This little tale recalls the game of “memory,” that children’s game where players turn up one image and need to find its corresponding one to make a pair. In this particular game, the correspondences are between rug designs and churches —but there are four rug designs, and only three churches. Let’s see what we can match up.
In a collection of Ingrid Dessau’s sketches drawn for the Kristianstad County Craft Association (Kristianstad läns hemslöjd) are variations on a single design for a flat weave “rolakan” rug in reds and blues. The design is typical of Dessau: its repetitions of single forms are made complex and interesting through subtle color variations. In each of these rugs the same same shape is repeated in both horizontal and vertical directions, while borders and stripes are created not by different elements but instead by using contrasting colors.
As I have noted in earlier posts about this designer, Ingrid Peterson, later Ingrid Dessau, worked under both names, signing usually with an idiosyncratic hook to her “I” initial so that her “IP” signature looked more like “JP” and her “ID” signature looked more like “JD.” And because she went on to use the name Ingrid Dessau for the rest of her life, if she did not sign a sketch, conservators archiving these sketches later, often added IP? or ID? in penciled notation. The tricky aspect of dating work she did for this craft association had to do with the fact that she worked for the organization full time from 1945-8 when she was Ingrid Peterson, but she married in 1948 and took the name Ingrid Dessau. As Ingrid Dessau, she worked freelance for Kristianstad County Craft Association for many years from 1953 on. I am assuming that sketches signed ID, apparently by her hand, as all four of these sketches are, mean that these were rugs she designed on a freelance basis after 1953. Whether they were all designed at the same time, or the design was selected at several subsequent dates by different churches, I don’t know, since all of the sketches are undated.
These designs were probably all intended for use as church rugs, since several bear the names of churches. But there are several curious aspects to this story. The first is that only one of the rugs as designed seems to have ended up for the church it was designed for. One of the others designs was apparently a secondary — and unselected— option; a rug in a third color variation went to another church, not indicated in any of the drawings, and it is unclear whether the forth design was ever woven, and if so, whether it went to a church or to a private client.
The other unusual aspect to the story is how far away from the Kristianstad Craft Association weaving atelier these rugs traveled to their new homes. Two are in Skåne, Sweden’s southernmost province, and within what is now about an hour’s drive from Kristianstad, but one is Östergotland, about 4 hours north. Why and how this particular parish turned so far south to Kristianstad to obtain a rug, is not at all clear, and would need more research than I can do now. Perhaps a member of the congregation had ties to Kristianstad, or perhaps the commissioning and purchase of this rug reflects the outstanding reputation of this particular craft association which maintained a professional team of weavers, where most other craft associations drew on a large number of home-weavers in the countryside.
Let’s look at the specifics. All four rugs are documented by watercolor sketches, each mounted on a card-stock folder with 4 holes punched, as though they had been part of a file folder at the county craft association. All four are titled, “Bladrand,” or Leafy Stripe. All four are signed with Dessau’s characteristic ID signature, although one also has an appended IP written in pencil. None have projected dimensions and none are dated. As a result, it is difficult to know the order in which these rugs were designed without consulting individual church records.
Vedby Church is a village church located 45 miles west of Kristianstad towards Helsingborg, and is just outside Klippan, a town of some size (8.000 in 2010). The town’s primary industry is a local paper mill, one which has been operation in the area since the 16th-century. The church itself was built in 1865-7 on the site of an earlier 12th century church. It iself-consciously emulates medieval architecture from this region, with its high step-gabled tower, and interior plaster vaults.
The sketch for the rug for this church corresponds almost exactly with the rug that is there today. It is not a very large rug, but is used, as it was intended, for the area of the baptismal font. This 12th-century sandstone font is probably the oldest element in the church. An early processional cross was removed to the museum in Lund. The church website notes that while the paper mill donated the altar piece, many elements in the church were gifts of the women’s sewing association of the original congregation. It may be that by the late 1940s or early 50s, the women’s sewing association of that time was again instrumental in the commission and donation of this rug from the Kristianstad County Craft Association to the church.
For this rug, four blue vertical stripes, made up of two rows of varicolored blue leaves on a blue ground are separated and framed by 5 single rows of leaves of blue leaves on a white ground. Thin red lines form the “stems” of leaf stripes on the white ground. Two darker purply-blue horizontal rows create a subtle gridding of the carpet into smaller units.
The rug installed seems brighter than the sketch, but picks up the blue of the church altarpiece and colors of red and pale green architectural elements.
Another rug of the same pattern, but in red, was designed for Stjärnorps church, in Stärnorp, about four hours drive north of Kristianstad. This church was originally built as part of a mid-17th-century castle, located north of Linköping on the north side of Lake Roxen. It was a chapel which served the local community as well. As one writer observed in the mid-18th century.
“In this so wonderfully arranged chapel the peasants, farmers and crofters of the woodland districts furthest from the parish church have, with the proper consent of the gentry and clergy, freedom to hold their regular worship every Sunday and holy day throughout the year.”
When the castle itself burned down in 1789, the chapel was restored the same year, and then in 1810 became the parish church. The castle itself is still a ruin.
However this particular church came to commission a carpet for their choir area during the mid-1950s from a county craft association some 225 miles south is unclear. But in any case, the rug Dessau designed, is a narrower, longer version of the rug for Vedby shown above, but now in red. It has three red vertical stripes, made up of two rows of varicolored red leaves on a red ground. These are separated and framed by 4 single rows of leaves of red leaves on a white ground. Thin blue lines form the “stems” of leaf stripes on the white ground. And horizontal rows of purple leaves again create a subtle gridding of the carpet into smaller units.
