It is always satisfying to see a sketch for a rug and then find the rug itself. Of course, if a rug has initials of either the designer or the weaving entity (like one of the many county craft associations, or, in Swedish, hemslöjden), so much the better, and these initials may provide such rugs with a definitive attribution, even without a sketch. Sometimes, though, rugs were unsigned — or possibly, the signatures have worn away if embroidered rather than woven on. But in many cases there are sketches available which allow us to give a name to the designer of an unattributed or even unsigned rug. Because of her sketches, we can look back now and attribute two rugs to Ingrid Skerfe-Nilsson, rugs not attributed to her at the time of sale.
In March 2017, an unattributed flat-weave rug did not sell at Bruun-Rasmussen in Copenhagen and then —probably the same one—sold in November at Bukowskis in Stockholm. It looked familiar to me, and I finally know why.
Below is a sketch for a rug called “Fyrklöver,” or “4-Leaf Clover” by Ingrid Skerfe-Nilsson, probably from 1948. It is grouped with two other sketches, all signed by her, in the Upplandsmuseet section of the Digitaltmuseum, one of which is dated 1948. In 1948, Skerfe-Nilsson was employed as a designer with the Uppsala County Crafts Association, where she had started in 1945. (In fact, her name in 1948 was actually Ingrid Skerfe. She married in 1949).
The sketch is in black and white and each dark square shown has four arms, which are presumably the abstracted 4 clover leaves. The rug as woven changes this reading, and makes primary a different figure: the large square with branching arms which is shown as white or negative space in the sketch. At first, it is hard to see that this is the same figure woven in brown in the rug shown below. In color, the brown branches make the yellow and green comb-like figures subsidiary, and create a hierarchy of shapes not evident in the sketch. But the design is actually the same; it is the colors which give such a changed reading of the pattern.
We can now give a clear name to this rug as well as a designer.
But there is one glitch here. When the rug was offered first at Bruun-Rasmussen Auctioneers in Copenhagen, there was one initial in the lower left hand corner, an embroidered L. In fact, by the way the rug is somewhat impressed, it looks to me like there may have originally been a set of initials, LR, or perhaps LP with the R or P worn away– but I may be wrong on this. Was this the weaver? Some rugs do in fact (infrequently) bear the initials of the weavers as well as the designer. It would have been much more likely, since her sketch is for the Uppsala lans hemslöjd, that the rug would carry the initials ULH in the lower left hand corner. But there is clearly no room for a U in front of the L here. And would IS, the designer’s initials, have been originally embroidered in the lower right corner? Because so many of her rugs were ryas, her initials were often embroidered on the reverse side, rather than woven, and perhaps her initials were embroidered on her flat-weave rugs as well. Obviously, this embroidery can wear off over time, more easily lost than woven-in initials.
It is fascinating to see the changes Skerfe-Nilsson made to this design though the colors she used, which gave it less of an overall pattern and more differentiation into six larger elements. It is also a good lesson in in how the choices of color can dramatically change the way a rug pattern “reads”.
Sometime between 1942 and 1951, Skerfe-Nilsson designed a pile rug, also for the Uppsala County Craft Association, which exhibits her usual graphic verve. The original design was for a yellow rug— or at least, the sketch we have was for a yellow rug. It was called “Joyful Flowers” (“Glädjens blomster”), with an anticipated size of 190 x 120 cm.
Bukowskis Auction house in Stockholm recently offered a rug based on this pattern, but in a very different palette of lavenders and greeny-browns. Nevertheless, the pattern is clearly identifiable, the kind of rug is the same, and the size is close to the original. While in the original color scheme, the central tree-like element was very much in the primary rug color, the tree element in this other color scheme is darker and more dominant. Perhaps this second color scheme is less successful, overall, although the rug has a very cosy quality somehow— or maybe it just seems so because it is winter when I am studying it! Again, it is fascinating to see how much a color change can changes the nature of the pattern.
Because Skerfe-Nilsson was so active at a later date, in the design, production and promotion of rya rugs, it may be more tricky to recognize her earlier pile and flat-weave rugs, particularly if they were unsigned or if an embroidered signature has worn away. But luckily, we have many of her sketches, so hopefully, more of her production can be identified in future. I have to assume that, like many of the other county craft/hemslöjd designers, her designs for flat-weave and pile rugs would have been made multiple times and in several colors. It will be interesting to see if other rugs in these patterns surface, and if they carry any other identifying initials.
Bukowskis Auction House, Stockholm, online auctions.
digitatlmuseum.se Items #UM41225 and #UM41241 from Upplandsmuseet collection.
Bruun Rasmussen Sale, Auction 870, 9 March 2017: Møbler, belysning og tæpper, item 966. With thanks to Anna Berger Widenborg, Design and 20th Century Decorative Art at Bruun- Rasmussen Auctioneers, Copenhagen for close-up photo of initial.
Please reference as follows:
Whidden, Anne, “ Two new identifications: Ingrid Skerfe-Nilsson,” theswedishrugblog (12/15/17); theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (day/month/year)