The wool from a sheep is not all of the same quality or usefulness for spinning into yarn that is good for weaving. A 1931 invention by a woman named Ester Teorell —first presented to the Swedish Craft Association in Stockholm—ultimately provided a way to use sheeps’ coarser wool. About 20 years later, the Bergå Dying and Wool-spinning Company adopted Teorell’s patented invention, and created a new kind of backing for rya rugs.
An important company behind the production of Swedish rya rugs, Bergå was founded in 1855 in a little town called Stora Skevdi, Arkhyttan, in the province of Dalarna, lying to the west of Stockholm. By the late 1940s, this company was acquired by the national administration of the local County Craft Associations (the Hemslöjdsföreningarnas Riksföreningarnas Riksförbund). This acquisition allowed the County Craft (“hemslöjd”) Association stores around the country to have a reliable source of wool, and to sell a consistent and very high quality of dyed yarn in a huge range of colors.
In the early 1950s, following Teorell’s invention, Bergå began to use its machines to make a neat and sturdy woven backing material —kind of a dense woven grid—on which long-pile rya rugs could then be constructed at home without the use of a loom. As I discussed in an earlier blog post on Ingrid Skerfe-Nilsson, rya rugs made in this fashion, became a hobby for many during the 1950s and ’60s. Apparently the activity gained further rationale when an American doctor decreed that those suffering from stress would find making rya rugs a therapeutic practice!
To market its rya backing material (called “ryabotten,” in Swedish) as well as its yarns, the Bergå company began in 1952, and for at least 20 years thereafter, to issue small paper portfolios containing a selection of patterns for rya rugs. (In Swedish the plural for these is “ryor”). The connection between manufacturing and marketing was very symbiotic: these patterns were designed by major Swedish textile designers, each of whom worked for (no surprise!) the County Craft Associations (hemslöjden), either full-time or on a free-lance basis, the very associations who in turn sold the Bergå wool and other products.
It is fascinating to look at these little collections for a number of reasons. First, it is clear that the County Craft Associations employed many of Sweden’s strongest designers (and that conversely, nearly all of the strong designers worked for County Craft Associations for some period during their careers). Second, it is useful to see which Craft Association these designers were associated with at a given point in time, since a number of them worked at several different such associations during their careers. Thirdly, these little pamphlets offer information which can correct the lack of attribution for quite a few of these Swedish rya rugs.
Over the period of about 20 years— from 1952 through at least 1972— there were number of editions of the Bergå folder with enclosed pattern sheets and pricelist. Some 57 designers were featured over the span of this small ephemeral publication (there was some confusion here– originally this number was counted as 59 designers, but two of the designers were counted twice with both their unmarried and married names, since later editions changed their listings to their new names). Many of the designers’ patterns were available in all of the editions; others came and went. Younger designers continued to be featured in later/subsequent issues. Some patterns had been designed originally for the designer’s home hemslöjd; others were designed for this publication.
To some extent, each of these designers represented a particular Crafts Association, although that relationship is rarely explicit in any of the Bergå printed material. One needs to do some research to determine which Hemslöjd each represented.
Of the designs presented, it is clear that many/most of the patterns could be made in several sizes, and nearly all in multiple colors. Ryas in general were never very large rugs because too much material would make them hard to work with and heavy to maneuver. In this portfolio were both more traditional patterns— i.e. those working with the underlying grid determined by a warp and weft, and others which were more painterly and modernistic, perhaps influenced by the strong Finnish rya culture of this time.
These rugs could be purchased either ready-made or in kit form, offering the County Craft Association stores a valuable new product. Commenting on the 2009 exhibition, the curator of the show at Leksand Culture House, Per-Åke Backman observed, “Kits of finished material for sewing of rya rugs, high grade quality, were prepared, and everything was included; working drawing, ruler, rya ball [I am not sure exactly what this is], ryobot [woven base], yarn mix chart and the actual rya yarns calculated according to the size and pattern of each rya. It was now possible for anyone to order a package of materials from Swedish Hemslöjd for an affordable price, and to create a luxury artwork for the home by themselves.”
I should note that, having done much of the research on this topic, I then discovered that there had been a museum show in Sweden on exactly this topic — matching of some of the woven rugs to the published patterns— in 2009. Since I did not get to that show, I apologize to those of you who saw it, but have decided the story is still worth telling to an English-speaking audience. I know 20 rug designs were shown there, but not which ones; hopefully the rugs I will show below offer some variation.
