This blog post introduces the architect of several Gothenburg churches, Sigfrid Ericson, and looks at his career. Two of Ericson’s churches have rugs and wall-hangings by the Gothenburg textile designer, Karna Asker. Her work will be discussed in the second of these two posts.
Ericson, born in 1879 in Nybro in Västergötland, came to Gothenburg in 1895 to study architecture. He took degrees at both the Chalmers Institute and The Royal Academy of Free Arts (“Kungliga Akademien för de Fria Konsterna”), spending about seven years on his studies, which he completed in 1902.
As a young graduate, Ericson then joined the Gothenburg Building Board, taught construction drawing at the Chalmers Institute from 1903-1913, and involved himself with a number of organizations in which he had professional interests, namely the Slöjdföreningens Skola (Craft Association School), and a local craft company called “Konstfliten” (“Art Industry”). Konstfliten wove rugs and may also have sold hand-crafted furniture. (Ericson admitted later in his life that he enjoyed “wasting time” designing furniture). He also joined the Board of Gothenburg’s Rhösska Museum— a museum with a focus on craft, design and cultural history, rather than on fine art. Ericson also married twice during this period, first in 1903, to a woman named Dagmar Otillia Josefson, and when that marriage ended (apparently in divorce), again in 1911 to Dagmar’s sister, Ruth Debora, a marriage which lasted until Ruth’s death in 1958.
In 1908, a local Gothenburg parish decided to build a new church on an unusual site. An architectural competition was organized and Ericson’s design was selected. Called Masthuggskyrka, this church was to be located on one of the city’s highest hills, near the area where wooden timbers had been formerly turned into masts for Gothenburg’s shipping. This architecturally robust church was designed in the then-popular National Romantic style, a kind of Scandinavian Arts and Crafts, which combined traditional materials such as large boulders and brick and a sizable bell tower. It was constructed between 1910-14.
In this church, Ericson’s architectural and decorative elements draw on traditional woodcarving, metal-smithing and decorative painting. The National Romantic Style sometimes has aspects of more sinuous Art Nouveau decoration, but in Ericson’s folkloric version of the style, each of these decorative elements are treated crisply and cleanly. The ceiling of the church interior is made of actual logs, which recall the many masts made in the area, but in fact the exterior roof is made of fireproof concrete, covered with traditional clay tiles.
At its completion, this church was much applauded for its spectacular siting, its tall tower, evident throughout the city, and its rustic and interior detail which was both restrained and richly decorative.
During the time that Ericsson was involved in competing for the Masthuggets Church commission, and then supervising its construction, he also designed another church in the same style. Sigfrid Ericsson’s wife, Ruth, was born in a town called Lyse in Bohus province, north of Gothenburg, one of seven sisters and two brothers to a family whose father who was a minister. Probably due to Ericsson’s connection to this family, this town, where his father in law had previously been a minister, gave Ericson a commission for another church to be built there in 1911-12.
The Lyse church was designed with heavy exterior stone walls and a timbered ceiling (but one made with flat boards, rather than logs). This church interior had a similar kind of architectural clarity with a simple sculptural apse for the altar, decorative crafted elements like the painted pulpit, altarpiece, sturdy granite baptismal font, and hanging iron lamps which may derive from folk tradition but draw on adept contemporary craftsmanship.
IN 1913, Ericson became Vice Chancellor (“rektor”) of the Gothenburg Slöjdföreningens Skola, the school for higher education in industrial arts, or applied craft. This role, which he held until 1946, brought him into contact with both faculty and students in multiple design disciplines, and gave him a visible role in Gothenburg’s community of architects, fabricators, planners and politicians.
