The talented mid-century designer, Ingrid Dessau, had an unusual combination of talents: first, a clarity in her compositions, and secondly, a superb ability to mix and combine colors— not just in different areas of a rug, but in the colors combined in bundles of yarn used to weave a given area. Dessau is known primarily for her hand-woven flat-weave rugs, and later, for heavier double-woven rugs she designed to be made by machine. But her talents in design and color were not limited to her work with flat-weave rölakan rugs, but apply equally to early designs for handwoven rya rugs.
Before marrying a Dane, Kai Dessau, in 1949, Ingrid was Ingrid Peterson, and it was as Ingrid Peterson she worked at the Kristianstad Country Crafts Association (Kristianstad läns hemslöjdföreningen) as a designer from about 1945-49. At this point Peterson signed her designs “IP,” although the way she formed her letter “I” makes her signed initials look very like “JP.” (And later her “ID”s look a bit like “JD”s). And as noted in earlier posts, it is possible to determine attribution of many of these rugs only by looking at her (and other young designers’) sketches, since many of these rugs seem to have been unsigned when woven.
Several of the most unusual designs of Ingrid Peterson Dessau’s long career come from this earliest professional period. These are quite wonderful fanciful rya rugs, all with a kind of story-book charm. This seems a mode very much of her young career; her later work is much more geometric and disciplined, but in fact these slightly blurry fanciful designs work well for rya rugs.
I’ll look first a several of her rya designs for which I have NOT seen rugs (maybe some reader has?), and then look at a series of designs of which several woven examples are available. Unfortunately none of these are dated, though some are signed ID rather than IP. So it is a little unclear whether these were designed in the period 1945-9 while she worked at KLH, or from the period just after 1950 when she sent designs to the Kristianstad County Craft Association on a free-lance basis. But mid-‘40s to mid-‘50s seems a reasonable estimated time-period for the design and fabrication of these unusual ryas.
The next two sketches seem to have been done just around the time of Peterson’s marriage in 1949 with one color signed IP and another IPD, a rare form of signature for this designer, who seems to have gone quickly to using ID for the rest of her career. In fact, neither of these printed signatures appear to be her own signature, and were probably added by another hand.
The following rya looks like it may have been drawn a little later than the ones shown above: while still charming, like those, it has an authority and clarity which seems more mature.
And then there is a series of wonderful designs for rya rugs of a miniature medieval city, apparently designed by Dessau in the early 1950s, and made by the Kristianstad County Craft Association weavers. Most of the sketches for these rugs are signed, either by her or by someone else writing her initials. And although this design is atypical of her later work, it is entirely consistent with the designs shown above from her earliest period. The design for this charming little city is evocative of a game-board, especially in the colored versions, where Dessau brilliantly uses color to differentiate the various houses. The rug, based on very simple repeated forms of squares and triangles (and smaller squares for windows), was designed in at least four different colors and seems to have been woven in at least three different sizes.
The first gray version of this rug seems to have been designed with a central “town square” marked by a row of three houses facing three other houses and flanked by six peaked roofs with crosses. The central square was ringed by seven concentric circles of houses, varying slightly in their design. It should be noted that the first sketch in this series carries the annotation, “Flossa?” as if to ask if it had been intended to be a pile rug, but both the weaving samples for this grey rug, and the subsequent designs for other colors for this rug are clearly labeled as rya.
I didn’t find a design in the Kristianstad archives of a red version for this rug, but that was clearly the first color designed after the grey-black version. The grey version is version #517a and the next two I found are the blue version, #517c, and gold version #517d. But these versions are called essentially “blue version of Red City,” and “gold version of the Red City.” The red version, although apparently missing from the Kristianstad archives, was probably #515b. The sketch of this red version is however held by designarkivet.se.
It’s interesting that in the colored versions, there are several new developments: the number of rows of concentric circles out from the center seems to have shrunk from seven to five, and the composition of the center of the rug varies slightly in each case. But in the colored versions of the rug, there is also much more richness in alternating dark and light backgrounds, and a wonderful little colored loop around part of the central figure. This deeply piled rug has none of the flatness of a board game. But this colorful loop makes the center seem very much like the destination, the winning center of a board game. The pattern of the rug does not follow a procession or journey the way those kinds of games do, but the lively color surrounding what seems to be a church or palace in the center, clearly emphasizes the importance of this imaginary center.
I cannot reprint the sketch for the red version of this rug held by designarkivet.se, but here is a link to that site, so that you can see the red sketch, which like the blue and green, has 5 concentric circles out from the center:
I have seen two woven versions of the Red City at auction, and they are quite wonderful. Neither were attributed to Dessau at the time. The photos that follow are of both of these rugs. Both rugs are smaller in their dimensions than those given for the original grey version (the only design we have dimensions for). But both of these rugs also have a design reduced in scale from that shown in the sketches for red, blue and gold versions (each with five concentric circles). These two rugs were woven with only three concentric rows of houses. In any case, in this red design, the central figure is actually two central figures, held in a kind of backwards-6 loop, partially colored, but marked by two apparent palaces. And the range of color in this rug is quite astonishing, from the coral-pinks at the edge, to the deeper reds and purples moving inwards, and then the odd but just-right choice of that yellowy-green which Dessau used in her first Gray City rug.
In looking for other traces of the Red City design, I stumbled across another intriguing image. This is another image owned by designarkivet.se. In any case, it is for a red rya rug, similar to the rugs shown above, but with a slightly different color palette, a more continuous looping path and a different arrival point, or center. This is also a rya design and is mounted very much like the pages from the Kristianstad County Craft Association folder, but carries a different title too: “Byn från skyn,” (“Village from the sky”). This is clearly a variation on Dessau’s captivating little city explored in various colors above, but this sketch is undated and whether it was ever woven, is also unknown. Here is a link to that image as well:
This is such a wonderful design, that one hopes other color versions or sizes will show up at auction in future!
Bukowskis Auction house, Stockholm, online auctions.
Gustafson-Seife, Inger, Ingrid Dessau Textil Designer, Boras Textile Museum, 2008.
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.
Please reference as follows:
Whidden, Anne, “A Captivating Little City: Ingrid Peterson Dessau” theswedishrugblog (10/16/18); theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (day/month/year)