As readers of this blog know, I have been tracking a designer named Svea Norén, comparing several rugs which all seem to carry a common SN signature and employ similar motifs and colors. While I have not yet discovered much more about her personally, I have located (thanks to researchers at the Center for Business History in Stockholm) a notebook of some of her sketches for rugs she designed for the Nordiska Kompaniet department store, working for that store’s innovative textile atelier (“textilekammare”) under Astrid Sampe . These sketches confirm several previous attributions made in my earlier posts, as well as a number of other rugs I have discovered. I will compare those sketches and rugs below. The collection of sketches also provide titles, if still no dates or intended sizes, for a number of rugs.
There are not, however, sketches for all of the rugs I had identified as hers, so I suspect that these sketches do not represent all of her designs. And as we will see, it looks like many of her sketches went through several versions before being woven in the selected design. And —what seems surprising to me, since these were designed for a commercial vendor—even after being woven in one version, Norén seems to have tweaked her design several times, coming up with successive variations in color and pattern. The number of colors and variations of these rugs raises interesting — and unanswered—questions about the way the NK Textilkammare functioned during the 1950s and 60s. Were their rugs offered in standard colors and sizes, and made in multiple ready-to-purchase pieces, or like the County Craft (läns hemslöjd) stores around Sweden, were they also able to be customized for clients or reworked by the designers themselves, and then handwoven by a Swedish weaving studio contracted to NK? The latter method seems more likely with the number of variations suggested here.
The notebook of sketches is what the researcher described as an ordinary album with cardboard pages, to which are glued the sketches. The sketches seem to be in no particular order, and I am taking them here out of the order in which they were sent to me.
The first sketch was for a rug Norén called “Vein” (“Ven,” in Swedish). Only this first sketch is signed, and it is useful to have an example of her own written signature. While there are minor alterations in the design, this is almost certainly the basis for the rug shown below, previously not identified as by her.
Another design, called Sunflower (“Solros”) was clearly made in inverted color variations of grey and yellow. Despite the fact that the sketch we have is the grey version, it appears that the gold was the earlier one since it carries the NKT signature and the grey carries the SN one.
I have also seen the next design, called Cornflower, woven in different examples of the same rug with two different signatures: one carries NKT for Nordiska Kompaniet Textilkammare, and the other, SN for Svea Noren (see earlier blog post on her work to see both of these). The Swedish rug dealer, Peter Willburg, suggests that it is likely that these differences suggest — not that Norén took this design and went out to found her own atelier, as I had originally postulated— but more likely that she was promoted within the NK design hierarchy to now have her own line of signed rugs at NK, so that earlier versions were signed NKT and later ones, SN. This seems confirmed by the fact that these sketches were the property of NK. Some are stamped, like this one, with the NKT logo as well.
The following design clearly was worked out in several colors. The sketched red version, was probably drawn earlier, since the organization of the figures is more conventional and less dynamic. This one has no name. The green version, called “Grön” something. Is it “Tvist “—?? If anyone can make more sense of this second word than I, please send a correction!
Both green and red versions as drawn had fairly simple borders and woven stripes. The rug woven to this pattern however, which followed more closely the arrangement of elements in the green design shown below, has much more complex and exuberant borders and a more varied color scheme than either version of the rug as originally designed.
I have not seen a rug based on one of the other sketches, but that rug was documented in a 1950s womens’ magazine in a review of an exhibition arranged by NK’s Textilavdelning, (Textile Section) showing the work of Astrid Sampe, Viola Gråsten and Svea Noren. There was a black and white photograph of a rug, attributed to Norén, and the journalist who wrote this review, mentioning her”sound know-how and expressive style” and her work with rölakan, relief-flossa and rya (flat-weave, relief-pile and rya rugs), seemed to think Norén’s work compared favorably to that of the other two more well-known designers. One of the sketches in the current sketchbook is called “Labyrinth,” is for this rug. The sketch shows blue. blue-green and red interlocking shapes, and provides color which the earlier black and white photo did not. The caption notes that Norén’s rug was also made of nöthår, or cowhair, woven into yarn, which was more frequently used than one might expect.
In addition to the sketches for rugs above which are identifiable, there are sketches for eight rugs I have not seen, which —assuming these were woven—would further expand her known oeuvre. Many of these rugs are quite unlike those I had identified in an earlier post, both in kinds of forms and colors, and, like the rug called Labyrinth above, look like they were probably designed in the 1960s. They offer a contrast to the 1950s designs shown here which mostly had similar shapes regularly distributed or symmetrically arranged. I will publish the photographs of these sketches in a later blog post, to suggest other Noren designs which we might want to look for.
What this sketch book does confirm, however, is that Norén was an accomplished and prolific designer who made a niche for herself at the Nordiska Kompaniet Textilkammare, and created a range of well designed —and previously unattributed—rugs with multiple variations in color and pattern. Now that her signature —a rather squashed SN —is more familiar, I hope that her work will become more widely recognized!
–Bruun Rasmussen Auction house, Copenhagen
–Bukowskis Auction house, Stockholm
–Centrum for Naringlivshistoria (Center for Business History), Stockholm; www.naringslivshistoria.se. Svea Norén’s sketchbook is classified as file F-12. Particular thanks to Anna-Karin Eldvik
–Leni Ehnbom, for kindly bringing the article on NK to my attention. It is from Svenska Hem och Trädgårder, no. 11, 1952.
–Uppsala Auktionskammare, Uppsala, Sweden. Thanks to Karl Green.
–Jenny von Platen, of vonPlaten Modern Form, Malmö
–Peter Willborg of JP Willborg, Stockholm