In 1917 Ericson— or really, both Sigfrid and his wife Ruth— began a a major joint undertaking: the creation of a large garden and small farm of some 44 acres /18 hectares in a town south-east of Gothenburg. This was in Simlångsdalen, a town in the province of Halland where Ruth had grown up, and where several of her sisters and their families lived. Called Vargaslätten, the name refers to local legend that the site had an area where wolves used to lie in the sun. Ericsson later said, “nature itself was an architect and builder”, and he tried to follow natural contours, enlarge wet areas to become ponds, create some areas of wildflowers and others with more cultivated plants. He himself became quite enamored of rhododendrons, lilies and primroses, and was determined to make a “natural” setting for these. One writer calls this property Sigfrid and Ruth’s “summer camp.” If he specialized in the garden’s design and horticulture, she had the practical running of a farm operation on part of the property, planting, raising and harvesting produce, particularly apples, cucumbers and berries. It seems to have been very much a joyful and mutual project; Sigfrid sold the property in 1954, the year after Ruth’s death.
The reason I mention this garden, which is really irrelevant to the topic of Karna Asker’s textiles, is to illustrate two points about Ericsson himself. First, throughout his career, Sigfrid Ericsson maintained a delight in working on hand-craft and projects involving materials— whether it be designing a wood-carved altar piece, arranging contrasting textures of plant materials, or collaborating on a book about textile design. Secondly, this massive undertaking of arranging different garden “rooms” and working with many different plant species was undertaken at about the same time as several his major architectural works— and it seems to me that both involved very similar skills.
In 1914, with the opening of the Baltic Exhibition in Malmö, a Gothenburg newspaper article proposed having some sort of wonderful exhibition in their own city, perhaps an anniversary celebration of Gothenburg’s 300 years. This would be in 1921. After planning began, and multiple problems were encountered, the actual celebration was pushed back to 1923. In the process, it became a national event, rather than a regional one.
Meanwhile, in 1916, an architectural competition was announced, for a firm to plan the development of the area for the fair. The area, to be called the Götaplatsen, was planned to be the termination of Kungsportsavenyn, the avenue leading up the hill out of the old city, and would become the city’s future cultural node, with the city’s art museum to built in time for the Jubilee celebration. Götaplatsen would eventually house its concert hall and city theater as well. The Gothenburg Art Museum as designed by Sigfrid Ericson himself, and built on the Götaplatsen was built in a style called “Swedish Grace,” a kind of stripped-down classicism also influenced by the Art Deco movement. This building and formal style gave a certain grandeur and sophistication to this cultural precinct. The City Theater, built after the fair in 1934 by Carl Bergsten maintained this style, while the Concert Hall, designed by Nils Einar Ericsson in 1935 was more modernist.
The winning firm, called ARES for their first names, consisted of four architects: Sigfrid Ericson, Arvid Bjerke, as well as Ragnar Ossian Swensson and Ernst Torulf. In January of 1920, the group was appointed to organize and design the entire anniversary exhibition— from urban planning, to architecture, to the content of the exhibits. Swensson and Torulf pulled out of the project a year later, leaving Ericsson and Bjerke to plan the bulk of the enormous project.
Again, Ericson’s intense involvement with this exhibition has little to do with his later work with Karna Asker, whose textiles I will look at in the next blog post. But the exhibition was a major moment in Gothenburg’s cultural history, and thus also part of Asker’s own experience. And I think it also shows something of the arc of Ericson’s own career and is helpful for understanding the design of his later church on which she collaborated.
In any case, as built, the fairground precinct stretched uphill beyond the newly-built Art Museum toward the Johannesberg hills and neighborhood. The following extraordinary birds-eye view of the fairgrounds gives a good sense of how the fairgrounds relate to the Art Museum, and where different activities were located. This view was created by a talented group of Gothenburg designers and researchers whose intent is to use historical and archival material to create an interactive website capturing the experience of this fair. Their blog, https://jubileumblog.wordpress.com/ is currently slowed down, but it is the source of much of the material I will show here (with permission from them and from the original Gothenburg City Museum archival sources). Swedish readers may also be able to read the legends with the locations of different exhibitors and activities on the bird’s-eye view map below if using a magnifying glass. Or one can go to the jubileumblog website and enlarge this image.
