Marianne Richter was one of the most prolific rug and tapestry designers of mid-century Sweden. This post is the second in a series exploring the rya rugs she designed for the manufacturing company AB Wahlbecks in Linköping in Östergötland over a 17-year period. The rug line was called “Östergyllan,” or Eastern Gold, recalling with the name of each rug, a facet of the heritage of Östergötland.
It is clear that this very talented mid-century designer devoted considerable effort to designing these rugs for Wahlbecks. They were bought and enjoyed by a wide range of consumers in the 1950s and 60s, and continue to offer both good value and considerable design impact today. Although they are not of the same quality as the hand-woven rugs which Richter designed at the same time, the Wahlbecks rya rugs are cheerful and sturdy and offer rug enthusiasts a lot of design quality for their price—- and sometimes they can be found as tag sale items rather than for sale at more serious antique auctions!
I have classified these rugs into five series (within the overall Östergyllan series) based on the kind of label they carried as well as their evident stylistic qualities. Part 1 of this blog post looked at Series 1 and 2 approximately covering the years 1955-62. The three series which follow cover the period 1963-72. The very last series of Wahlbecks Östergyllan seems to have had not nearly as many rugs as the previous ones— or perhaps the character of the rugs changed during these years as other designers were invited to contribute to the line. In any case, Richter seems to have worked on several other lines as well as the Östergyllan line during this period— producing what seem to me to be designs generally inferior to those of her Östergyllan work. There are a few exceptions to this, which I’ll look at below.
Series 3. Swedish flag placed high on label Assumed period, 1963-66
—Övralid is the name of the simple house of Swedish writer, Verner von Heidenstam, on Lake Vattern. Writer of both poetry and prose, and 1916 Nobel Prize winner, von Heidenstam, was opposed to naturalism in literature and advocated instead for a return to beauty, fantasy and national romantic themes. The rather fantastic forms of this design seem to suit von Heidenstam’s aesthetic concerns.
—Rosenkälla, seems also to have been in the third series; Bukowskis identifies this as having been designed in 1964. I have identified this pattern in two colors shown below. The name pattern refers to the source of water from which Nyköping originally drew its water.
—Söderö is named after a early 19th c wooden manor house built at the southern end of Lake Ämmern on property mentioned in local records as early as 1415. What the significance the house or property has beyond this, I don’t know. Can one of my Swedish readers provide further information? The pattern of this rug is remarkably close to that of Klockricke in Series 1, but the center oval sections in that one are consistently white-ish where this pattern has more shades of the rug’s color.
—Västenvind This is a pattern for which the name seems so generic (“West wind”), that I have no further information. Is this the prevailing wind direction in Östergötland? That’s my best guess. What is most apparent about the pattern is that each of the colors of this rug have a kind of mid-60s intensity, yet manage to be rather subtle. The rug seems to evoke the feeling of rippling water or grass as wind blows over it.
The following rug carries a label from this series but the name of the rug is unreadable.
—Unnamed This rug sold by a Lindköping auction house has elements of similar to those of the Sturefors and Ulvåsa rugs, but it carries a label from Series 3. If readers can identify this rug, please let me know!
And the following rug is identified by name, and seems to come from this period, but it carries no label.
—Trollskog means enchanted forest, and the image seems to reflect that.
A second rug in the same pattern, and in black and white, is is a another example of Trollskog, and I have seen a third red version called Trollskog in the sales listing, but without a label.
But to confuse this identification, there is another rug also identified as Trollskog, but an entirely different pattern. Identified when sold as part of the Ostergyllan series, the following pattern is still looking for a name— and a label style would help too:
Series 4. Swedish flag placed low on larger label Assumed period, 1966-69
—Stångebro commemorates the battlefield on a plain outside Linköping where a six year alliance between Sweden and the Polanish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was ended in 1598, effectively ending the Catholic interests in Lutheran Sweden. Perhaps the shapes which I read as trees are opposing battlefield lines —although this is likely a too-literal interpretation of the pattern!
—Glan is named for a large lake in Östergötland, near Norrköping which provides the city of Norrköpings with its water.
Although nominally a rya, this handsome rug is unusual in the shorter length of its pile. Its composition also offers a certain parallel to Marianne Richter’s 1963 flat weave compositions for MMF called “Fasad.” The parallel is not even so much the use of different tonal blocks of a single color, but in Richter’s use of different weave structures (in the case of the Fasad rugs) and simple delicate patterns overlaying color (in the Glan design) to animate and vary each of the color blocks.
