During the 1960s, there were a number of Swedish companies which began to market machine-made rya rugs. A previous post looked at rugs designed by Marianne Richter for Wahlbergs AB, which was one of these companies. (AB is the Swedish equivalent of “Inc,” indicating an incorporated company). Another company, Svängsta Mattväveri AB or Svängsta Rug-weaving Company was founded in Karlshamn in 1954, but following a company reorganization, moved to Malmö in 1960, producing rya and pile rugs through the next decade. Another company, Vävaregården in Eringsboda, also looked at in a previous post, was a 1967 spin-off of the Svängsta company which produced flat-weave rugs.
Yet at the same time, several other companies produced and sold rya kits for the home weaver. This post looks at designs for rya rugs produced by a company called NIAB or Nordiska Industri AB, in Gothenburg. Founded in 1895 by August Andreasson, this company became part of a group of textile companies begun in the Gårda area of Gothenburg which in the early 1900s came under the direction of a prominent textile industrialist in Gothenburg, Gustaf Werner.
Little is known about the early years of this company, but it comes into some prominence in the 1950s and 60s with its designs and kits for rya rugs, cushions and wall-hangings. The main focus of NIAB seems to have been the marketing of these designs for home production and the materials needed to make them, rather than in the production of rugs ready-made for purchase, as was the case with the firms mentioned above. The NIAB rug designs were clearly meant, not just for Swedes, but for home weavers in England and Germany as well who were interested in well-designed and abstractly-modern textiles for their homes. Directions and brief instructions were provided in Swedish, English and German in at least some of the catalogs. Mats Linder, a Swede who writes a blog from Norway on design, points out that in Norway, these rug materials and designs were marketed under the Sellgren and Rauma names. Given the proximity of Gothenburg to Norway, Norway was a logical market. Denmark might have been another market, but it is unclear whether NIAB marketed its Nordiska Ryor to Denmark.
An earlier post on this blog looked at the similar marketing approach taken by the Bergå wool company which produced much of the woolen yarn sold to mid-century weavers, particularly through Sweden’s county craft associations, called “hemslöjden.“ The Berga company commissioned various designers, drawn largely from these regional county crafts associations, to produce designs for rya rugs which could be purchased by customers as kits which used the Berga wools and pre-made backing material.
My interest here is in the designers who were similarly commissioned by NIAB to produce designs to be made into kits. In the earlier post, I looked at the successive editions of the Bergå wool company brochures. If the Bergå designs and materials were actively marketed through the various county craft associations, it seems that the NIAB designs and similar kits seem to have been sold to the customers of independent weaving studios.
Being aware of the NIAB line of rya rugs allows customers, dealers and auctioneers today to recognize the designs of the Nordiska Ryor designers, and to understand that rugs in these patterns were made by individual home weavers to these designs. Part of the kit which was supplied with these Nordiska Ryor patterns seems to have been a tag which could be sewn on the back of the rug and filled in with the name of the design, the person who wove the rug, and the date. You could see the tag today and easily assume that the person who wove the rug also designed it, which was not the case. Here’s a typical example in which the name of the designer does not appear on the label (although the name of the rug design does):
I will look first at the work of three of the NIAB designers, all of whom have several rugs I have been able to identify when made and sold. These are Kerstin Adde, Birgitta Salenius, (who also designed for Bergå) and Ingegerd Hyltén Cavalllius, who all, not surprisingly, seem to have come from the Gothenburg area. I have unfortunately found very little biographical information for either Salenius or Adde.
Kerstin Adde was a talented but little-known designer, who produced several boldly-colored and attractive patterns. Although we have few of her designs, one of them seems to show up frequently at auction. Another I have never seen, but a friend shared photographs of the rug, made in the 1960s. Adde seems to have worked for NIAB only during the 1950s. The sketches we have for her work come from a collection in the Nordiska Museum and are only available via the links I have provided below, but they are gorgeous and well-worth looking at. There are two groups of NIAB material in the Nordiska Museum collection — one a set of hand-drawn and lettered sketches, and then a small group of designs shown in photographs (I will discuss the various sources of NIAB material and iterations of their catalogs in the next blog post). Adde’s three designs are from 1957, and are part of the group of hand-drawn sketches. Note: clicking on the images in this museum collection will allow users to enlarge them and make the names of the designers and the print on the images more visible.
The first of Adde’s designs is a jazzy repetitive design called Hoppa Hage (Hop-Scotch) shown in several colors. Her next design is a wonderful pattern, called Mexiko, designed in green, gold and red versions. The sketch for both of these, from the Nordiska Museum collection of early NIAB material, can be seen here; https://digitaltmuseum.se/011023834583/monstersamling/media . These rugs are illustrated in images 9/22, 10/22, 12/22 and 17/22, 18/22 and 19/22.