In the little portfolio I have (the second one shown above), which seems to be from the mid 1960s, although the dated price list from my copy was missing, there are 33 designers featured, and 39 patterns provided. There are patterns by designers in the list that follows, with at least half of these well-known mid-century designers. A number, like Anna Blom, Hildegard Dinclau, and Anna Hådell were born early in the 20th-century, and represented the old guard by mid-century, but were still doing active work. Many of the others, like Kerstin Butler, Ingrid Dessau, Gerda Jansson, Irma Kronlund, Kerstin Mauritzon, Viveka Nygren, Ulla Percy and Märta Rinde-Ramsbäck, born in the late teens and early ’20s were in their 40s by 1965, already established, and producing important rugs in various types – rya, flat-weave, and pile. Some of the younger designers, born in the 1930s, are unlikely to have been in the original 1952 portfolio, among these Margareta Grandin, Rigmor Grönjord, and Kerstin Åsling.
What is clear, comparing the list (on the left below) of those designers featured in the portfolio I have, with those in previous and later additions, is that the total group of these designers comes close to covering the names of strong designers active during this time period. Some faded from view fairly quickly, others had more durable and successful careers, but Bergå clearly recruited most of the best of the period for this little publication.
Ingrid af-Klercker UPDATE as of 11/10/17 — other designers included
Margit Ahl-Westin in other editions (thanks to Per-Åke Backman):
Kerstin Åsling Marika Arleman-Leander
Anna Blom (Kerstin Bergman, later Mauritzson; see opposite)
Kerstin Butler Gunnel Björkman
Britt Marie Cristoffersson Ingrid Bäckström
Ingrid Dessau Anna-Lisa Elfving
Hildegard Dinclau Anne-Marie Elvius
Kerstin Ekengren (Inger Emanuelsson, later af Klercker; see opposite)
Monia Ericson Gunilla Fleming Bergström
Margareta Grandin Ethel Halvar-Andersson
Gerd Goran Bengt Härdelin
Rigmor Grönjord Lizzie Härdelin
Anna Håddell Gunilla Lagerbielke
Margareta Harström Emma Lundberg-Hörlén
Gerda Jansson Maja Lundbäck
Eva Ljungqvist Hedvig Maas
Irma Kronlund Anita Markelius-Åkesson
Kerstin Mauritzson Kaisa Melanton
Viveka Nygren Ingrid Mjörne-Michelson
Efa Babetta Öhjne Marianne von Münchow
Ulla Percy Helle Månsson
Märta Rinde-Ramsbäck Barbro Nilsson
Britta Rendahl Maj Näsholm
Clara Salander Barbro Ramqvist
Birgitta Salenius Gun Sandberg
Britta Sanderskog Ingregard Silow
Gunilla Schildt Stuart Ingrid Skerfe-Nilsson
Lena Sjöberg Tova Vanner-Dahlström
Brigit von Platen
I have been able to “match up” rya rugs by 9 of these designers in the portfolio I have, probably ca 1965. If I find more rugs designed by other designers from this edition, or further information from other editions of this portfolio, I will append that to this post. Information about both the individual designers and the rugs I can match to their designs for this edition of the portfolio follows.
`+ + + + +
—-Gerd Goran was in her early 40s, and had been associated with the Värmlands County Craft Association when she designed two rya rugs for the Bergå portfolio. The first design is a playful and colorful exploration of a grid which feels almost like a game board. It comes as no surprise to learn that Goran explored collage as a technique in her textile designs, and that she also did designs for printed textiles and wallpapers. Published as a design in red and purple, the alternate colors offered were blue, yellow and brown.
The second is of Goran’s designs is a study in black and white called “Timotej”, which has a kind of runic simplicity.
It is interesting that when this rug was was sold by Bukowskis in 2013, it was attributed not to Goran but to Kaisa Melanton, a designer of almost the same age who later did work for both the Märta Måås Fjetterström atelier and for the Friends of Handicraft (Handarbetets Vänner). This was not a surprising attribution, given the fact that Melanton did design a remarkably similar black and white rya of this name for Svensk Hemslöjd’s own widely published folder of rya pattern pages (mönsterblad), but it is not the same rug, as a comparison of the two designs shows. (Later note as of 11/10/17: Perhaps I should not speak so fast, since Melanton apparently did do a rya for Bergå, and since some of the designs were previously composed, it is possible that her design originally for Svensk Hemslöjd made a second appearance in a different Bergå portfolio.)
