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:
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
Bukowskis Auction house, Stockholm
Garpenhus Auktioner, Malmö