Because my previous post on the mid-century church renovations by Erik Lundberg elicited considerable interest, this post will follow up with several other of Lundberg’s renovations during the 1950s and 60s in which he also used rugs by his sister, Barbo Nilsson, to furnish the newly renovated ecclesiastical spaces.
These two projects represent quite a few degrees of renovation—- none nearly as radical as that in the previous post, nor in several other churches he did— but I think it is interesting to see his marked sense of architectural clarity, respect for the best of the historical fabric, and his own interventions, especially in his design of modern lighting fixtures and his enthusiasm for color. And the rugs selected definitely contribute their own rich coloration to these projects. None of these rugs was designed originally for these particular spaces, but — as was typical of many many rugs designed by Nilsson and woven by the Märta Måås-Fjetterström workshop— the rugs were customized in color and size for each of these projects, and each brings its own warmth, sophistication and modernity to the space it was made for.
This post will look at two more of Lundberg’s church renovations.
The first of these Lundberg renovations I want to look at is a 17th-century neoclassical church called Kungsholm, built originally in Stockholm by Sweden’s King Carl IX for his wife Ulrika Elenora. It opened in 1688.
When Erik Lundberg renovated this church from 1954-56, he was not trying to restore medieval elements or structure—as was often the case in the churches he worked on— but instead to undo the results of a late 19th-century rebuilding, to clarify and reinvigorate the neoclassical centralized plan of the church, and to restore changed window openings to their earlier form so that original windows from 1688 could be reinstalled. He reorganized the interior space, prioritizing movement toward the altar and nearby pulpit, with new pews marbleized in yellow and red, a new lighter interior wall color with decorative gilding, a subtle leather kneeler outside the balustrade of the altar rail, and “modern” lighting.
In his reorganization of the lighting, Lundberg hung the original small chandeliers in the altar area, while in the high vaults of the two almost-equal cross arms, he placed fixtures of his own design: modernist groups of cupped lights which shine against sheets of pierced brass as reflectors. These are affectionately known as the “bats” by the clergy. They are nothing like the original candelabra, but they raise the overall light level considerably and play beautifully off the churches multiple vaults. There are other lights of his design as well: two kinds of sconces on the walls. One is placed so as to illumine a number of decorative elements which are carefully arranged on walls. Another kind of sconce is used in the vestibule area.
While maintaining the balustraded organ loft, Lundberg reorganized and “warmed up” the vestibule area with wooden panelling lit with sconces.
At the same time, Lundberg refitted one of the church’s short cross arms with the baptismal font. This extraordinary piece of sculpture by Swedish sculptor, Caspar Schröder (ca 1652-1710), said to be inspired by Bernini, and donated to the church in 1707, was not just a simple font but an entire cluster of sculptural figures representing the four apostles and their symbols (the angel for Matthew, lion for Mark, ox for Luke and Eagle for John) clustered around the figure of Christ and several children which makes up the cover for the font itself. All of these had originally stood in a corner of the area where the altar is, but it was now given its own entire domain. Lundberg’s crisp aesthetic control is evident in the arrangement of this entire area. These forms of these figures, with their vigorous gestures and swirling garments, play beautifully off other large herald plaques mounted on the wall and representing the royal family, but now everything has space to breathe.
Lundberg changed the seating in this particular area so that it could be used in a flexible way: for those attending a baptism, or for a different kind of meeting in that area. And he used an enormous rug designed by his sister, Barbro Nilsson to anchor this space. It is a blue and purple version of her “Seaweed” (“Tånga”) rug, originally designed in 1955 for the very modernist Helsingborg ’55 exhibition
The rug currently in front of the altar is another smaller version of the Tånga design, this time in reds, blacks and tan colors which works remarkably well with the painting behind the altar, although I am not sure it has always been in this location. These particular colors were very close to those of the original Helsingborg ’55 design.
