the Birdwoman, aka “r-f-t” or “EN”?

 

Usually I write about Swedish designers whose work I know, and whom I know at least something about. This artist is different. Given the demographics of this field, the designer is likely to be a woman—I call her the Birdwoman or Ms. Birdhorse, for her main subjects. Her work is so consistent and distinctive in its imagery and colors that it seems time to find her a name.

1. Bird artish unsigned"flatweave from Bohuslojd"Buk 4_5_16 198x125
Flat-weave (rölakan) described as an “Unsigned flat weave from Bohuslöjd,” 6’ 6” x 4’1” (198 x 125 cm) sold Bukowskis Auction House, 4/5/16. Patchwork of mustard, olive, light blue/grey and ivory with abstracted flower stalks and birds with elongated bodies; lavender border.

 

While these are not all small pieces, they are nearly all flat-weaves (rölakan). Despite their size, they seem to have been woven as if they were tapestries—that is side to side. Thus they may have all been meant to be used as either wall hangings, or as small to medium-sized rugs. Their decorative pictoral quality and one-directional aspect also argues for their use as wall hangings.

2a Bird artist 196x138 12_14_14 Bukow rolakan
Flat weave (rölakan), described as wall textile (väggtextil), signed, 6’ 6” x 4’ 6” (198 x 138 cm). Sold Bukowskis Auction House 12/14/14. Overall blue with irregularly striped ends and birds with elongated bodies and abstracted flower stalks.
3.Birdartist unsigned 117x177 2_16_14 Leiflers Fallkoping
Flat weave rug rölakan, unsigned, 5’ 9 3/4” x 3’10” (177 x 117 cm) sold Leiflers Auktionshus, Falköping. Striated mustard and olive green, ivory and blue birds set in diamond-shapes.

There is no fringe on any of these pieces to indicate warp direction, but looking closely at the weave, one can see the direction of the warp consistently side to side. The nature of the patterns of these pieces which have so many vertical elements and stripes also argues for these elements being in the direction of the weft, not the warp.

The flat-woven pieces shown above have a consistent color palette, and all feature birds with tails pointing upward. Trees and flowers are all abstracted stalks. Diamond shapes seem to be tending toward becoming trees. The larger weaving below continues these visual themes and has some of the same elements, although this one explores the use of a symmetrical color-blocked background.

 

7a. birdartish tapestry rug Joshua Lumley via firstdibs
Signed flat weave rug (rölakan), 7 ’6-1/2” x 4’ 11” (230 x150 cm). For sale from Joshua Lumley LTD on firstdibs.com. Grey and ivory background with large blue birds with up-curving tails, abstracted flowers and diamond shapes.

The following two close-up shots show the direction of the warp threads running side to side across the piece with weft threads running vertically and crossing over and under these. The second shot also shows how a curved shape is constructed incrementally with the weft.

7b. Lumley signature
Detail of signature, Flat weave rug (rölakan), 7 ’6-1/2” x 4’ 11” (230 x150 cm). For sale from Joshua Lumley LTD on firstdibs.com. This shot also shows that the bottom of the piece is a selvedge edge, rather than the end of the warp.

 

7c. Lumley detail-woven sideways
Detail, signed flat weave rug (rölakan), 7 ’6-1/2” x 4’ 11” (230 x150 cm). For sale from Joshua Lumley LTD on firstdibs.com

The next rug shown, and subsequent ones, are linked by the fact that all employ a kind of
waterfall-like tail. This is the design motif that links the bird forms with the horse forms in this artist’s oeuvre.

4. Bird artistClars Auction gallery Oakland $300-500 est for 3 size?
Flat weave piece, unsigned and unsized, sold Clars Auction Gallery, Oakland, California 2016, in group of 3 pieces. Birds with elongated bodies and waterfall-like tails, multiple “stop sign” shapes on yellow-green ground which may be trees.

The next piece, an anomalous rug woven in pile rather than flat weave takes the diamond shape and gives it a rounded quality—definitely a tree. It is unclear whether this design proceeded the flat-woven diamond shapes, or came after it. In fact, I have no dates for any of these pieces, so am ordering them only stylistically here.

5 Bird artist Clars auction gallery
Pile rug, unsized and apparently unsigned. Sold at Clars Auction Gallery. Oakland California, sold 2016, in group of 3 pieces. Central tree with bird on light yellow ground.

The following pieces show this designer’s transformation of birds into horses.

6. horse hanging 35x61" on 1:17:17 flatweave attributed to finnish designer dealer on first dibs Hudson ny ref LU80022594532
Flat weave piece described as “Flatweave attributed to Finnish designer,” signed, 5’ 1” x 2’ 10” via firstdibs, 1/1/17. Horses with waterfall tails on a striated ivory ground, and striated grey borders.
8. danish woolen wall hanging 32 x60 Sarasota auction house Freedom auct colot0191 3::5:17
Flat weave piece described as “Danish woolen wall hanging,” 5’x 2’ 8.” No apparent signature, sold at Freedom Auction Company, Sarasota, Florida 3/5/17. Tan horses with waterfall tails and abstract flowering trees on neutral-colored bands.