—-One of Clara Salander’s two designs for the Bergå collection was an abstractly modernist piece with a traditional name. Salander, born in Finland to a Swedish-speaking family, had been an adventurous young woman who, after studying graphic arts in Helsinki, then studied fashion at Pratt Institute in New York City and then painting at the Cranbrook School of Art in Michigan, before settling in Sweden for her weaving career.
By the time she was in her early 30s, Salander was working for the Västerbotten County Crafts Association. This rug was shown in a single colorway.
—-Ingrid Dessau, a very well-regarded independent freelance designer who had a relationship with Kristianstad Country Crafts Association (Kristianstad lans hemsöjd) designed three rugs for the Bergå mid-’60s portfolio. One of them was a neutral-toned rya. (See previous posts on Dessau for more on her career). This rug, called Python, had a much more structured and geometric pattern, but like the previous design, was designed in a single colorway.
—-Judging from the number of examples of this rug still extant, the rya pattern which seems to have been one of Bergå’s most successful designs was by another Ingrid— this one Ingrid af Klercker. She was probably living in Södermanland, west of Stockholm. This pattern, called Turtle (Sköldpadda), was designed in blue as well as (a very pinkish) red, yellow and brown.
It is curious than none of the examples of this rug found seem to be the the standard sizes for these rugs as shown on the photo pages from my particular edition. In this ca 1965 portfolio, the kits were offered in only two sizes. If the rug was as popular as it seems to have been, it seems very likely that other sizes would have been added in successive editions of the Bergå Ryor portfolio. As we look at other rugs below, we will see that more sizes were offered in rugs by designers recently added to each new edition of the portfolio. It’s likely that new sizes were also offered in subsequent editions of the portfolio for patterns already popular from earlier editions, like this one.
The Turtle rugs I have found, all clearly woven on this kind of base, suggest that this was the case. Two of the three correspond to a size available later, if not in this particular edition.
—-Viveka Nygren designed two ryas for the portfolio, one a pattern called “Gate” with discontinuous vertical bars of tone and color. In the portfolio I have it was offered in the three standard sizes and in two colors, grayish and red. In later editions, it seems to have also been offered in a blue-green version. Nygren worked during the 1950s with both the Kristianstads and Örebo County Crafts Associations, and she might have been representing either of these craft associations by her inclusion in this portfolio.
Viveka Nygren, “Grind” (“Gate”) rya rug, from Bergå Ryor folder, undated. Rug design in three sizes: 85 x 140 cm, 107 x 170cm, and 121 x 200 cm, and two colors.
—-Kerstin Mauritzson, who designed the next rya pattern, was the chief designer at Malmö County Craft Association when she designed this rug. This rug may have been designed for this particular portfolio, but other flat-weave rugs she designed during this period have a similar interest in abstracted cross shapes made up of small overlapping squares. (See earlier blog posts on Mauritzson, and collection of archived material in Landskrona). Her title for the rug, Bunkeflo, is based on the name for one of the suburbs (or perhaps the beach of that suburb) south of Malmö, Bunkeflostrands. It is unusual for this portfolio to offer rugs in the smallest size offered here.
—-The abstract rya patterns designed by Britt Marie Kristofferson play not just with a change in color, but a change in what is represented by that change in color. She has a rug called Moonlight, and the alternate colors, although not so specified, seem to suggest different states of sun or moon light. And in fact, Kristofferson is represented with a second rug in the portfolio— this one called Solgömma, or Hidden Sun.
Kristofferson would have been in her late 20s when this portfolio was produced, although I don’t know which county craft association she represented at the time. She went on in textiles, though not in weaving. She has however revitalized the Swedish knitting tradition with exuberant and joyful knitting stitches, patterns and books.
To go back to the design for Kristofferson’s rya rug design for Bergå, it seems odd that the way the rug dimensions are presented on her particular page (largest to smallest) are in the reverse order from those on other pages, making me think that she may have been young enough to have been a designer newly added to this edition, and that while other pages were simply reprinted from the earlier edition(s), her pages were reformatted. It is also interesting that the large size of her rug pattern was very large for a rya.