Worth noting in passing in passing is one of the church’s elegant altar textiles, spectacularly embroidered on satin by the Swedish firm called Libraria in 1938, well before Lundberg embarked on this renovation, but which works beautifully with his white and gold color scheme. It shows stalks of wheat and a quotation from Luke’s gospel, “ A sower went out to sow his seed.… The seed is the word of God.… Some fell on good ground… “ This firm employed quite a few important designers, some who designed rugs, but most who worked in embroidery to make textile elements for worship: priests’ robes, altar draperies of various kinds.
A second project on which Lundberg and his sister, Barbro Nilsson collaborated, in 1959-60 was a small and very simple 13th century limestone church called Rogslösa Church, located in Östergötland (south and west of Stockholm) between two large lakes, Vättern and Tåkern. Once again, Lundberg’s emphasis was on removing later layers which obscured the original medieval structure and materials, throwing architectural emphasis on important original elements, and on the inside, using color to warm the space.
This church was expanded and rebuilt several times in its first several centuries, but one of its most important features (considered almost unique) is a heavy door whose timber dates to 1275—apparently originally made for a local castle—decorated with iron forged strap work. Some of the door’s motifs are unclear, but there appears to be both a hunting scene at the top and more religious allegory (the tree of knowledge; possibly Eve with an apple; the Devil punishing a presumably-sinful woman by sticking her with a lance and dragging her by the hair), and a portrayal in the lower right of St Michael’s victory over the dragon. In the renovation, this doorway was sheltered in a new red timber vestibule which replaced an older and larger one. Whether the red color would have been original, I don’t know, but it is certainly is a typical Swedish finish, and it seems to also signal the importance of this very old door.
The church interior is quite spare. The Svenska Kyrkan (Swedish Church) website calls Lundberg’s renovation “extensive, ” although without “before” photographs, it is hard to know just how much has been altered. But his hand is certainly evident in the lack of clutter and the degree of careful thoughtful ordering of all elements. As we saw him do at the Söderala church he renovated (see last blog post), here, Lundberg mounted an old processional cross high above the altar as a focal point; hung the original chandeliers closest to the altar and pulpit, and hung versions of his own lamps elsewhere in the church. He gave the new pews a burgundy color which picks up the tonality of the painted folding wooden altar piece. He also installed an entirely new floor, and added new kneelers in front of the altar. What he seems not to have changed is the relatively ornate pulpit (dated 1797 and originally painted white and gold) and the 18th-century balconies, one which is the organ loft with its baroque organ case and the other built to accommodate a larger number of congregants. These balconies are decorated with small scenes painted by a local churchman from that period. Lundberg apparently respected these elements as later layers which contribute to the decor of this very simple space.
The Barbro Nilsson rug used here is the Ramslöck design from 1943, a complex but rather regular rug in shades of green, patterned with small abstract flowers (many with burgundy centers). Here it adds considerable warmth and stands in happy contrast to the burgundy-colored pews, yet leads the eye to the altar and the altar .
The first of the three photos which follow show the altar area of the church lighted only from windows; the second with the added electrical lighting. The third photo, looking to the rear of the church, shows the lighted modern fixtures by Lundberg, here made with a white finish, but revealing the flashes of brass on the inside.
In both of these two church renovations — although the churches are extremely different in style—we see Lundberg again making the original structure really come alive after the removal of architectural elements or treatments which obscured the original character. We see his daring play of color and brilliant design of modern lighting which enlivens and plays off of the original architecture, and his introduction of these wonderful rugs designed by his sister Barbro Nilsson and woven by the Märta Måås-Fjetterström workshop which contribute so much to the overall richness and play of color in the newly renovated spaces.
“Kungsholms Kyrka” brochure, 1988.
Kungsholm Kyrka, Online historical brochure: http://www.bebyggelseregistret.raa.se/bbr2/show/bilaga/
Photographs not otherwise noted are my own
Riksantikvarieämbetet— National Heritage Board photo archive.
Please reference as follows:
Whidden, Anne, “Collaborative Church Renovations: Erik J Lundberg and Barbro Nilsson” theswedishrugblog (8/13/18); theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (day/month/year)