The rug made to the Mexiko pattern shown in image 19/22 is electric in orange, pink, black and white. The original pattern reads red and orange but the finished rug in pink and orange seems even more vividly Mexican. As the title of this rug design suggests, post-war Swedes had an interest in seeing the world, and designers from this period frequently evoked exotic (mostly warm-weather) locales in the titles for their rugs. The rug was designed to be made in 5 different sizes: 70 x 120 cm; 80 x 130 cm, 100x 150 cm, 135 x 180 cm, and 150 x 200 cm. The one shown below is approximately 134 x 200 cm, which would put it somewhere between the next-to-largest and largest size. Perhaps the weaver wanted something just a little longer than the pattern?
The third of Adde’s rugs is called Church window. The sketch for this one is at https://digitaltmuseum.se/011023834585/monstersamling/media?slide=2 and is image 14/19.
This rug could also be made in various sizes. These were 80 x 150 cm; 100 x 175 cm; 120 x 200 cm and 150 x 220 cm. The one show directly below was the smallest of these; the one following is in the largest size. The pattern remained the same at every size but was simply scaled up.
The larger rug looks the same as the smaller rug.
As did several of the NIAB artists, Adde also made a design for a rya cushion, and this is also in the Nordiska Museum collection via the digitaltmuseum.se. I was surprised that a casual search through etsy’s listings for “rya” turned up a number of rya pillows made to these NIAB and Nordiska Ryor designs. Here is the digitalmuseum link to Adde’s design, and an image of the pillow itself follows: https://digitaltmuseum.se/011023834585/monstersamling. Adde’s pillow design is image 18/19.
A few years after she designed these two rya rugs, Adde was in a joint exhibition in Stockholm with another Gothenburg woman who showed her painting. Whether Adde showed textiles or paintings, I don’t know, but she had married in the interim and was now showing as Kerstin Adde-Johansson. The National Museum of Sweden seems to hold a piece of hers, but again, I can’t determine if it is a painting or a weaving, but she is listed there simply as “artist.” If any readers have more information or knowledge about Adde’s design career and life, I would love to hear of it.
Birgitta Salenius, was NIAB’s most prolific and popular designer during the 1950s and ‘60s; NIAB produced more of her designs than any other single designer, and she seems to have been involved with NIAB from their earliest marketing of rya rugs, through to the end of the popular appeal of those rugs, that is — from the 1950s well into the 1970s. Tags on rugs made by individuals to her designs even bear dates into the late 1970s. She designed at least 15 rugs for NIAB and “Nordiskas Ryor,” as the line became called, and her work appears in each successive Nordiskas Ryor brochure. She would have been young when she first started to work for NIAB since she was born in 1935.
Like so many of the trained Swedish textile designers from mid-century, Salenius was versatile in her ability to design at multiple scales: for rugs as well as embroidery. And Nordiska Industri AB apparently employed her skills in both areas, for not only did they market rug kits, but small embroidery kits as well. Some of these designs have been adapted by a company called Linladan which is producing kits with new colors to a number of Salenius designs.
Unlike the lighthearted quality of her embroidery designs, many of the rugs designed by Salenius have some of the brooding abstract quality of contemporaneous Finnish rya. The earliest Salenius designs that I know is “Ali Babba”, held by the Nordiska Museum and visible online via this digitaltmuseum link: https://digitaltmuseum.se/011023834583/monstersamling/media?slide=5 Her rug design is image 7/22. (Click on the image to enlarge). I have not seen a rug made to this pattern.
Images of eight of Salenius’ rug designs, from brochures published in the early 1960s are shown below— coupled with those designs as woven by individual weavers. I refer to these brochures here by the titles of “Orange,”“Yarn,” and “Rainbow,” which are descriptions of the various covers. I will discuss the brochures themselves and their covers more extensively below.
Because Salenius made so many designs for NIAB. customers made many rya rugs to these patterns, and it is fun to get glimpses, via auction images, of the signed tags attached to the rugs. It gives a sense of the geographic distribution and time span during which the rugs were made. Some of these rugs were offered in various colors, some in just a single color way; all were offered in a variety of sizes—giving customers quite a bit of control in their choice of pattern.
Salenius’ Eldorado design was made in just one coloration, browns with orange and with a surprising light blue accents, but was offered in 5 sizes. It shared a page in both the “Yarn” and “Orange” brochures with a design by Ingrid Hyltén Cavellius, whose designs for NIAB are discussed below.
The following is another copy of this rug, this one apparently made by Ester Johansson in Gothenburg in the 1960s (but is being sold on etsy by a store in Frankfort, Germany). Although the dimensions given by the etsy store vary a bit from the dimensions in the brochure, the maker probably used the middle size in this pattern: originally meant to be 120 x 150 cm/ 48 x 60.”
