Viveka Nygren, born Viveka von Gerber, was a Swedish rug designer with a particularly crisp style. Nygren was little younger than some of the designers I have looked at in this blog; her career really starts in the 50s and moves forward even into the 1980s and 90s. She enjoyed a satisfying career, working briefly with two County Craft Associations in Sweden and later as a free-lance artist. She had multiple one man and group shows, and died in 2015.
Growing up in Småland, in a noble family, Viveka was exposed to various kinds of artistic activity, but felt as though she had little in common with the society her family moved in. She said later, in an interview, remembering her feelings as a child, “I wanted to get out and make sure I got out.” When Viveka thought about art as a serious course of study, she met resistance from her family. Nevertheless, she spent a few years after high school In Denmark where she studied ceramics, and found her design aspirations encouraged. In 1950, at age 25, she entered the textile stream at Konstfack, Sweden’s prestigious art school in Stockholm. While studying in Stockholm, Von Gerber met her husband, Åke Nygren, a doctor, and took his name. All of her work, both drawings and rugs, seems to be signed VN.
Nygren’s first job out of Konstfack was in Kristianstad, in southern Sweden. She recalls this as “a lovely time” and described Kristianstad as having “a rich crafts culture to base work on.” She worked in Kristianstad for part of two years, in 1954-5. After this she left for a study trip to France in 1955 to paint and visit museums, and then subsequently had 3 children in 3 successive years. She and her husband later returned to Örebro and in1968 she began a very successful freelance career. Later blog posts will look at her later work. This one focuses on the very beginning of her career, in Kristianstad.
This post will look at an interesting group of rugs which Nygren designed for the Kristianstad County Crafts Association (Kristianstad läns hemslöjd). All three of these rugs seem to have all been designed in 1955 (one of them has this date, and they are filed sequentially in the archives). I don’t know which of these was designed first, but all three of them use narrow black and white lines in an unusual way.
It is almost ridiculous to applaud a particular Swedish rug designer for using stripes; colored stripes are characteristic of so very many Swedish rugs. But a number of mid-century designers —including several other designers who also worked at the Kristianstad County Crafts Association either shortly before, or at the same time as Nygren worked there— used thin woven lines in small areas to create a kind of color or pattern variant. Two such examples by Kerstin Bergman and Ingrid Peterson are shown in sketches below.
But as we can see, these striped areas are small sections of each rug. And Viveka Nygren uses the same kind of small stripes in the three rugs we will look at below. But she seems unique in using such thin stripes to fill quite large areas. These black and white stripes, which read like ink lines, are not just a detail in her rug designs, but an essential part of the graphic appeal of her rugs.
The first of these, called “Wolf’s Tooth” (“Vargtand”) has a sophisticated interplay of white triangles (teeth) set dramatically against black, and rectangles in various reddish brown (fur?) tones, as well as black and white horizontal lines made up of narrow woven stripes.
Somehow the design of this rug as a whole feels a little bit like a pack of animals running through the woods, passing through areas of shadow and light. I have never seen a woven example of this design, but both the sketch and a number of weaving proofs for it are in the Kristianstad County Crafts Association archives.
The following weaving sample, or proof, doesn’t have enough brown to give us a clear sense of the range of color in this rug, but it is better than nothing.
The Kristianstad archives include a sketch for another flat-weave rug, called “Sea Foam” or “Sea Spray” (“Sjöskum”). I have not seen a woven example of this design either. This design uses blocks of both horizontal and vertical black and white lines contained by vertical bars of several colors of blue. These black- and white-striped blocks are large — each approximately a foot square. A series of horizontal bars made up of small colored checks and tiny black and white stripes links the colored sections and the black and white elements.
And as she did in the previous rug, Nygren again uses elements of pure black and white—here the checked borders at top and bottom of the rug. While this rug’s design seems to me a bit too rigid and rectilinear to be called Sea Foam, nevertheless I wonder if — in using the very narrow and somewhat irregular black and white lines— Nygren meant her design to recall the irregular and incremental traces of sea on sand.
It seems to have been typical, or at least a frequent practice at Kristianstad County Crafts Association (Kristianstad läns hemslöjdforeningen), that as well as the typical hemslöjd initials, in this case KLH (to the lower left), and the initials of the designer (to the lower right)–weavers’ initials would also included in the bottom center of the rug. See indications of this practice in the sketch below.
The next rug carries the wonderfully appropriate title of “Carding Comb” (or Paddle)(“Kardor”). Weavers know carding combs, and probably most Swedes of this period knew carding combs. For those readers who do not know these, they are the brush-like tools made up of fine wires set into a flat ground, originally usually wood, backed with leather or paper. These paddles are used to separate the tangled sheeps’ fleece prior to producing woolen threads for spinning. See the following photo of a 19th-century painting of a Finnish girl using carding paddles and an image of a pair of such paddles.