Another piece with horses introduces a new element: the abstract female shape.

9. Birdartist oakland ca
Flat weave (rolakan), signed but unsized; sold Clars Auction Gallery, Berkley California, 2016 in group of 3 pieces. Orange with horses with waterfall tails, abstracted flower stalks and a female figure.

The largest of these pieces I have seen is shown below. Like the large weaving with the two facing blue birds shown above (fourth from the top), this one also uses a symmetrical background of colored block areas. The design of the horse elements with their waterfall tails is familiar. The new design element introduced here is that of six abstract female figures at the bottom of the piece. Interestingly, I have found two copies of this piece, with the smaller one classified as a wall-hanging by the seller. The photographs I have of these, however are disproportionate in size– the smaller photo for the larger weaving, and vice versa.  But the larger photo provides us with several more close-up views of the piece.

10. Birdartist 235x171 bukow 10-30-15 4200sek
Flat weave (rolakan), signed, 7’ 8-1/2” x 5’ 7-3/8” (235 x 171 cm), sold at Bukowskis Auction house 10/30/15. Striated red and ivory areas with abstract flowers and stalks and a row of six abstract female figures on the lower section of the piece.
10b NE väggbonad 195x138 Buk 4-13-2013
Wall-hanging (Väggbonad) in flat weave (rolakan), signed, 6’ 4-3/4” x 4’ 6” (195x 138 cm), sold at Bukowskis Auction house, 4/13/13 . Same design as previous, in slightly more orange color (or this may be the photograph.) Striated red and ivory areas with abstract flowers and stalks and a row of six abstract female figures on the lower section of the piece.
10c95 x138 Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 11.22.48 PM
Detail of wall-hanging (väggbonad) in flat weave (rolakan), signed, 6’ 4-3/4” x 4’ 6” (195x 138 cm), sold at Bukowskis Auction house, 4/13/13. Warp runs left to right, weft top to bottom.
10d Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 11.22.22 PM
Signature, detail of wall-hanging (väggbonad) in flat weave (rolakan), signed, 6’ 4-3/4” x 4’ 6” (195x 138 cm), sold at Bukowskis Auction house, 4/13/13. Bukowskis described this signature as “NE.”

 

Most of these pieces are signed clearly but with a confusing combination of letters, as we will see below. Their place of origin is equally unclear: when listed for sale, one of these was cited as being from the Bohuslöjd — that is, from a Country Craft Association near Gothenburg. (Bohuslän is located just where Sweden begins to abut Norway and is the most northern coastal province on Sweden’s west coast). Another was attributed to a Finnish designer (unnamed), and another was described as a “Danish wallhanging”. Most of these have sold in southern Sweden, proximate to both Gothenburg and Copenhagen. So there is no assurance this is even a Swedish artist— she may well be Danish.

You can see how much I don’t know here.

But what I do know, is that while not all are initialed, all are clearly from the same designer. You can just see it. Look at them yourself, and see how similar the shapes of the horses and the birds are, how flowers are all forked sticks and diamonds become trees.

There are three pieces which are unquestionably wall hangings, by their size. Two of these are two versions of the same charmingly decorative design in different colors.

11. Birdartist 99x77 cm 10-22-15 9746693_bukobject
Flat weave wall hanging (väggbonad), signed, 39” x 30” (99 x 77 cm). Sold Bukowskis 10/22/15. White double-ended birds on blue ground
13. väggbonad 9_24_16 85x95 Garpenhus auktioner
Flat weave wall hanging (väggbonad), signed obscurely, 37” x 33-1/2” (95 x85 cm). sold Garpenhus Auktioner, Malmö, Sweden, 9/24/16. Purple double ended birds on mustard colored ground.
14. tapestry weave vavbonad (warp sizewise)
Detail, flat weave wall hanging (väggbonad), signed obscurely, 37” x 33-1/2” (95 x85 cm). sold Garpenhus Auktioner, Malmö, Sweden, 9/24/16. Note that bottom of the piece is the finished selvedge and  the warp threads on each side are covered with cloth tape.
26 Signed"PE" horses Buk 8_23_15 99x80
Flat weave wall hanging (Väggbonad), signed, 39” x 33” (99 x 80 cm). Sold Bukowskis Auction House, 4/13/2013. Bukowskis described this signature as “PE.” Two horses with tree between them. Scallops and arches are unusual elements.

 

We have several versions of a fairly consistent —if perplexing—signature. At first I thought these letters looked like lower case letters, and to me, the first one looks like a (somewhat flat) “r.” I read the second letter as several letters superimposed to make a very distinctive mark. In itself this is not so surprising: there are several other designers who conjoin letters (Anna-Greta Sjoqvist,for example, leans the G into the A in her rug signatures to make AG conjoined, something I can’t reproduce on the computer).

15. bird artist signature 10-30-15
Signature on striated red version of large flat weave
7b. Lumley signature
Signature on large flat weave with two facing blue birds

But unlike those signatures, the second element in this signature seems to contain a number of letters piled up on top of each other rather than leaning next to each other. I have never seen this kind of visual pile-up of what might be a letter “t,” a letter, “f,”, or possibly a capital E. This would give us something like “r-f-t” or “r-E-f”, although, this combination of capital and lower-case letters seems unlikely.