—Bjälbo takes its name from the family seat of an Ostragothian family that produced, according to Wikipedia ,“several medieval Swedish bishops, jarls and kings. It also provided three kings of Norway, and one king of Denmark in the 14th century.” The village had a church and manor house, of which only the church tower remains.
—Sörby, formerly called “Söderby,” a village on island of Öland (which means island in Swedish), was part of the Linköping diocesan land in the 16th-century. I have only seen one color of this design and the very loose pattern seems to be moving into the 1970s. This is the smallest size of the rugs I have seen.
Series 5. Flag becomes sail of Viking ship Assumed period 1970-72
I have found only one Marianne Richter rya in the Östergyllan series with this particular label, although there may be more out there.
—Blomstergård means flower farm. The colors of this rug are much lighter in their overall tone and have a busier, more pop-art feel. While the borders feel like earlier Marianne Richer patterns, she has abandoned her typically orderly pattern-making in favor of a bouquet in the center.
During this period Wahlbecks apparently introduced several other rug lines ,with more abstract names . These all carried this same label with the flag as Viking sail, but they were not labeled as “Ostergyllan” but with the names of other lines— Melodi and Skania to name two. Marianne Richter seems to have designed at least a number of rugs for these lines as did other contemporary designers, Astrid Sampe, among them.
In the Melodi line:
–Näkros (Waterlily) pattern
In Wahlbeck’s Scandia line:
Several other Wahlbecks rya rugs have been attributed to Marianne Richter when sold at auction in Sweden. These may be unidentified rya from the Ostergyllan line, or more likely, they are from one of these other series. Hopefully rugs with labels will surface that will allow these rugs to be identified.
The following two rya rugs have been attributed to Marianne Richter, and although they seem to have much of her refined sense of color and pattern, they need further identification and verification:
The following rug, in both style and name, fits the profile of these later series rugs, but it is much more sophisticated in design. This one has a name, Sommerhage (Summer meadow), but there is no label and the series is unknown. Interestingly, however, it shares much stylistically with one of Marianne Richter’s flat weave rugs designed for Märta Måås Fjetterstöm in 1968 called Sargasso green, although the techniques used to produce these two rugs are so different, and weaving the flat weave rug so much more labor-intensive.
The last two rugs offer a kind of “full-circle” coda to this exploration of Marianne Richter’s Östergyllan (and other) rya rugs for Wahlbecks. Probably from this same period, these were designed by Richter’s daughter, Sara, a talented weaver who wove many of her mother’s hand-woven designs. They are the same abstract, expressive and colorful pattern and would have been designed before Sara was 25 since she was that age when Wahlbecks sold their operation. Whether Sara designed other ryor for Walbecks is an open question. But one has to think that Marianne Richter would have been very proud of her daughter and a bit amused to share this particular client with her, one for whom she herself had started working when Sara was still an infant.
auctionet.com for access to Auktionshuset Kolonn, Stockholm; Auktionhuset Linköping; Auktionsverket Norrköping; Garpenhus Auctioner, Malmö; Gobér & Andersson, Linköping; Göteborgs Auktionsverk; Halmstads Auktionskammare; Helsingborgs Auktionskammare; Nyköpings Auktionsverk.
Bukowskis auction house, Stockholm, online archives
Danelaw Vintage etsy store
Från fiber till tågvirke. En varuhandbok från Wahlbecks; AB Wahlbecks fabriker; Förlag Wahlbecks Linköping,1953
Göta Elisabeth Trägårdh, http://www.skbl.se/sv/artikel/GotaTragardh, Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexikon (article by Anna Lindqvist), retrieved 2018-03-24.
Kulturarv Östergötland at Östergötlands museum
Lindvall-Nordin, Christina, “Textilkonstens Nestor,” Sydsvenskan 25 Jan, 2011. Obituary.
Marianne Elisabet Richter, http://www.skbl.se/sv/artikel/MarianneRichter, Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexikon (article by Christina Lindvall-Nordin), retrieved 2018-03-22.
Wallenquist, Inga, ““Ryamattans revansch på länsmuseet,” in corren.se, 3/26/2007. Photo shown above from this article was uncredited.