In any case, there is something charming about a designer taking as her source of inspiration a tool so essential for making the wool yarn with which her design would be woven. And in fact, Nygren’s choice of this title seems to anticipate a lifelong philosophical interest she developed in weaving techniques. A younger friend, Peter Ekstrom commented after her death that “We talked a lot about …what was textile and what could as well have been done in any other technique. …[Her] overall theme became the textile craft itself.”
In any case, the design of this rug, is both abstract and literal. One can read its eight pairs of complimentary “combs” facing up and down. And the black lines which stand for the tines of the carding comb are a major design element of the rug. There is nothing timid about this design: the lines of the “combs” are again made into blocks about one foot square. And as we have seen her do with the two rugs discussed above, Nygren balances solid rectangular blocks of color in wonderful deep jewel-like tones against the grainy and more muted tonal effect produced by the narrow vertical black lines, In this case, however, she sets the black lines, not against white, but against softer subtler tones of those deeper-colored rectangular elements. She also provides random tonal variation both in in the definition of the comb outlines and the comb backgrounds. The rust colored borders at both ends compliment and contain the rug’s complex play of colors.
It is interesting to compare the working drawings for this rug with her original designs, because it is clear that she has altered the positions of quite a few colors before having the rug woven. The dimensions have also changed very slightly. The working drawing is shown in a photograph below, and then the above sketch and the working drawing are shown together for comparison.
Comparison of sketch of Kardor with its working drawing. It is evident that the positions of various colors have been changed, mostly at the top. KLH inventory number D3:539b.
Happily, we have an example of this rug as woven. It is very close to that of the working drawing, although the dimensions are very slightly different.
And we can compare the woven rug with its working drawing: the two look virtually identical, but with a left-to-right reversal from working drawing to rug. Follow the colors down the right side of the rug with the left side of the working drawing to compare, and then the two outside edges of rug and drawing.
Like other rugs Nygren designed which were woven by the Kristianstad weavers, this rug shows multiple signatures, including, presumably, those of the weavers (currently unknown) in the lower border.
Discussions of Nygren’s work, tend to use words like simplicity and purity. A newspaper article quoted Nygren herself explaining that,
“Simplicity and discipline are what I aspire to when I make my images. All the discipline that I do not manage on my own every day I try to get in the weavings…”
This particular rug is extraordinary in its simplicity—but it is also clear that this was a simplicity produced by disciplined effort. Even the fact that Nygren continued to search for a better arrangement of colors as she moved from initial sketch to working drawing, reveals her commitment to refine and perfect her designs. Her final design is brilliant, balancing a bold graphic framework and rich colors, with very subtle tonal changes.
“Combing and carding wool: A most persnickety operation,” August 17, 2016 in blog from Shaker Museum, Mt. Lebanon, NY, https://shakerml.wordpress.com/2016/08/17/combing-and-carding-wool-a-most-persnickety-operation/
“Combing and Carding,” from website of Textile Research Center, Leiden, 24 April 2017, https://trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/tools/fibre-preparation/combing-and-carding
Ekebacke, Håkan, photograph of Viveka Nygren
Ekstrom, Peter, “Hon ruckade min värld” article (“She rocked my world”) article Dec. 25, 2015 —http://www.kulturdelen.com/2015/12/25/hon-ruckade-min-varld/
www. fromsheeptoshawl.com/wp-content/uploads 2012/06/Maria-Wilk-Girl-Carding-Wool.jpg
FJ Hakimian, New York, has “Kardor”rug for sale on their website. See http://fjhakimian.com/carpet/swedish-flat-weave-4
“Konstnärinnor i närbild,” Länsposten 5/19/1983, with subtitle,
“Viveka Nygrens skapar-motto enkelhet och disciplin”
Kristianstad läns hemslöjd archives, Kristianstad
Permission granted to use photos of these drawings and woven samples, taken in the collection from Kristianstad County Craft Society (Kristianstad läns hemslöjdsförening). The photos may not be reproduced without such permission. Östra Skånes hemslöjdsförening (The Handicraft Association of Eastern Scania) shall be named as owner of the collection. The individual artifacts depicted are protected by copyright, and the names of the creators behind the photographed objects will follow the photos at publication. Particular thanks to Åsa Stentoft for arranging access to these archives.
Norén, Stellan, “Textilkonstnären Viveka Nygren är död,” 18 nov 2015 in Nerikes Allehanda, daily paper for Örebro where she lived most of her adult life.
Örebro County Museum, with particular thanks to Maria Nan for photos of archival material.
Regionsmuseet, Kristianstad, email correspondence with Kerstin Inglemark
Wikipedia, Viveka Nygren and Maria Wiik
Please reference as follows:
Whidden, Anne, “Inking Lines into Pattern: Viveka Nygren” theswedishrugblog (10/9/18); theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (day/month/year)