for the weavers to weave from. The sketch for this rug can be seen in the background of a collection of sketches offered for auction in Kalmar, Sweden last November. Unfortunately, I missed finding this when it was still at auction so that I might have been able to obtain individual images of the sketches. So we ll have to settle for just this glimpse, and an enlargement of the auction photo. In another set of sketches by Hoke offered at the same auction, we can also notice a sketch for what looks like a blue version of this rug. It’s a little different, but clearly a related design.
When a rug was woven by County Craft Association weavers to the pattern provided by its designer, identifying initials were usually woven into the lower border of the rug. These represented the name of the particular crafts association, and the name of the designer. Less frequently, but occasionally there are dates, and or initials of the weavers themselves. Let’s look at this rug:
In the lower left corner are the initials “VLH”. In looking at these initials, to figure out which craft association made this rug, we can run through the Swedish counties we know that start with V that had active crafts associations. Luckily there aren’t too many. We can guess, even without my discussion above, that this was probably made by the County Crafts Associations in either Värmlands or in Västmanlands. In Swedish, the names of these associations are Värmlands lans hemslöjd or by Västmanlands läns hemslöjd. This is a typical set of initials of this kind. What this says in Swedish is thus “Some place that starts with V+ lans hemslojd,” — or literally, “Someplace+ county+ homecrafts.” The word “Association” (“Foreningen“) is always implied but the representative letter F is rarely included in this woven signature. So the form of a County Craft Association signature is almost always like this: VLH, not VLHF.
Next, as discussed above, we know that Anna Maria Hoke worked at both of these places. Her dates at Värmlands were in 1938-40, beginning when she was 27, and at Västmanlands from 1952-54, beginning when she was 41. Although we know she was precociously talented, this complex design seems more sophisticated than we might expect from a beginning designer. We might suspect that she designed it later in her life and that it was the weavers of Västmanlands rather then Värmlands County Crafts Association who wove this rug to Hoke’s design.
There is of course, another set of initials in the lower right. These are AMH, for Anna Maria Hoke. With more research we can find out that Anna Maria Hoke is the married name of our weaver, who was born Ann-Mari Ericsson. And what’s more, she married about 1942, so that we might expect AME as a signature in prior years. Given the fact that we have AMH here, this pushes the evidence further toward Västmanlands as the original locale for the rug.
And there’s an added bonus— the numbers “53” next to her initials— which we can figure out is the year the rug was designed and made. Since we know Hoke worked for Västmanlands lans hemslöjd from 1952-4, it all checks out.
When we look at the rug itself, we can see that Hoke was a designer of considerable sophistication. In the screen shot above—which I use as a way of presenting an up-close view of the weaving and the design—we can see that the pattern almost seems to be laid over the lovely variegated red background, with the red almost sliding underneath. Hoke was very fond of this red, having spent her young child in Dalarna, the large county northwest of Stockholm which holds most of the country’s mining, and where nearly every house is painted with red lead paint. Today of course this county has a kind of romanticized glow as the home of both the painter Carl Larsson and the red Dala horses.
When we look further at the rug, we notice that the light blue, grey and off white sections and forms have a rhythmic order and repetitive quality which makes the pattern easy to understand, and yet it is never simplistic. The overall bead-on-a-string pattern is given a nice counterpoint in the line of five little squares which separate each section of pattern. These are the same size as the little squares in the “bead” elements, but their placement is shifted to establish the underlying grid of 4 bars of bead and string elements.
Given Hoke’s background in dance, it is tempting to think that her use of such structured designs as influenced by her awareness of music. Her patterns repeat and vary like a graceful melody—predictable, yet richly satisfying.
Kalmar auktionsverk 10-26-16 item # unknown (small group of Hoke’s watercolor sketches)
Lind, Rolf, permission via email to use his photographs from the book on AMH below.
Minneapolis Institute of Art: https://collections.artsmia.org/art/670/the-wise-and-foolish-virgins-norway
Sandström, Katarina and Gunilla Petri, Gunnar Hillerdal, and Rolf Lind, Livets Tråd Anna Maria Hokes textila värld. Barometerns förlag, 1996.
Wright Auctions, Chicago, 11/20/2014, lot #116
Please reference as follows:
Whidden, Anne, “A Dancing Design ” theswedishrugblog (9//17); theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (day/month/year)