The story starts with a Swedish auction site. There is a nice large colorfully patterned flat-weave (“rölakan’) rug coming up in a few weeks at an auction house in southern Sweden .
Have I seen this before, I wonder? It looks somehow familiar.
The days pass; the auction approaches. I go back and troll through images I have of rugs previously sold at auction. There appears to be no signature on the rug, and none is mentioned in the listing. Then, oh! Light Bulb moment! I remember that in some cases when young designers worked for various county craft associations, rugs they designed did not carry their signatures. Hmm. One of those craft associations was Kristianstad County Craft Association (or Kristianstad läns hemslöjdsförbund, in Swedish). And who worked there during the 1940s-50s? Now I’m starting to hum with excitement. Several excellent young designers at various times: Kerstin Bergmann, later Kerstin Mauritzon; Karin Jonsson; Veronika Nygren, and also a prolific young designer, Ingrid Peterson, later Ingrid Dessau.
I go back to my file of images of sketches from Kristianstad läns hemslöjd. And yes, there it is. Not signed, but with a cache of images of sketches by Ingrid Peterson / Ingrid Dessau. She 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.
Ingrid Dessau is today regarded as one of the stars of mid-century Swedish textile world. At Konstfack, the design school in Stockholm which she entered at age 17 from 1940-45—- her talent was spotted by her professor, Barbro Nilsson, who arranged an internship with the Märta Måås Fjetterström atelier.
After graduation in 1945, Peterson took a job as a pattern designer with Kristianstad County Craft Association. Kristianstad was a city in the eastern part of Skane province, about two to three hours east of her family home in Svalöv near Lund. Peterson was promoted to be head designer for the Craft Association in 1948, but left in 1949 to marry a Dane, Kai Dessau. She retained a close relationship to this craft association; even when she moved to the United States for five years, as well as when she returned and became a very successful free-lance designer, she continued to work with and for them. At the same time as Dessau began to create work under her own name, she hired the association’s professional weaving atelier to weave rugs to her own designs.
After an important personal debut exhibition in 1953, Dessau was hired in 1954 by Kasthall and Golv AB in Kinna, several of Sweden’s largest machine-made weaving companies to produce 10 rug designs in 5 colors each year. These 50 rugs a year brought Kasthall and Kinna to international attention, and also gave Dessau the financial freedom to pursue other freelance work, much of this hand-woven.
The archives of Kristianstad County Craft Association, “Kristianstad läns hemslöjd,” contain sketches with both IP and ID signatures, and other sketches which are unsigned, but which are likely to be hers. The pattern I found in my files is one of those. It was filed in the archives amid about 35 of her sketches. And although the watercolor sketch is unsigned, it is titled in what seems to be her handwriting, “Röllakan Vintergäck”. That is, röllakan which is the word for a flat-weave rug, and the rug title is the name of a small white spring flower. Peterson’s sketch has various other notations: PROV FINNs, meaning that there was a sample of the rug design woven; and in pencil ID? as an attribution to Dessau, probably added at a later date. (The word for the flat-weave rug can be spelled either röllaken or rölaken). The various numbers are later inventory additions.
Unfortunately the photo I have of the entire sketch is blurred, but the detail of the rug title and various notations is clear. And it is clear this is the design of the rug being auctioned, although when you compare the sketch and the rug, it is clear the rug is just a little shorter, two elements shorter than the sketch, but the same apparent width.
The Kristianstad hemslöjd archives has a woven sample of this rug as well, to which yarn color samples are attached.
This particular rug shows a number of characteristics of her early work. Peterson often took a single element, and here, that is the figure notched on two sides which she makes thicker and thinner, alters its coloration, and places it on different background colors. She establishes multiple repetitive rhythms: green, white, brown blue elements; alternating grey and white background squares, and interlocked figures as the rugs end borders. And overlaid on these elements which vary in regular sequences, these is another repeated organizing form, the gold-toned strings of solid colored squares and bars which do not change, but are stable and consistent forms. The tension between regular sequences of pattern and color and these static gold elements gives the rug its visual interest.
The following blow up screen shot of the rug lets us look at the organization of the pattern at a larger scale, and the 4 shots which follow provide detailed views. It’s clear that, unlike the sketch, the rug here has a green element at both the start and end of one of the long sides, and has a blue element at both the start and end of the other long side of the rug. This creates a sort of satisfying sense of symmetry, It also gives each end of the rug a stronger contrast between the end border with its many white elements now that three of the four elements just adjacent to that border are colored ones. It seems that the rug is a just slightly more resolved design than the original sketch, and it’s fun to see this evidence of the designer’s further intervention and tweaking of her design.
It is so satisfying to be able to connect a sketch with a rug and say, yes, this was designed by this person! It’s clear to me that, even if it is unsigned, that this was one of Ingrid Peterson’s early rugs for Kristianstad.
Craaford Auktioners, Lund
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.
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Visit to Kristianstad läns hemslöjd archives 9/19/ 8. with thanks to Åsa Stentoft for arranging my visit. Photos of sketches are my own.