This line from Maurice Sendak’s iconic American children’s book titled “In the Night Kitchen,” published in 1970, describes an equally fantastic— but less well known— contemporaneous tapestry designed by Ann-Mari Forsberg in 1968. Forsberg, working for the Märta Måås-Fjetterström workshop, was commissioned by the Påhlsson family, owners of the Pågens bakery of Malmö, to create a large tapestry illustrating the art of baking. The tapestry was commissioned to celebrate the opening of the company’s new bakery complex in Malmö in1969. Called “The Family Bakery” (“Familjebageriet”), the tapestry is 378 x 163 cm or about 12-1/2’ long by 5’4” tall, and is woven in a gobelin technique. The highly skilled weavers –one could almost say, “interpreters” for the design– of this piece were Aita Dahlin and Sara Richter, who wove it in 1969.
First founded as Påhlsson Bageri, the baking company was re-named in the 1950s, when they expanded from being local to becoming national bread purveyors and the fifth-largest employer in Malmö. Today there are two bakeries, in Malmö and in Gothenburg, which deliver bread and pastry to some 3500 shops in Sweden every day.
The company’s new buildings were designed by the modernist architect, Ralph Erskine. Erskine was born and schooled in England, but lived and practiced architecture in Sweden for his adult life. With a real commitment to humane architectural design, Erskine was an good fit for the ethos of the Pågens company. Today this tapestry has pride of place, hanging on a long wall in the spacious corporate offices of the family-run company. The artwork is much valued by employees and also appreciated by visitors to the building. Although the building suffered a fire in the early 2000s, this tapestry, and a number of other woven pieces also commissioned by the company, were rescued, and where necessary, treated for smoke damage. There is some fading, but generally it is in fantastic condition.
As an artwork, the tapestry also both fits within and differs from the tradition of painted group portraits of families, and even more, of groups of workers shown with the implements of their trade — of musicians shown with their instruments, women weaving lace, men working at laborious trades, even (famously) of nightwatchman setting out on their watch. From the Renaissance on, painters have recorded daily life, and in every generation these paintings reflect the attitudes of their day about the value of work or its hardships and struggles. Here are images of a few of these kinds of genre portraits.
The Pågans tapestry certainly avoids both the ribald and brutal aspect of the earliest of these kinds of genre portraits, like the first portrait, above, and the 19th and 20th-century angst about the harsh nature of men’s labor evident in the last two. Paintings of this type tend to be either celebrations of the workers and their work (and often paid for by a guild or civic organization) or a critique of that work. “The Family Bakery” is definitely a celebration. As they might be in a children’s book, the figures here are differentiated but not highly individualized. There are nine figures shown, three of them women, five men, and one boy.
Down at the bottom center, and holding the scroll saying “Family Bakery”, is a tiny elf-like child who represents the “påg” himself. More than simply a “boy,” the Skanian name has a positive cast, meaning “lad” or cheerful young fellow. “Pågens,” then, is “the lad’s”–bakery, in this case.
Whether or not the figures of the bakers depicted represent real people and their particular jobs, or simply the idea of those, I don’t know. In any case the figures have an illustrative rather than realistic quality, distinguished mostly by varying eye colors and complexions but repetitive in their generally rotund physical shapes, and white uniforms. The distinctive bakers’ hats worn by all nine bakers also become a unifying visual motif, round and puffy like the pastries they are making.
Unlike the paintings of this genre, the figures are presented here, with one exception, completely frontally, which gives the tapestry a sort of curious two-dimensionality. Like all of Forsberg’s work, “The Family Bakery” presents a kind of amusing catalog, this one of the baking trade. Thus the products of the bakery are as vividly captured as the bakers themselves, with cakes, pretzels, cornets of whipped cream, bread, spice or gingerbread cookies, the distinctive Swedish cinnamon rolls called Kanelbullar, the S-shaped saffron buns made for St Lucia’s Day, called Lussekatter, and a braided cardamom bread. The swirly decorated cake with flags in the lower left, near the boy, may be a wedding cake from this area of Sweden called Spettekaka. (Swedish readers, feel free to correct and add here!)
The arched ovens and niches with cooling shelves and ingredients provide the rounded background shapes for this parade of bakers. Tools of the trade are equally well represented: the large wooden paddles for placing dough in the oven, scales for weighing ingredients, baking pans, a pastry brush, baskets, a grater, a grinder for spices which clamps onto the tabletop, a conic net cover. a glass rolling pin. A large black mortar and pestle is at the center of the tapestry. See how many of these you can find in these photos!
Also on display here is the process of baking itself— from raw ingredients and necessary spices, to dough, to shapes on a pan, to breads and in the oven, to the cooling finished products. The swirls of white steam above and around the bakers and their products, and the plumes of fragrance rising from the mortar have a frothy visual character, and as is frequently the case with Forsberg’s designs, the visual is used to evoke deeper senses of smell and taste.
This tapestry has —for Forsberg— a restrained color palette, of mostly browns, whites, tans and greys, reflecting the colors of the breads and cakes and of the ingredients involved. Here and there are animating touches of gold, pink, blue, and yellow. The overall tonality of the piece works well in the modernist office space.
Woven sideways, so that the warp of the piece runs from side to side, the tapestry is reinforced on the back with vertical threads designed to maintain the drape of the piece over its long span.
A sketch by Forsberg for this tapestry is in the designarkivet at the Kalmar Museum. This cannot be reproduced, but you can link here to see that:
Seeing this sketch, complete as it is conceptually, makes one appreciate the skill and patience it took for the weavers to transform the sketch to this marvelous tapestry hanging on the wall at Pågens.
The whimsical imagery of this tapestry nostalgically evokes both the beginnings and the identity of this family company. It is also a remarkably joyful statement about who the company is, even today: real-life bakers that bake until dawn.
Photography by the author; visit to Pågens, April 27, 2017. Thanks to Jenny von Platen of von Platen Modern Form for arranging the visit.
Märta Måås-Fjetterstrom AB, Båstad, Sweden
Please reference as follows:
Whidden, Anne, “ The bakers that bake in the dawn so we can have cake till the morn,” theswedishrugblog (12/2/17); theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (day/month/year)