Two other maps of the fairground are helpful. I have rotated the second one so that these two maps and the bird’s-eye view above have a consistent orientation with the Art Museum and Götaplatsen at the bottom. The long central fairground space may well have been experienced by visitors as an kind of (offset) continuation of Kungsportsavenyn, despite the temporary quality of its architecture.
Access to the fairground was from the Götaplatsen, through a passage to the left of the Art Museum facade, a passage which let into a rotunda. Straight ahead from the entry, was a building in which Sigfrid Ericson undoubtedly took a personal interest, but one whose role now seems a little ironic: this was the building showcasing “church art for the next hundred years.” Turning right from the entry, visitors were directed to the “Long Garden,” the long central axis of movement moving toward the two minarets and the large building called the Memory Hall, where not very much happened but where visitors could sign their names and record that they had been there for this historic exhibition. The exhibitions in this area had to do with city history and regional culture, and those near Memory Hall with craft handwork and industrial arts. This was called the Historical Exhibition.
But if the Art Museum, and a few of the fair buildings were sober and decorous, others tended toward slightly exotic, exaggeratedly historic architectural styles. Some were even occasionally bizarrely incongruous. Minarets, hardly indigenous, punctuated the long central axis, and several buildings, like the Memory Hall had a kind of grandiose monumentality, and looked rather like theatrical stage-sets. Nevertheless, these buildings did serve to frame the exterior pedestrian spaces as well as to provide for display and movement of crowds. It would be difficult to argue that the architecture of the fair had much overall coherance, but under Bjerke and Ericson’s hands, the “Swedish Grace” style did achieve a measure of popularity. It was a style which would be used successfully in Stockholm in the next few years by Gunnar Asplund in his Stockholm City Library and elsewhere in Sweden.
I have only been able to find a records of a few textiles shown at this exhibition. There was a piece by Karna Asker, subject of the next blog post, but I don’t have an image of her rug. But it is clear that designers and weaving schools from other parts of the country also showed their work here in Building 21, shown above which is identified as housing “Konsthandverk och Konstindustri.” Marta Måås-Fjetterström’s now-familiar pile carpet called “Hästhagen” (“Horse Pasture”) was designed and shown at this exhibition. Students at the Johanna Brunsson’s weaving school in Stockholm wove several different commemorative textiles (tablecloths? light blankets? wall-hangings?). These appear to be based on traditional Gothenburg weaving styles of repeated and alternating pattens, and at least the first and last were designed by Hildegard Dinclau, textile designer and head teacher there.
There were also many furnished rooms shown by different merchandisers. The Stockholm department store, Nordiska Kompaniet, for example, showed a number of furniture groupings, such as the one below. The rugs here have not been identified.
Just past the minarets, and facing Memory Hall, the restaurant with its tiers of shaded awnings was on the left. A photo of the restaurant itself is below. A postcard view, also below, shows the minarets themselves, looking back toward the entry with the restaurant now on the right.
Not surprisingly, this was not the only restaurant. There were several less formal options including a “peoples’ restaurant,” a luncheon restaurant, and bakery. I have also read about something called a “Chocolate Pavilion,” which seems a very likely addition to a Swedish fair, but I have not been able to locate this on the exhibition site.
Undoubtedly the latter would have appealed to children, but there were many other activities provided for childrens’ play. The following photographs illustrate several: a Hansel and Gretel play house; a swing set in which the cartoon-like figure’s large “galoshes” were the sit-in swings; a small shed to gallop on mechanical horses. The area called “Childrens’ Paradise was located behind the restaurant.
A viaduct—actually a large covered bridge with shops on each side—led from the principal garden axis to a secondary route with exhibitions of machines and mechanics, as well as of steel, iron and electronics. This was called The Export Exhibition. Manufacturers of glass, textiles, metal, and porcelain showed near rubber and leather goods. Cellulose and paper industries also showed here.