Let’s consider another possibility. What if there are just two letters in this signature, and the second letter helps the first letter complete its shape? Could the curve of the “r” continue on up over the top of the second letter, which still might be an “f” or a “t”? The signature below could read that way.

12. bird signatre 10-21-15
Signature detail, Flat weave wall hanging, signed, 39” x 30” (99 x 77 cm). Sold Bukowskis 10/22/15.

Or could these both be capital letters so that the vertical bar of the second letter finalizes the first— so that the wedge part of the first letter reads as the downward stroke of an N, joined to an E? While not all of the signatures we have seen are read convincingly in this way, at least two of the signatures we have seen would support this conclusion:

2b Bird artist signatureVäggtextil 196x138 s
Signature on wall-textile shown second from top above.

 

26b PE signature
Signature on last wall-hanging shown above. This is the most convincing version of an “NE” signature.

Ok— it’s now time for you readers, especially the Swedes and Danes among you, to bring a little crowd-sourcing into action. Have you seen other pieces by this artist? Do you know where they were purchased, or maybe even who wove them? We can ask the purchasing question a little more broadly,  and include Americans this time, since I found three of these pieces offered for sale in a Berkley, California auction house (all 3 sold for $375), so some American somewhere along the line traveled to Sweden or Denmark and bought them. One would think there would be a few more pieces of this artist’s work around out there, and someone must know something!

This artist’s form vocabulary is certainly consistent, and the signature should be decipherable. Let’s see if we can find the Birdartist a name and a home!

UPDATE 8/18/18:

Another of these pieces (see image below)is currently on auction in Westport, Ct.  It is listed as “Danish Kilim Tapestry,” Lot 0177.  I wrote to the auctioneers for clarification and they said that they guarenteed the item to be Danish and confirmed that it had been directly imported from Denmark by long-time consignors of the auction house.  We still do not know the designer’s name, but at least we can narrow the source to mid-century Denmark!

"danish kilim tapestry" 30.5x60" westport aucton 8:18:18 via live auctioneers
“Danish Kilim Tapestry,” 30.5″ x 60″ Westport Auctioneers, Lot 0177, Mid-Century auction 8/19/18/

FURTHER UPDATE 10/9/19:

Looking through back listings of Bukowski’s Auction house, Stockholm, I found confirmation that these were made by a Danish company, named Ziola.  Who the designer was for that company, I still don’t know.  The following two photographs, front and back, are of a piece, clearly by the designer identified in this blog post– and now known to be by this company, with a tag attached to the back.  Unfortunately there are no close up views of the tag, but the listing for the piece identifed it as Danish.  Hopefully another one of these with a readable tag will show up!

Buk 2-1-11
Sold by Bukowskis 2/1/11
back of Bird artist identified by Buk 2-1-11 as Denmark
Reverse side of piece shown above with tag of Danish company. Sold by Bukowskis 2/1/11.

 

Sources:

Bukowskis (online) Auction House Stockholm

Clars Auction gallery, Berkley Ca Dec 13, 2015 Fine Art and Antiques Auction, lot 2413

firstdibs.com

Freedom Auction House, Sarasota, Florida

Garpenhus Auktioner, Malmö, Sweden via auctionenet.com

Joshua Lumley Ltd., Egerton, Great Britain via first dibs; item reference Number
LU250136765003

Leiflers Auktionshus, Falköping, Sweden via auctionet.com

Westport Auctions via Live Auctioneers; email conversation 8/15/18

 

8 thoughts

  1. Anne, these are such beautiful tapestries! Thank you for tracking down the stream of this weaver’s work and presenting them all here. I love seeing the evolution of the themes and images. I wonder if the bird – horse relates to any images in Norse mythology? I’ll check with my resident expert in that area and let you know. Other readers may know more.

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  2. Thanks, Robbin! I’m glad you are liking them. Just since I published this blog, I have found 5 more examples out there, so I’m sure someone must know something about where the pieces were bought and when.

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  3. Dear Agnes,
    I think that you will see I wrote a final post on this topic crediting Eva from Germany with solving the mystery. Thanks for your second!
    Best, Anne

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  4. Hi Anne,
    I just bought one of these wall weavings and was trying to track down the artist. The one I have has a long fringe, which is so different from what I’ve found online; however has the same signature. I’m really glad I came upon your blog, as I was told from the vintage gallery that it was Cepelia of Poland. I originally thought it was Evelyn Ackerman- maiden name Lipton. She did a lot of midcentury bird designs with this style.

    Thanks again!
    Courtney

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  5. Hi Courtney,
    So glad you found your answer (here!)
    You can see that it tok me a while to get there too. But I’m glad you have your piece and can enjoy knowing what it is. The blog has another piece on Polish rugs misidentified as Swedish as well, in April 2018. And hopefully, you’ll enjoy learning about the Swedish work too!
    Best, Anne

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