The sketch seems to have had an additional piece added to its length to show what a longer rug would look like. It is unclear why this was not a full width piece. Perhaps the carpet was intended to go around an existing object. But if the Vedby rug was a kind of 4 units wide by 3 units long, the one for Stjärnorp was to be the reverse— three units wide by 4 long, possibly with a section cut out of the upper left portion of the carpet.
There is a second small partial sketch for Stjärnorp, labeled “B.” This one is a variation on the colored-plus-white designs shown above which seems to take its color cues from the cobalt-colored pews and pulpit within the small church. This design is more intensely blue with the relief of a red border. There are three blue vertical stripes, each made up of two rows of varicolored blue leaves on a blue ground. These are separated by 2 single rows of leaves of teal leaves on a grey-blue ground, and the whole is bordered by burgundy red leaves on a white ground. Thin red lines form the “stems” of both teal-colored leaves and burgundy ones. Horizontal rows of purple leaves again create a subtle gridding of the carpet into smaller units. The internal vertical stripes are teal-colored, and the horizontals (again every 5th vertical row) here are an almost-undiscernable purple.
There is fourth design, a color reverse version of the Stjärnorp “B” design above. This particular design is not labeled with the name of the church, or with a “C,” but the proportions correspond to the red design 3 units wide, 4 units long shown above which Dessau did for this church. Like that one, this has three red vertical stripes, made up of two rows of varicolored red leaves on a red ground. These are separated and framed by 2 single rows of lilac-colored leaves on a lilac-colored ground and the whole is bordered by cobalt blue leaves on a lilac-colored ground. Thin blue lines form the “stems” of both the lilac and cobalt leaves. The horizontal rows spaced every 5 leaves, are of a darker purple leaves which is just about exactly half-way in color between the lilac stripes and the red-orange overall background.
If I had been on the vestry of Stjärnorp church, and been offered this third design, this would have gotten my vote! It would have added wonderful brightness to the choir area of Stjärnorp church, and a welcome counterpoint to the blue interior woodwork. But since it is unlabeled, we don’t know if it was actually a third option for this space. It is possible that it was woven and went to yet another local (or not so local) church. If anyone has seen this rug, snap a photo and let me know! You’ll get credit as my co-sleuth on this post!
But here is another twist in this story: Stjärnorp Church eventually chose none of the designs presented to them. The rug it did choose was a larger and darker-blue version of the Vedby rug shown above. The rug in place today is wider than the one for Vedby with five rows of dark blue vertical stripes, each made up of two rows of varicolored blue leaves on a blue ground. The photo is small and difficult to read, but it seems that, as at Vedby, the blue stripes are separated and framed by 6 single rows of leaves of blue leaves on a white ground. Thin red lines form the “stems” of leaf stripes on the white ground. I assume, as at Vedby, two darker purply-blue horizontal rows create a subtle gridding of the carpet into smaller units, but can’t really see that here.
What of the last church? Well, this is one which none of the sketches seem to have been intended for. But it is a small rug I turned up in Östraby Church, in Skåne. This church, about 35 miles to the east of Kristianstad, in a very small village about half way to Lund, which dates from the 12th century but which has been renovated a number of times, with wings added, locations of pulpit changed and changed back and colors changed. There was a 1953 renovation of the church about which I have found little information, but I suspect that it was in connection with this renovation that a new rug was purchased. It may give us a good hint that this rug, and perhaps the others as well, were designed about 1953-4.
The Östraby example of this rug design is neither a large choir-area rug, nor a baptismal rug, but it is a rug located within the communion rail in front of the altar. And— surprisingly—it is a small example of the red rug design rejected by the Stjärnorp church!
It seems to be the same scale as the original red Stjärnorp sketch, about 3 units by 3 units, but without the L section of that sketch. The colors used here are softer than those in that sketch: a kind of brick red and a more aqua-colored blue, colors found in the church’s painted baroque altarpiece. Following the format of that original red Stjärnorp sketch, this rug has the three red vertical stripes, each made up of two rows of varicolored brick-red leaves on a pale brick-colored ground. These are separated and framed by 4 single rows of leaves of red leaves on a white ground. Thin blue lines form the “stems” of leaf stripes on the white ground. And horizontal rows of deeper red leaves again create a subtle gridding of the carpet into smaller units.
As is frequently the case with research, there are questions left unanswered even at the “end” of the story. While we know now where several examples of Ingrid Dessau’s designs ended up, questions which remain unanswered are the dates for these rugs and the order in which the different color variations were woven; the reasons certain churches chose the Kristianstad County Craft Association, as opposed to others closer at hand; and whether there are other examples of this particular rug pattern in other churches.
And yet, it is very satisfying to see these four rugs because they let us appreciate the way Dessau’s designs permitted such interesting variations. The four rug designs we have looked at offer four variations on a theme. There are two versions and two colors of each version — red with white borders and stripes and blue with white borders and stripes; and blue with red borders and red with blue borders. The fact that such a “simple” design (which was always Dessau’s stated object) allowed so many possibilities was exactly what made it appeal to each of these different churches.
PostScript 6/5/20: I have just noticed that FJ Hakimian, a NYC rug dealer, has on their website a pile version of this rug in the yellow, grey and white color combination which Dessau seemed to like. I don’t know when this was woven, but it is signed ID and KLH. It is fascinating to see the same rug in both flat-weave (rölakan) and pile (flossa), and it would be interesting to see if this rug had been woven for an individual rather than for a church, but we will probably never know.
FJ Hakimian, NYC rug dealer
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.
kyrkokartan.se, Photos by Barbro Thörn, Tom Wollecki, Åke Johansson and Carl-Johan Ivarsson as attributed above.
skbl.se Svenskt kinnobiografiskt lexikon
Svenska kyrka, websites for churches.
Photos of sketches from my visit to Kristianstad läns hemslöjd archives 9/9/18 with particular thanks to Åsa Stentoft for arranging my visit.