In researching these blog posts, I run across many disparate threads of information. Sometimes it seems like they can’t possibly apply to the same person. This was certainly true in the case of this particular designer. I had seen a number of designs for rugs in a County Crafts Association archives in Sweden by one Ulla Kockum, and a year later, ran across mention of an “embroidery expert” with the same name in England several years later. Was this even the same person?
Having looked only at Ulla Kockum’s rug and tapestry designs during my time studying designers who had worked for the Jönköping County Crafts Association (Jönköping läns hemslöjd), I needed to go back and see if she had done embroidery designs during the same period. And as I discovered she had, her story got bigger.
Ulla Helena Kockum was born— surprisingly— in 1921 in East Orange, New Jersey, USA, the first child and oldest daughter of Carl Gottfried Kockum, and his wife Birgit. Ulla’s father, Gottfried Kockum, was in business, a representative for the First National Bank of Boston, and travelled with some frequency between Sweden and the United States. Gottfried (b 1895), was a great-great-grandson of Laurens Kockum, the founder of multiple businesses and the very important family-run shipyard in Malmö. While Ulla was born in the United States, the family only stayed there for a couple of years, returning in 1923. They moved to Färgaryd in Jönköping county rather than back to Malmö, and Ulla’s three younger siblings were all born in Sweden. From the time she was six, the family lived in Kolbäck parish in southern Västmanland where she attended a local school.
I know little about Ulla’s childhood, but at eighteen, Ulla entered Stockholm’s Tekniska Skolan, the predecessor of the design school today known as Konstfack, studying textile design. She would have studied during her time there with Barbro Nilsson and other of Sweden’s finest textile designers, and her studies would have included work in both woven textiles and in needlework– both aspects explored the textile department of the Tekniska Skolan.
As her first job out of school in 1944, Ulla took a job as a designer with the Jönköping’s County Craft Association (Jönköpings läns hemslöjdföreningen, abbreviated JLH) in the city of Jönköping, where she stayed until 1947. She joined a team of other young designers who had attended either Konstfack or the Higher Industrial Arts school in Gothenburg. Other employees included Märta Rinde (-Ramsbäck) and Ulla Lindberg (-Onvall) (both full-time) and included Aage Faith-Ell, Märta Montelius and Gulli Lundqvister (all at that time, part-time).
Kockum used the abbreviation Km as her signature on her sketches, and the way she signed both the K and m are consistent with the way she signed her name.
One of the first products which Kockum designed in1944 was a particularly handsome and sophisticated little tapestry. It looked a little like a series of ovals on strings. In 1943, Kockum’s teacher at the Tekniska Skolan, Barbro Nilsson, had become the new head of the Märta Måås Fjetterström weaving workshop in Båstad, Sweden. One of her first designs for MMF was a tapestry called “Shells” or “Snails” (“Snäckorna”), which incorporated small banded ovals into a larger pattern. It is interesting to wonder whether seeing the construction of this tapestry led to this design of Kockum’s, which explores the use of a similar kind of embedded shape in a simpler and smaller flat-woven piece.
Kockum’s rölakan tapestry is obviously not as ambitious as the very large Nilsson piece, but it has its own lively charm. The background blend of orange and purples in Kockum’s tapestry approximates a coral color which seems to have been one of her favorites. Bordered in a yellowy spring green, the small piece had flashes of yellows and and pinks as well. The original
We also have proof of production of this little cushion front in two examples. Jönköpings Museum holds one copy of this tapestry, and another, in very faded condition, was sold at Stockholms Auktionsverk in 2018. The two pieces are not identical: they look to be about the same size, but while the the pattern of the first has a 3-2-3-2-3 rhythm of its elements, the second one has a 4-3-4-3-4-3-4 rhythm. Since I don’t know the actual size of the second one, I don’t know whether the pattern is at the same scale, but the piece itself is larger, or if the pattern has been scaled down to fill the same approximate 16” square. As seems to be typical for the work of junior craft association designers, Kockum is uncredited on either label for her design.
Designing rugs seems to have been the most prestigious job in the county craft association atelier, probably because these sold for the most money and were big and visible. Flat-weave rugs Kockum designed in 1945 at the beginning of her time at the Jönköping Crafts Association had fairly conventional layouts with clearly defined centers and borders, and she used simple familiar elements. These rugs illustrate her fondness for a lively coral red and have some interesting color combinations— like the first one with its coral, light blue, and bands of bright blue and white. I don’t know if any of this group of rugs were produced by the Crafts Association.
In 1946, though, Kockum seems to have reworked her 1944 tapestry design into a wonderful design for a coral-colored rug. This one looks a bit like a collection of Easter eggs, but now with a grey, rather than green border. Judging by the weight of the yarn samples, this was originally intended as a rya design, although it is not labeled as such. As a rya, the thick yarn would have slightly blurred the pattern and given it a soft fullness quite different than the flat-weave tapestry on which the rug design seems to have been based.
This seems have been a popular design —perhaps offered as a kit—because the following year, Kockum drew a grey version of the same design, this time labeled as a long-knotted rya, intended to be about 4 x 6 feet. She seems to have taken her green border from the original tapestry and added flashes of color —blue, yellow and red— in the “eggs” to balance the grey background.
I have never seen this design of Kockum’s woven up as rya rug in either the coral or grey colorway, but think there must have been enough interest in the first color to have prompted the second version. I’m hopeful that there are some versions of this rug out there!
Another flat-weave rug, not in her signature coral, but with an interesting subtle design, was designed and produced in 1947. Examples of this rug are seen from time to time at Swedish auctions—often with slightly different borders and background colors (although it is also hard to know how much of the difference is attributable to different lighting when the rugs were photographed). This rug carries the somewhat odd title of “Three Stars,” since there are no real stars in the design. As we have seen with other rugs designed by relatively “junior” designers at these craft associations, this rug carried the JLH signature but not Ulla Kockum’s own initials to identify it as hers.
A number of Kockum’s original designs for woven projects clearly contributed to the success of the Jönköping County Craft Association during the mid 1940s. But even more impressive were the number of designs for embroidery which she also produced. Her embroidery skills— and where those took her— will be the focus of the next blog post.
Bukowskis Auction house, Stockholm
Claesson, Anna Maria, Frostroser och tulpaner Jönköpings läns hemslöjdsförenings samling 1909-1986. Småländska kulturbilder, 2003.
Claesson, Anna Maria, Email correspondence, research in Swedish newspapers, and assistance in contacting Ulla’s family.
Crafoord Auction house, Lund, Sweden.
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.
Lunde, David, http://www.bygdeband.se — lokalhistoria på web
Överengen, Helena, phone interview with Anna Maria Claesson and subsequent email correspondence
Platen, Alvar, Släkten Kockum. 1920 (pdf ur Malmö Fornminnesförening – Minnesskrift) with link provided by Emma Hultqvist at Malmö Stad Kulturförvaltningen.
Ridderberg, Maria at Jönköpings Museum, with particular thanks for her search for Kockum’s embroidery designs for Jönköping läns hemslöjd.
Sarnäs, Anette, Archivist at Stadsarkiv Malmö for generous help finding Ulla’s relatives via the Kockum family genealogy.
Please reference as follows:
Whidden, Anne, “Young Weaving Designer: Ulla Kockum,” theswedishrugblog (3/17/18); theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (day/month/year)