Charming, but not Swedish…

One of the first names I noticed when beginning to study Swedish flat-weave rugs was the name Wanda Krakow. Oh, I thought… this designer must have originally been from Poland.
Gradually, as I began to recognize the initials of more Swedish designers, I discovered that woven marks were sometimes used in place of initials. I could see that one particular odd little shape marked the rugs by this particular designer.  A selection of these rugs, and their distinctive WK signature follows:

1. Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 6.30.26 PM
Wanda Krakow maker’s mark, W and K set sideways to each other. Sold Bukowskis 3/26/13.

Then I began to identify four or five of these rugs regularly showing up at Swedish auction houses and being sold on by American dealers in Swedish rugs. Sometimes they were labeled “probably Polish” but often not.

2.Wanda Krakow 201x144 , Polen bukowskis 3:26 2013
Flat weave rug by the Wanda Krakow company, designer unknown. ca 1960; maker’s mark above is from this rug, sold Bukowskis 3/26/13.
4.WK 199x 140 Bukow 6:1:14
Flat weave rug by the Wanda Krakow company, designer unknown, ca 1960, 199 x 140 cm Sold Bukowskis 6/1/14..
5. WK 6:1:14Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 7.00.04 PM
Detail of above rug showing signature.
6. 240 x 200x Buk 3 2 13
Flat weave rug by the Wanda Krakow company, designer unknown, 240 x 200 cm, sold Bukowskis 3/2/13
6a .detail orange 9-14+17
Detail of the above rug, showing signature
8. polish)Bukow 3 2 13 edge detail
Detail of the above rug showing nature of border and edge with fringe. Most Swedish rugs to do not have this white band before the fringe, nor are the fringe usually tied out away from the rug as they are here.
9.Signerad, smärre bruksslitage, 240 x 158 cm 11 Feb 2018Gothenburgs Auktionskammere
Flat weave rug by the Wanda Krakow company, designer unknown, 240 x 158 Sold Gothenburgs Auktionskammare 2/11/18
10. WK rug Gothenburg Auktionskammare 2-11-18
Detail of above rug showing signature (backward).
11. 238 x165 Polish not attribu Buk 5:6:15
Flat-weave rug by the Wanda Krakow company, designer unknown, 238 x 165, Sold Bukowskis 5/6/15.
11a. Wanda Krakow signature on polish rug
Detail of the above rug showing signature  and grey mottled quality of wool.
11b. Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 6.39.37 PM
Detail of the above rug showing grayish quality of yarn used.

I also began to circle back to these rugs and look at their weaving, which seemed a little less dense than Swedish rölakan. I looked particularly at their yarn. These rugs consistently use a streaky grey yarn which reminded me of something. What? Ohhhhhh—a Polish rug that’s been in my family for 40 years. And I realized that the kinds of patterns I was seeing on these supposedly Swedish rugs were also quite like those stalks of flowers on that familiar rug. Another point was that the kinds of solid-color yarns used in these rugs are quite unlike the variegated yarn mixes used in most well-designed Swedish rugs. And —as is evident in the above examples, the color palette is frequently heavy on oranges and yellows.

There are, it is true, several Swedish rugs whose design is very similar to some of these Polish rugs. One of these is by Judith Johansson; another by Berit Koenig Woelfer about 1965. A third — very late and looking back to earlier models— is by Hans Mannerhanger in 1990 for Kalmar County Craft Association These are shown below.

7a. JUDITH JOHANSSON, matta, rölakan, "Nattfrost", mönster komponerad 1964, grön bas med inslag av brunt och gult, signerad JJ, ca 263x192 cmAtock Auktverk 10-5-16
Judith Johansson, “Nattfrost,” 1964, 263 x 192 cm, signed JJ; sold Stockholm’s Auktionverket, 10/5/16.
7a1 Screen Shot 2018-01-27 at 2.07.34 PM
Detail of the previous rug to show difference between this background wood and the usual grey mottled Polish wool.
7b Berit Woelfer, Flora 230 x 166 Garpenhus
Berit Woelfer, “Flora” 230 x 166 cm, unsigned, designed for Kasthall. Sold Garpenhus Auktioner, Malmö, 2/19/18.
7b+1Berit Woelfer BW Garpenhus Auktioner 2 19 18
Detail, Berit Woelfer, “Flora” 230 x 166 cm. Sold Garpenhus Auktioner, Malmö, 2/19/18.
7c.Hans Mannerhanger Kalmar Hemslojd 1990 292 x 365 Buk 3:2:11
Hans Männerhängen, unnamed design, 365 x292 cm, ca 1990, Kalmar läns hemslöjd. Sold Bukowskis 3/2/11.
7d.Hans Mannerhagen, Kalmar Hemsojd 1990 says bukowskisScreen Shot 2018-02-14 at 2.49.35 PM
Signature on previous rug. KLH is for Kalmar läns hemslöjd, and date of 1990, as well as designer’s initials.

We can compare other examples of 1960s-70s Polish weaving with the rugs. These are readily available on Ebay and Etsy—mostly as small wall-hangings or tapestries. Many employ the same kind of nubby grey wool. Their identifying characteristic is that they are charming and narrative. They are not abstract patterns, but they tell some kind of small visual story. There are knights, riding forth; children with musical instruments; a couple dressed in their best; birds flying; a family traveling in a cart or working on a farm. Many of the best of these seem to be by a designer named Monika Domańska who designed for Cepelia, a company apparently founded to import Polish weaving to the US. Many of these small tapestries carry the Cepelia tag.