Salenius’ Sesam design seems to have been quite popular. The fact that two of the three rugs I have seen are dated 1967 when the only brochure image I have seen is for a Nordiskas Ryor catalog from 1968, suggests that the design first appeared in the previous 1967 catalog.
There is an interesting side note to the following image, another copy of this rug. As well as I can determine, this was made by an American woman for one Ralph Levy in 1979. The woman was Rosebud Bitterman Cohn of Little Rock, Arkansas, USA and her sister, Jean was married to an Alvin Levy. Was Ralph a nephew? Mrs Cohn seems to have made several rya rugs from NIAB kits for Ralph when she was in her 60s, but where she purchased the kits is completely unknown. The fact that two of these Swedish rya rugs signed by R B Cohn, who the seller further identified as Rosebud Cohn, and I found in Arkansas suggests that the American interest in all things Scandinavian at mid-century was strong enough to support a local distributor of the NIAB collection and materials. (An American woman, Melinda Byrd, who today runs her own rya rug design business in the United States, has told me that her grandparents, “Angelina and William Lundgren, marketed the Bergå rya designs as well as their own designs from mid 1950s through early 1980s. In addition, they did custom designing for customers who had their own ideas for a design. Their rya business was located in their home studio in Northboro, Massachusetts.” But she notes that they did not carry the NIAB line.)
While I have seen multiple examples of all of the rugs shown above —possibly suggesting that these were Salenius’ most popular designs—there are six other rya rug patterns shown in these various brochures, which she designed, but which I have found no examples of. These images are as follows:
From the digitaltmuseum collections:
Ali Baba at this link: https://digitaltmuseum.se/011023834583/monstersamling/media?slide=6 Image is 7/22.
from the “Orange” catalog:
The Pajazzo page shown above also includes one of NIAB’s very earliest cushion designs, Irrbloss, by Greta Hammarquist. The design of this cushion is also visible on the digitaltmuseum archives at https://digitaltmuseum.se/011023834585/monstersamling/media?slide=14 image 15/19 and while this particular page is undated, it is part of a group of designs dating in the mid 1950s.
In addition, there are a number of rya rugs identified at auction or on online sales sites as designed by Birgitta Salenius for Nordiskas Ryor, but I don’t have any printed documentation or dates on these. They may be other designs from NIAB brochures I have not seen. Here are several of these:
The brochure with the orange cover, which I call “Orange”, probably ca early 1960s, had also included 9 other rya pillows, designed by Salenius, some of which have been shown above on pages from this catalog sharing space with Ryor rugs. The others are shown below. Whether these possibly corresponded to earlier rug patterns, I don’t know.
Birgitta Salenius, Cushion designs in rya from Nordiskas Ryor “Orange” brochure: Röd höst (Red autumn) Nordiskas Ryor # 5201 and Smaragd (Emerald) #5902, both 33 x 40 cm in size.
Birgitta Salenius, Cushion designs in rya from Nordiskas Ryor “Orange” brochure: Rubin, Nordiskas Ryor 5904, 32 x 40 cm, and Blå Safir (Blue Sapphire), # 5903, 30 x 40 cm
Birgitta Salenius, Cushion designs in rya from Nordiska Ryor (Orange) brochure: Wigwam, #6703, 25 x 45 cm and Venezia #7404, 29 x 42 cm.
Salenius seems to have done extensive designing for NIAB, and Nordiskas Ryor— not only rya rugs and cushion designs, but even venturing into little rya wall-hangings as well.
Images of Nordiskas “Rainbow” catalog, and page from that with Saleius’ rya wallhanging of ships shown. Called Skepp ohoj, (Ship Ahoy)
Salenius’ career is interesting in that, unlike many other of the designers I have looked at on this blog, who designed for Swedish hemslöjd or county craft associations, she seems to have worked largely in a commercial vein, providing attractive yet not too-difficult-to-make designs for a commercial provider of yarn, rya backing mats and other weaving products. The fact that we see so many rugs to her designs at auction today suggests that her designs were very popular, and also attests to the fact that the craft of making rya rugs at home was a widespread phenomenon in Sweden during the 1960s into ‘70s.
I don’t know what Salenius did after working for NIAB. As with Adde-Johansson above, I would welcome any reader-input on any later textile work she did. While Salenius was apparently NIAB/ Nordiskas Ryor best-selling designer, there were other talented designers also working for NIAB. Another one of these was Ingegerd Hyltén Cavallius.
Ingegerd Hyltén Cavallius. grew up in Gothenburg and attended Slöjdföreningens Skola (now HDK). She died just this past summer, July 25, 1919 at 86 years, after a long and very active artistic life. Hyltén Cavallius was one of NIAB’s early designers. The digitaltmuseum collection of Lydia Janssen material (see below for explanation) contains 3 of her designs in the part of the material which is comprised of photographs of rugs intended for a sales binder.
