The dedication Anna Hådell brought to her weaving career can be measured in miles —or kilometers, really. These were the miles she traveled to educate herself throughly in textile design, handicraft production and marketing— skills which would eventually serve her well as the “chef,” or head, of county crafts associations (“hemslöjd) in several different Swedish counties.
Hådell, who was born in 1908, grew up in an agricultural community in Jämtland, about 300 miles north of Stockholm. Her father’s mother was a talented home -weaver, and Anna attributed her creativity and dexterity to her grandmother’s teaching. Her father was a farmer, and capable woodworker, doing house repairs and making furniture to supplement his income.
Anna’s path to weaving was not the three-year art school path taken by some of her more privileged peers. After study at the Fornby folk high school in Falun in Dalarna (the province south of Jämtland), she began, with persistence and drive, to combine jobs and coursework in order to learn the design and weaving skills she wanted. During one particular period, she worked in craft shops in two different towns, Sunne and Ludvika in Värmland, took a pattern-drawing course in Sigtuna just outside Stockholm, and a weaving course in Mora, in Dalarna. Each leg of travel to these towns, presumably by train, would have been at least 3-4 hours. She must have been on the go constantly.
She was told that textile work had an uncertain future, and was discouraged from pursuing a textile career. But she seems to have already been committed to this path. In 1936, when she was 28, she moved near Borlänge, in Dalarna, taking a job with a new company called Lund and Wahlund, which intended to sell modern hand-woven textiles. Several years later when Barbro Wahlund left, the company became Alice Lund Textilier (still in operation today). Anna was given substantial responsibility, promoted to being in charge of the firm’s weaving production, working on coordination and scheduling with the firm’s weavers. Her career in textiles had begun, and Alice Lund was her first weaving ‘home.”
Off and on, over the next 10 years, Anna would continue the pattern of combined work and study, continuing to work for Alice Lund Textilier. She was a valued employee, allowed to “step away” for weaving coursework from time to time. In 1939 she took a “leave of absence” and moved to Stockholm where she studied weaving theory in a course at Johanna Brunsson’s weaving school (see earlier post on this school). Returning to Borlänge, she was given enlarged responsibilities and began to design a number of rugs herself, although these were attributed to Lund herself. Again in 1945, she left to take the entire course of training at Brunsson’s, including a weaving internship in Copenhagen. She continued to return to Alice Lund with some frequency.
But in 1947 (while finishing at Brunssons), she applied for, and was given a job with the organization called “Svensk Hemslöjd,’ or Association for Swedish Handicraft in Stockholm. Edna Martin, born the same year as Anna Hådell, was at that point the chief designer for Svensk Hemslöjd, but in 1951 she become head of the textile department of Friends of Handicrafts, or Handarbetets Vänner, an important private (non-governmental) weaving school and weaving business in Stockholm. At Svensk Hemslöjd, Hädell took on responsibility for yarn and textile production. In this case she was responsible not only for coordinating with some 120 weavers in countryside and city who wove for Svensk Hemslöjd, and the designers who designed the rugs to be woven, but also schedule the weaving of the rugs to meet client demands and to make sure the weavers themselves had the necessary supplies of wool and yarn in the right colors and amounts. She now had two assistants.
With her eye on the larger picture of what other areas of the country were producing in the way of textiles, Anna made a number of suggestions of ways this organization could increase its sales and relevance. But those above her in the organization disagreed with her suggestions.
She began to think that she was ready to run her own organization.
In 1950, when she was 42, Anna Hådell moved back to Jämtland for the first time in many years. She became the shop director in Östersund for Jämtland lans hemslöjd, the Jämtland County Craft Association, a job she would hold for 10 years. While with this hemslöjd, she also designed a number of rugs made by the Jämtland weavers. I will look at some of her work for Jämtland lans hemslöjd in a later post.
Hådell’s final employment was from 1961-75 as “chef”at the Leksand lans hemslöjd, Leksand County Crafts Association, in Dalarna, Here she made her greatest contributions to the production of Swedish textiles, ran the crafts association as a successful business, and had a balance of individual and institutional customers. She was able to satisfy those customers who wanted rugs and other woven handicrafts in traditional designs and yet at the same time, developed her own vibrant geometric style. Descriptions of her work say that her abstractions were based on Nordic flora and fauna, but true or not, they are elegant modernist designs in wonderful color combinations. And it is clear that she loved flowers and many of her rug designs are abstractions of flower forms.
The following are four rugs produced during Anna Hådell’s years at Leksand: first a traditional one, the next a quiet handsome modern design, and the last three, produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s, definitely “contemporary” in their intense colors and densely patterned designs. All are signed LH for Leksands hemslöjd in a typical signature of interlocked letters, and AH for Anna Hådell as designer.
Given its size of 15’ 3’ x 9’ 7,” a large rug woven at Leksand Hemslöjd in the traditional woven stitch called Rosengang was probably made for a local institution who had conservative ideas about their decor, even in the early 60’s:
The next rug is also large, and while more modern in design, has a quiet palette. Another institutional client? While these sizes do not look so large to our eyes, most Swedish homes at this period were fairly small, and larger rugs were frequently made for churches or institutional clients.
The design for rug below was given a title, Green Road, but no dimensions or date. It was the more subtle of two colors shown in this pattern.
Anna Hädell, Detail of Green Road/ Grön Vägen flat-weave, rölakan rug, signed LH AH, 319 x 198.