—-I know very little about Britta Sanderskog, other than her design for Bergå, and maybe a Swedish speaker can tell me what, Marlek, the name of her rug means. It’s not in my dictionary! But Sanderskog would also have been a young woman when her design was published, and like Kristofferson, the way the rug sizes were presented (again, largest to smallest) on her page, and the fact that her designs were now offered in five sizes, suggests that she too was a recent addition to the portfolio. All of the young designers must have been rising young talents, and it would have been an honor for each of them to be included with the more established designers.
—-The final designer for whom I have been able to match design to rug is Margareta Grandin. As a young woman, Grandin worked at Gävleborgs County Craft Association with Anna-Maria Hoke. Her tenure there —from 1960 to 1968—helps give us a definite time frame for this edition of the Bergå Ryor portfolio which I have. She was an active designer of rugs, embroidery, and church weavings for Gävleborgs. Her work is not visible in Sweden much beyond that date, because she subsequently moved to the United States, married, and had a very successful career on Nantucket Island as a weaver of large pieces for wealthy clients. She designed two rugs for this portfolio, one a pattern called Flora.
The design which Bergå published, which has a kind of fireworks-like visual excitement, seems to have been very popular, again, based on the number of copies of this rug which turn up at auctions. We can see— as we have not been able to do with any of the other patterns we have looked at— how different sizes of the rug vary the pattern slightly. (It is also interesting to note that Bergå seems to have inverted the original pattern of this rug. If one compares the photograph of her below with the rug as Bergå presented it in their portfolio, the element with the heaviest color is located in the lower right quadrant, whereas the original seems to have had the most-colored element in the upper left.)
Grandin seems to have designed this rug as her final project in the County Craft Association Women’s Craft school in Uppsala in 1964. Sweden’s digital archives has a newspaper photo of a very pleased-looking, but unnamed young woman, whom I take to be Grandin, with this rug. The original caption reads, “The weaving school in Uppsala has its end-of-the-year events, June 1964. County Craft Association’s Women’s Craft School, Uppsala County.” Grandin would have been 31 years old in 1964. If anyone know the identity of the older woman, who may have taught at the school, or been a judge, please help identify her!
If Grandin was originally as thrilled as she looks in this newspaper photo with her rug, one has to assume that as a young designer, she was equally pleased to be included in this portfolio of rya rugs by important county craft association designers from around Sweden.
Per-Åke Backman, Leksand Kulturhuset, email correspondance, November 2017.
Bergå Ryor portfolios; one with loose-leaf color photographs, most printed front and back, undated and missing price list was the basis for this blog posting.
Bukowskis auction house, Stockholm
Claesson, Anna Maria, editor, Frostroser och Tulpaner — Jonköpings läns hemslöjdsförenings samling 1909-1986, Småländska kulturbilder, 2003
etsy.com for image of Bergå Ryor folder with a different cover. (Not consulted, simply seen in photos)
Gastriklands Auktionskammare, Gavle, Sweden
gavledraget.com — photos from newspaper articles on Clara Salander
Janson, Karin, “Ett kulturarv på modet”, dt newspaper, Säter, 23 Feb, 2009 email@example.com
Johansson, Linnea, “På hembygdsgården i Stora Skedvi visas en utställning med Ryamattor,” Dala Demokraten, Säter, 11 Jul 2009. firstname.lastname@example.org
Lundahl, Gunilla, Karaktär och känsla om Svensk Hemslöjd, Ett sekel med Svensk Hemslöjd, Raster Förlag, 2001.
Lundahl, Gunilla, Varp och Väft —Textil konstnärerna och hemslöjden, catalog of exhibition at Waldemarsudde, 26 December 1994 – 5 Mars 1995 .
Mönsterblad, Utgivna av föreningen för svensk hemslöjd — Mönsterblad för ryamattorvävda eller knutna på bottnar. Kartong 10. Lantbruksförbundets tidskrifts AB Stockholm, 1952.
Nazmiyal Antique Carpet Gallery, New York
Norberg, Berndt, “Bergås ryamattor ställs ut i Stora Skedvi”, dt newspaper, 16 June 2009.
Stiftelsen Skånsk Hemslöjd Archives, Landskrona, with thanks to Åsa Stentoft, Director
Stockholms Auktionsverk, Stockholm
tradera.se for image of 1973 Bergå Ryor wth same cover as one above but showing different patterns, and dated by inclusion of price list (not consulted, simply seen in photos).