This link provides visual access to two of Hyltén-Cavellius’ early designs: https://digitaltmuseum.se/011023834583/monstersamling/media?slide=2 Images 3/22 and 4/22.
These rug designs are undated, but seem likely to me to be from the late 50s. They are titled, Katedral and Arstidernas / Seasons (in 4 colored versions). To see them more closely, click on the images to enlarge them. Another rug, called Polarmatt, or Polar rug can be seen at this link which reproduces images (only) from a 1968 NIAB catalog. :
I have seen four of Hyltén Cavallius’ designs for NIAB made up into rugs. Most of these are exotically named, a practice typical of Swedish rug designers of the period. Like Salenius’ designs, Hyltén Cavellius’ are usually abstract in their imagery.
Nordiskas ryor marketed another design by Ingegerd Hyltén Cavallius, which is called Droppsten (Stalactite) but almost looks like an animal skin, which I have not seen made as a rug:
Hyltén Cavallius’ early weaving designs were only one part of her artistic output, and
viewed in the context of her other art, they are part of a stylistic whole. After the 1960s, she did not design textiles, but continued to work in paint and with collage and enamels. She lived in Gothenburg. Photos show her with a dog and sailing with her husband— she seems to have very much enjoyed life.
That Hyltén-Cavallius continued to show in local exhibitions year after year shows her joy in her work, and how important it was to her. The work itself is quirky, whimsical, and playful, with a darker undertone. Photos of a number of her graphic collages and an enamel piece, done in the past 5 years, are below:
The work and varied careers of these three designers who designed for Nordiska Industri AB which marketed its rya line under the name of Nordiskas Ryor, show again the range of experience of female designers at mid-century. Few had major design careers, but many found long periods of satisfying (if probably not very remunerative) design work, often with a team of other women. Others designed rugs only for a brief period and moved on to other kinds of artistic expression, or to other activities — including raising families. For many of those who raised children, it is also interesting to see the interest in weaving and textiles and artistic design passed down one and even two generations.
—Auktionhuset Kolonn, Stockholm via auctionet
—digitaltmuseum.se, https://digitaltmuseum.se/011023834585/monstersamling and
https://digitaltmuseum.se/011023834583/monstersamling/media. Notes by
Berit Eldvik were especially helpful.
—Email discussion with Mats Mattson Boström of etsy shop, “aSwedishcollection”
—Email conversation with Melinda Byrd of Byrdcall Studio
—etsy shop, “Driver Goatree Retro“ for images and mention of Rosebud B. Cohn’s Salenius’ ryas, and email discussion with owner.
—etsy shop, IngsVinatage for image of Salenius Peru rug
—etsy shop, “ScandinavianSeance” for image of Salenius’ Alaska rug and her Sesam one, and email exchange with owner, Safija N Hansson
—etsy shop, SwedishVintagMafia for image of Adde pillow
—etsy shop, Zeitreise Frankfort for Salenius’ Natt och Dag rya
—Gomér & Andersson, Norrköping
—Helsingborgs Auktionskammare via auktionet.com
—Exchange on Facebook with Gunilla Hylten Cavallius, artist-daughter of Ingegerd Hylten-Cavallius
—Joe’s blog post, https://thankhugh.blogspot.com/2017/05/nordiska-treasury-of-rya-rugs.html
—Ingegerd Hyltén-Cavallius’ Facebook page and death notice
—https://kulturnav.org/6f20242b-47fb-4753-8243-1da643d2d15c Kerstin Adde-Johansson in
collection of National Museum
—https://www.linladan.com/collections/nordiska Embroidery company reusing Nordiska
—Mats Linder, blog post, http://www.matslinder.no/2017/10/04/ryer-fra-nordiska-industri/
—Isa Öhman, who first alerted me to the Mexiko rug, and who provided the images of the rug
as made, which sent me off on this whole post. Many thanks to her friend, Ylva
Strandberg for sharing her mother’s rug!
—Stadsauktions Sundsvall via auktionet.com
Usually I prefer kelim carpets. But these rya rugs are awesome! It’s very interesting to see these designes and read about. Thank you.
Enjoyed your blog and learned a lot – thank you so much! I don’t know whether it’s relevant, but you mentioned you’ve never seen Droppsten as rug – there are two “Droppsten” rugs on Etsy at the moment, also pictures of one on the Bukowski auction platform. Beautiful! Another favourite of mine is the rug “Blåmussla”, according to one source (I’m no specialist) designed by Ingrid Jagarz for Marks Rya.
Thank you, Katharine, I’ll check them out!