8 M Domaska attrib to 110 x 52 cm etsy Mallegrietje
Monika Domanska for Cepelia, woven wall-hanging of horse with cart, ca 1960s. for sale on Etsy as of 1/19/18.
9.House of Vintage online midcentury polish"Kapelai," designer "M. Domanska," and weaver "H. Drozdz" 57x17"
Monika Domanska for Cepelia, woven wall hanging of children with instruments, 57 x 17 inches, ca 1960s, for sale on Etsy as of 1/19/18.

 

10. Krakowski Olesky". 37x31" Polish ilim ffolk art tapestry 60sDown Any Road etsy store
Attributed to “Krakowski Olesky,” woven wall-hanging of a well-dressed couple (a wedding?), 37 x31”ca 1960s. for sale on Etsy as of 1/19/18.

 

11. Ebay Vintage Polish kilim Original tags on the back. Made in Poland. Cepelia Corp. NY, NY. 33x25
Cepelia wall hanging, dimensions not given, sold on Ebay as of as of 1/19/18. Typical grey wool is again apparent, as well as orange and red colors.

Cepelia seems to have marketed rugs as well wall hangings. This brighter, more abstract one was listed for sale on eBay and the seller called it both “Danish Modern” and “Vintage Polish!”

12. Midcentury DanishModern Handwoven Polish Kilim by Cepelia atomicancient on etsy
Cepelia Polish flat-weave rug ca 1960, being sold on Ebay 1/19/18.

 

12a Cepelia tag_Wanda-merged?
Tag on previous Cepelia rug.

As an amusing side note, when trying to trace the Wanda of Krakow name, I was surprised to find how many Polish groups seemed to use that name, from an automobile speedway to a young girls’ soccer team. It turns out – for those of you who are weak on your Polish history – that Wanda was the Queen of the Poles, daughter of Krakus, the leader who founded Krakow, a young woman who is still admired for having the courage to commit suicide rather than to submit to marriage with an aggressively oafish suitor/ enemy seeking her throne by marriage rather than war.

After all this looking, I finally found convincing evidence of the fact that these are NOT what they are so often sold as: that is, a “Swedish” rug. The following rug, which has the sidewise WK mark, also has a label from the Wanda company made –not in Sweden, but in Krakow, Poland.

13. MARIA LOMNICKA-BUJAKOWA. Matta, ull, kelim, Wanda, Krakow, Polen. 1960-tal. 240 x 170 cm.Stadsauktion Sundsvall 9-25-15
Flat-weave rug by the Wanda Krakow company, designer, Maria Lomnicka Bujakowa 240×170, ca 1960 sold Stadsauktion Sundsvall (and identified as Polish by the woven label).
13a and FEATURED MARIA LOMNICKA-BUJAKOWA. Matta, ull, kelim, Wanda, Krakow, Polen. 1960-tal. 240 x 170 cm. Stadsauktion Sundsvall
Detail of flat-weave rug by the Wanda Krakow company, designer, Maria Lomnicka Bujakowa 240×170, ca 1960 sold Stadsauktion Sundsvall (and identified as Polish).
14.Wanda Krakow Signature Sundsvall 9-25-15
WK initials on the above rug.
15. Wanda of Krakow tag Stadsauktion Sundsvall
Label on reverse side with name of designer and weaver as well as clear Wanda Krakow, Made in Poland label.

So I think it’s time to retire the idea that these are “Scandinavian” rugs. On the other hand, they are cheerful well-made and designed flat-weave vintage rugs, and certainly worth acquiring— while knowing what they are. The grey yarn backgrounds, stylized flowers and figures and the use of bright solid colors, particularly oranges, all seem typical of these Polish mid-century rugs and wall-hangings.

I have seen no wall-hangings which carry the Wanda of Krakow label, which suggests to me that Wanda of Krakow wove larger rugs, and perhaps marketed more to the European market, while the Cepelia company cornered the US market. It would be interesting to know if the Cecelia pieces were marketed in Sweden and by whom. And I don’t know if Polish rugs are still being woven for export. The designs of many of these vintage Polish rugs— whether by Wanda of Krakow or another Polish maker— are exciting and striking The one shown below was recently for sale on Ebay, is a great example– and is unusual for the amount of green and blue it uses with the oranges and pinks.

16. Vintage polish 195 x145 on ebay 1:19:18Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 5.27.39 PM
Vintage Polish rug, 195 x 145, ca 1960s, sold on ebay as of 1/19/18.

Weaving clearly has been part of the Polish identity, as it has been part of Sweden’s national culture. While the yarns themselves and the stylistic patterns from the two countries are different, it is a pleasure to see the work from another country which had a flowering of its own weaving traditions and craftsmanship at mid-century as did Sweden.

Sources:

Bukowskis Auction house, Stockholm

Ebay

Etsy

Garpenhus Auktioner, Malmö

Stadsauktion Sundsvall

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts

    1. Thanks, Nancy! Yes, it is. In fact, I think we tend to forget that at least up into the 20th-c, most countries in Europe had distinctive folk weaving tradtions, and at mid-century, many of those were still accessible. In other parts of the world, they still may be– I hope so!

      Like

  1. Great article, I have the rug with the tall yellow flowers surrounding the gray center with plus signs but I can’t find a signature on mine. It’s looks exactly like your picture so I can’t imagine it’s a replica?
    NY rug company told me it’s Polish and offered to buy it but nope, I’ve been walking on it my whole life:)

    Like

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