This area was also where the popular entertainments were, including a dance floor, music pavilion, theater, and also a large concert hall. Here too was the multi-story hall showcasing exports from Sweden and also an exhibition of the activities of “foreign Swedes.” There was a terrace restaurant with its whimsically-shaped tower. These two buildings, shown in the photograph below, are more examples of eye-catching and eccentric architectural forms which animated these fairgrounds.
Beyond all of these exhibits, older children had a more remote area, the “Carousel Plain” which had a carousel, a kind of whirling swing, roller coaster, and whimsically-decorated concession stands.
The fair also provided multiple ways to experience new forms of locomotion—and these seem to have been popular for visitors of all ages. There was both a funicular car which traversed a hillside recently cleared of trees, as well as an arial tramway.
The fair had other high moments–perhaps the most memorable was Albert Einstein speaking on his theory of relativity (having won the Nobel prize that year for this discovery). And it clearly put Gothenburg “on the map” as an interesting city for foreign and even Swedish visitors. But mostly it seems to have been about people exploring a fantasy urban enviornment, and doing fun activities, seeing new products and inventions and absorbing new ideas about home design, economy, and Sweden’s place in the world.
Obviously, Sigrid Ericsson was not responsible for all of the decisions with regard to planning and architecture for this Jubilee Exhibition. But he was very much a part of the team that brought this whole extravaganza to fruition. He was 46 years old when the fair opened, and this might have seemed the apex of his career.
In the years which followed, during the late 1920s-40s, Ericson designed at least ten more churches in the greater Gothenburg region, and did quite a few church renovations. Most of these do not seem to have the same verve and freshness of his earlier churches, or his elegant Gothenburg Art Museum. His later churches seem to follow a fairly typical model with a stone or rendered base and metal spire, with the intention of looking “historical” rather than contemporary. One of these, the Kinnarumma church, designed in 1940 near Borås, is typical. Its interior is simple, and furnished with traditional decorative elements.
But also in 1939-40, Ericson designed another spectacular and quite contemporary church, one which employs some of the same classical severity which he used on the Gothenburg Art Museum. This is the Johannebergs Church, located in the Johannesberg neighborhood, uphill and behind the Art Museum (and apparently close to the terminus of the funicular from the 1923 exhibition). And for this church, he invited the collaboration of the head textile teacher at the Slöjdföreningens Skola. The name of this professor was Karna Asker, a well-known and respected Gothenburg textile designer. My next post will look at Asker’s several collaborations with Sigfrid Ericson. These first began in 1939 with her work on his Johhanebergs Church.
—Ahlberg, Ulrika, Hallandsposten, 2013-08-23: “Vargaslätten till salu”.
—Bukowskis auction house, Stockholm
—ebay.com—www.ekeving.se, site about Swedish historical transport
—Forsgren, Cecelia, thesis on Vargaslätten for SLU Sevriges lantbruksuniversitet, Fakulteten för Landskapsplanering, trädgårds-och-jordbruksvetenskap, LTJ, published in https://www.academia.edu/11733392/VargaslA4tten_modern_garden_between_1989-2009
—Göteborg Stadsmuseum, arkivet.
—https://jubileumblog.wordpress.com, and email correspondence with Martin Rudolfson
—KulturNav.se, biographical notes on Sigrid Ericson
—Sahl, Mia, “En dold Sagoträdgård” Aftonsblad article April 1, 2010; photos by Anders Andersson
—visits by the author to Masthuggetskyrka and Johannesberg Kyrka in April 2019. Photographs are my own unless otherwise acknowledged.
—Wikipedia and Wikimedia commons
Please reference as follows:
Whidden, Anne, “A Gothenburg Architect, Sigfrid Ericson,” theswedishrugblog (5/29/19); theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (day/month/year)