Well before “pixelation” was a familiar word, a Swedish rug designer named Inga-Mi Vannérus began to explore the kind of fragmentation or mutation of images that pixels today make so common. She recognized that the grid implied by warp and weft threads lent itself not only to rectangular and square shapes so frequently used, but to a kind of breaking down of those shapes as well, allowing for more irregular shapes and playful visual ambiguity.
Inga Mi Vannérus was born in 1932 to a cultured family, and was educated, she said, “with music, theater and art.” Her grandmother gave her a piano when she turned four, and she recalls that as a child, she loved to sing and dance. After high school, her parents urged her to become a teacher of handicrafts, but she submitted a portfolio to HDK, the Academy of Design and Crafts in Gothenburg, and was accepted into the basic arts course. She had embroidered as a child but called her discovery of a textile vocation, “pure chance.”
Music was an abiding interest, however: in her later life she sang in a choir, and she founded and for many years ran an important music festival in the town of Hultsfred, Sweden, about 60 miles south of Linköping.
During the years Vannérus attended the Gothenburg Academy of Design and Crafts, the director of the school was the well-connected and well-respected designer, Åke Huldt. Huldt was one of the commisioners for the H-55 Helsingborg Exhibition and after retiring from HDK in 1956, he went on to be involved with the magazine, Svensk Form, to be the director of Konstfack art and design school in Stockholm, and to write a number of books in English popularizing and promoting Swedish design abroad. I don’t know who was teaching textile design when Vannérus was there, but with Huldt’s leadership, it seems safe to assume that Vannérus studied with strong designers.
If her discovery of a textile vocation was “chance”, Vannérus’ commitment to it was not. Inga-Mi took her first job out of school in 1956 with the County Craft Association in Jönköping in central southern Sweden and then stayed with that same organization for 21 years (although she did not work there in 1957, but went back from 1958-78). She became Head of the Jönköping läns hemslöjd (county craft association) in 1970, retiring in 1978. As did most of the designers for these county craft associations, she designed frequently for area churches—not only rugs, but priests’ robes, cloths for the altar and baptismal font—and also made lively designs for both flat-weave and rya rugs to be sold by the association.
Vannérus’ sketches capture her confidant character. Her designs are bold, often fancifully or exotically titled: Nagasaki, Jang Tse Kiang, Titicaca, as well as Neon, Tourquoise, and Dahlia. Two titles,“Per Apera ad Astra” and “SanSoucis,” suggest that she had studied languages. Her signature, which takes about 5 different forms over the course of her first 10 years, is always exuberant, and (unlike many other designers), she seems to have signed every significant sketch or working drawing or card of wool samples. Early on, she signed her name as ”V-us” or ”Vus”. Then I.M. Vus; then a blur of ”Ingami VannéruS” with a vigourous last S. Then once married, Ingami Vannérus, with Rydgren usually on the line below. Her rugs themselves are invariably signed JLF/IMV even after her marriage.
Here are three sketch designs for rugs showing a variety of signatures:
Even though the patterns and colors of these designs have a 1960s feel, they are nevertheless well within the parameters of convention for rugs of this and earlier periods, employing borders, regular centers and balanced vertical and horizontal elements.
But there is a group of more irregular rugs, apparently designed by Inga-Mi Vannerus between about 1965 to 1968 which are of particular interest. These tend toward a certain abstraction and formal fragmentation. All flat-weaves, these rugs employ small patches of color irregularly –but brilliantly– placed to create a play of shapes emerging and superimposed on each other. It almost doesn’t matter the order in which these were designed, because they seem to be all working at the same idea, each from a different direction. This blog post will look at a number of these particular rugs. For some of these rugs we have both sketches and actual rugs; for others only rugs or only sketches.
In two sketches dating from 1965, Vannérus began to explore the superimposition of primary shapes on a background made of colorful checks. In the first, there are diamonds, in the second, mostly small rectangles but with the suggestion of a circle at the bottom of the sketch.
Sketch is undated but accompanying color chart is for both this and the next sketch, which itself is dated 1965.
From 1967, we have good documentation on Vannérus’ design of a large rug with a double circle superimposed with diamonds which are themselves gridded into smaller colored squares—very much like the sketch for Banko shown above. This was a design Vannérus called Domino. She signed the sketch with her married name, but the initials on the rug are still JLH and IMV. Since the actual rug and the design are of different dimensions, it appears that the rug may have been made in several different sizes. Images of the rug itself and the sketches are below:
Ingrid Hjelmvik Welander was another strong designer who worked at the Jönköping County Craft Association during this same period. It is evident that, here as at other craft associations, designers saw each others’ designs and exchanged ideas. One of Welander’s drawings, undated but presumably from this period, shows her exploring similar ideas of a shape made up of small colored checks. Which direction the influence went is anyone’s guess!
The following rug designed by Vannérus Rydgren explores a very similar idea of a circle emerging from behind the grid of colored checks, some large and some small. But the weaving itself is equally interesting, with the colors themselves composed not only of different tones but different woven stitches as well.