The rug design called Trollblomma (Troll Flower) was drawn as a watercolor sketch by Anna in 3 colors, red, green and blue, each in two variations, and apparently in this order. Presumably the number of variations reflect the popularity of this design at the time. I have only seen the rug in the clearer red variation, shown first below. In her designs for the blue rug, Hådell seems to have been playing with enlarging the pattern from 3 x 4 squares to 4 x 5 and then 5 x 6 squares. Only the blue watercolor sketch has dimensions, which are rare on Hådell’s sketches. This rug as woven clearly gives a good sense of Hådell’s ability to put her own contemporary ’60s spin on traditional rug-weaving.
Anna Hådell, Enlargement of lighter Green Trollblomma design, signed watercolor sketch, annotated Trollblomma II. Designs is for a pattern of 3 x4 squares. From Hemslöjdens Samlingar on digitalmuseum.se., identifier WLHF- 1306:3-4 Leksands Hemslöjdsvänner are owners of the Leksands hemslöjd collection.
The design shown below, for a flat-weave rödakan rug woven in sturdy cowhair (a “nöthårsmatta”)seems to have been very popular. It was woven first, apparently in the early 1970s for the district courthouse in Leksand in red. The all-red design to the lower left may be the closest to that rug as designed. I have not been able to find a photograph of that rug in place in the courthouse.
Hådell’s design for the red Cactus flower seems to draw on a design she had worked on some fifteen to twenty years earlier in Jämtland. It is interesting to see her thinking of new ways to combine very similar forms. If we look at her sketches from the Jämtland period, there are a number which bear similarities to the Kaktusblomma design, particularly the one shown below. As is usually the case, Hådell design is undated. It is interesting that the 4 sketches above reveal a similar exploration of size and proportion to that in the Trollblomma design. Here, two designs show an arrangement of 3 x 4 squares, one 2x 3 and one a not-quite contained 3 x 5 squares. Sketches for subsequent green and blue versions both stick with the 2 x 3 squares format.
Hådell’s Leksand Cactus flower design is also not dissimilar to another sketch she did for Leksands. Which came first is anyone’s guess, but she was clearly exploring the use of similar forms in a number of her rugs.
According to the description of the four red designs shown above, all four were subsequently “vävdes till Blomqvists Västanvik 250 x 403,” that is, woven for Blomqvists in Västanvik, a nearby town in Leksand. Since these were all the same size, about 8’ x 13,’ it seems like Blomqvists might have been a office of some kind. It seems unlikely that a private house would use four rugs in the same pattern and size, or that the Leksand County Craft Association which operated its own retail store would provide these to another store for resale. But I’d be happy to hear from anyone who can identify what Blomquists was.
The rug was made in two other colors, green and blue, as well.
The description of the green rugs on the digitaltmuseum site note that the left-hand, slightly less vivid design, carries not only the attached wool samples, but the notation, “Ordered!” By whom and when, is not recorded. There is also an example of a weaving sample of both the right hand green and the blue designs in the digitaltmuseum.collection.
Apparently one of these rugs in an unknown color was shown at an exhibition in New York in 1976, but there seems to be no further information about either the color or size of the rug or what the exhibition was. In addition, another version of the rug, possibly the blue version, was shown in the “Homecrafts For All” exhibition at Liljevalchs Konsthall in 1982. It was called simply KAKTUS, and shown in the size 171 x 257 cm. The cost given was 14,750 SEK. In fact a blue Cactus Flower rug in almost exactly these dimensions sold last year at Bukowskis auction house.
Hådell may have retired at 67, but she subsequently wrote and published an important embroidery book, on the modern applications of an embroidery technique traditionally used in the Leksand area, called Svartstick. And she lived to be 105 active in textile crafts even in her late retirement. The following photograph was taken a year before her death, in 2014. What is in front of her looks like a mat or small rug. And in fact there is an undated design for a flat-weave, rölakan rug which she designed for Leksand which looks quite a bit like this.
The rugs shown above were produced when Anna was at the height of her abilities as a designer. And it’s interesting, that this innovative work did not come when she was 30 or 35 but but when she was in her mid-50s to 60s. Having had such a long period of balancing work and study, or being able to study only if she worked, seems to have sharpened Hådell’s joy in designing and made her stay flexible and open to new design trends. It is clear from looking at her many sketches, and these examples of several rugs that Hådell was interested in exploring ways to combine similar and contrasting color tones in vibrant fragmented geometries. Her ambitious and colorful contemporary work became very popular and a source of pride to the Leksand region.
Björklöf, Sune, and others, Leksands Hemslöjd 100 år av skaparglädje och gott hantverk, published by Leksands Hemslöjdsvänner, Leksand 2004.
Bukowskis auction house, Stockholm.
Bruun-Rasmussen auction house, Copenhagen.
digitaltmuseum.se, Hemslöjdens Samlingar
Hällberg, Annki, “Hemslöjdsvänner mindes Anna Hådell,” with caption, “Anna Hådell avled förra våren, 105 år gammal” in e-newspaper, Dala-Demokraten. https://www.dalademokraten.se/artikel/hemslojdsvanner-mindes-anna-hadell 2 Feb, 2015.
Kvarnbäck, Kristina, curator of Leksands material in the Hemslöjdens Samlingar.
Stockholms Auktionsverk, Stockholm.