Today Mary Karlsson Moeschlin turns 90 years old. Still energetic, and interested in textiles and painting, which have occupied most of her life, it seems a good moment to look at one of her early rugs.
Born in 1928, Mary Karlsson grew up in Boras, a textile weaving city/town near Gothenburg, with an older sister and a single mother; her father had died when she was only 3 years old. Their life was not easy— Mary remembers needing to bicycle rather than take a bus to school, even in the Swedish winter. At 16, she was talented enough to be granted special early admission to Konstfack, the premier design school in Stockholm, although she was asked to wait a year to attend. She was given a [textile]scholarship … Meanwhile, she was recruited for a job as a designer for the County Crafts Association in Jönköping which was in crisis. Both the patterns she designed and the work she generated for the Craft Association’s local home weavers brought her enthusiastic respect despite her young age.
By the early 1950s, after graduating from Konstfack, Mary came back to work for the Jönköping County Crafts association. Jönköping (pronounced “Jan-show-ping” in Swedish) was a small prosperous city east of Boras located at the south-most end of Lake Vättern, one of the larger lakes in Sweden. Jönköping was known particularly as the center of the match-stick industry, but its County Craft Association had also developed an active textile program, with about 4-8 talented designers plus an active cadre of home weavers. The production encompassed not only rugs for individual clients and businesses, but for public buildings and area churches as well.
Mary worked at Jönköping läns hemslöjd as a designer first in 1944, then from 1951-3, 1955, 1957 and 1959, producing designs for flat-weave “rölakan” rugs, rya rugs and church textiles. She met her husband, Rudolf Moeschlin, in Jönköping, after the war. Moeschlin was a young Swiss modernist architect traveling in Sweden. When she married in 1953, Mary’s signature on her sketches and rugs changes from M. K-SON to MkM, then later, MM. Rudolf Moeschlin joined a local Jönköping architectural firm, and later established his own firm. The Moeschlins had four sons.
In 1952, having met Rudolf Moeschlin, Mary seems to have designed a rug inspired by her Swiss husband-to-be. It has the quite-specific name of “House in Winterthur “ (“Hus i Winterthur”). Winterthur is a small city in the canton of Zurich, the area where Moeschlin had grown up. I don’t know if she saw photos of the city or just imagined it based on his descriptions or his own sketches. After they were married, however, Mary and Rudolf took an ambitious trip by Vespa scooters down from Denmark and Germany to Winterthur in Switzerland, and then further south to the French Mediterranean coast and into Spain before returning to Sweden.
Both the initial sketches and the working drawings for this design are held by the museum in Jönköping. Mary drew two versions, one blue and one pink, each a kind of facade representation with shuttered windows. She seems to have been taken by the contrasting textures and colors between shutters and wall— and indeed photos of this city today show similarly brightly-colored facades and shutters. But she also added her own animating design elements: contrasting color outlines around some of the “windows” and a kind of grid over the center of the rug with corner blocks in contrasting color. Already with the original sketch, she attached a selection of 19 yarn colors so that the overall rug would not be just one flat color but would have a lot of depth and richness.
Apparently the rug was not woven in 1952, but not until 1953, after Mary and Rudolf had married. One example of this rug carries the signatures of both JLH, Jönkpings läns hemslöjd in the lower left corner and MM for Mary Moeschlin in the lower right hand corner.
As is evident above, the blue version of this rug has come to the market, but I have not seen any woven examples of the other color Moeschlin designed. But the sketch and working drawing for this color are also in the Jönköpings Museum archive, and suggest a discovery to look forward to! The rug in red, pink, orange and purple tones was designed to be approximately the same size as the blue one.
For Jönköping County Craft Association, the work Mary Karlsson Moeschlin designed was colorful, well-designed and utilitarian. As she got older and as weaving styles loosened, Mary herself became more interested in designing both pictoral and abstract weavings, wall hangings, with interesting changes of texture and color.
Mary Moeschlin has had a remarkably long career with much appreciation from her community, including a solo show at age 80, as well as exhibitions in Stockholm and London. She has a piece in the collection of Sweden’s National Museum. Buildings all over Jönköping contain rugs or tapestries which she designed. An article published in yesterday’s Jönköping daily paper captures her ongoing pleasure in bright colors, and an endearing exuberance. She expresses gratitude for a life filled with purpose and the pleasure of making and continuing to be able to do so. It’s a pleasure to add our voice to the chorus: Happy 90th Birthday, Mary!
A sad update: Mary Moeschlin passed on on November 3, 2018.
Brynielsson, Maria, ed. Textilier i helig tjänt, Växjö Stift, published by Svenska Kyrkan, 2016.
Bukowskis Auction House, Stockholm.
Claesson, Anna Maria, Frostroser och Tulpaner, Jönköpings läns hemslöjdsförenings samling 1909-1986, published Fälth & Hässler, Värnamo, 2003.
Jönköpings läns museum. Permission granted to use photos taken of the Jönköpings County Craft Association collection (Jönköpings läns hemslöjdsförening). The moral rights must be respected and the names of the creators behind the photographed objects will follow the photos at publications. Jönköpings läns museum shall be named as the owner of the collection. Particular thanks to Maria Ridderberg at the Jonköpings Museum.
http://www.kro.se/sites/default/files/konstnaren/KONSTNAREN_2_2009.pdf Magazine article about lack of adequate financial safety-net for older artists.
Jan Moeschlin, email correspondance.
Teiffel, Yvonne. “Mary lite trött —samtidig jättepigg och lycklig,” (“Mary was a little tired, but super spry and happy”) in Jönköpings Posten 5/7/18.
JP Willborg, Antique rugs, Stockholm.
Please reference as follows:
Whidden, Anne, “Happy Birthday, Mary,” theswedishrugblog (5/8/18); theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (day/month/year)