Inga-Mi Vannérus Rydgren, Details of unnamed flat-weave rug, measuring 173 cm x 212 cm. showing JLH and IMV signatures. Yellow and grey dots near IMV signature are weavers’ marks. Sold at Auktionskammare i Vätterbygden (Jönköping) 5/21/17.
In a sketch for a rug titled ”Per Aspera Ad Astra,” or “Through Hardship to the Stars.” (probably from 1967 or later, based on the signature) Vannérus Rydgren offers a more monochromatic design using the traditional Swedish 8-pointed star as a figure playing off small checks. This is a much more complex design than either the Banko sketch or Domino rug and may also suggest that Vannérus Rydgren was moving both away from centralized figures, and toward a more neutral colored palette.
The next rug presents a circle made up of multiple small colored checks,on top of a background which is not checked. The background makes this rug seem earlier than the others we have looked at, but the sophisticated composition of the circle with its apparently random arrangement of checks argues that it is later. The rug seems to play with phenomena explored in the then-contemporary op-art movement in which the viewer’s eye completes and makes rational a kind of pulsating image. The colors of both the background and the figure itself offer however a pale contrast to op-art colors and to the punchy colors used in the rugs shown above. But again Vannérus Rydgren uses varigated stitches to produce different colors or textures. The play of the small orange checks against the paler greens, blues and lilac colors that make up the circle is terrific.
The next rug dates to 1968, attested to by a sketch for the design. Like the last rug, it is somewhat somber in tone, but enlivened by wonderfully subtle flashes of color. Finding the sketch for this rug offered a useful correction to my own preconceptions. I had thought that this was designed for a church and that these were crosses, but in fact, the rug is called“Flower Rug” (Blomstermattan), with no mention of a church! Once again, this may have been made in several sizes, since those of the rug and sketch we have differ in their dimensions, as well as in several colors.
The signatures on this rug seem as randomly placed as the scattered flowers, with both signatures set well in from the lower corners, and the two blue dots identifying the weavers, placed along the lower left edge.
Inga-Mi Vannérus Rydgren, Flower Rug (Blomstermattan) flat-weave rug, measuring 140 cm x 2_7 (error in the original auction listing makes this unclear), 1968. Details show JLH and IMV signatures, and blue weavers’ marks on edge of rug. Sold at Stockholm’s Auktionsverket sale 11/25/11, item #219.
The original sketch for this rug showed a different relationship between the flowers and the background; a different color palette; and a different size.
This rug reminds me of something Inga-Mi wrote in an essay about a trip she took to the Faroe islands in 1963. She had been awarded a study stipend for travel, and she observed the scarcity of material culture of the islands due to the very real scarcity of materials of all kinds. And yet costume traditions persisted, and music and dance persisted. Inga-Mi had the unusual good fortune to see a dance of medieval traditions performed to the chanting or singing of a male leader. Describing this dance, she later wrote (my translation), ”All the time, the ring of dancers changes shape as more dancers join in. In the end, the whole room is full of dancing. … To watch everything above as a spectator, is fascinating. It’s a labyrinth of people, slowly moving in a swaying rhythm.”
For me, the flowers on Inga-Mi’s rug–figures both large and small– seem to dance in a similar way, rather randomly circling the center and falling into unpredictable combinations.
The rug below may well be Vannérus-Rydgren’s masterpiece. For all its startling oddness, it is a carefully composed compostion of squares and rectangles of varied colors and shapes, with an air of randomness which would have probably been disturbing in the 1940s, but which was likely to have been viewed as liberated in the 1960s. Today its cheerful pixelation makes it still seem entirely contemporary. Even so it is rather extraordinary. If this was the page of a coloring book, it would seem to have fallen prey to a delirious hand. Someone with a Klee-like sensibility definitely blurred the lines which defined the borders and center elements of a traditional rug pattern. Having looked at her designs exploring the fragmentation of forms in a number of her woven compositions, we can now appreciate Inga-Min Vannérus Rydgren as the confidant rule-breaker this rug shows her to be.
Inga-Mi Vannérus Rydgren, Details of unnamed flat-weave rug, measuring 9’-6” x 12’- 6” or 290 cm x 381 cm. showing JLH and IMV signatures. Coral and green dots near IMV signature are weavers’ marks. For sale by FJ Hakimian, NYC as of 9/9/18.
Auktionskammare I Vätterbygden (Jönköping)
Bukowskis Auction House, Stockholm
Claesson, Anna Maria, Frostroser och Tulpaner, Jönköpings läns hemslöjdsförenings samling 1909-1986, published Fälth & Hässler, Värnamo, 2003.
FJ Hakimian, New York
Jönköpings 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.
Stockholms Auktionsverket, Stockholm
Please reference as follows:
Whidden, Anne, “Woven Pixelation: Inga-Mi Vannérus-Rydgren,” theswedishrugblog (9/10/18); theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (day/month/year)