Shortly after I started this blog, I found an image of a stunning midcentury Swedish carpet, for sale with FJ Hakimian in New York. Joseph Hakimian (1943 -2019) was one of the first New York carpet dealers to develop an interest in mid-century Swedish rugs, and his firm still holds this rug. Hakimian travelled to Sweden a number of times, and met a number of the designers of these rugs as he began to collect them. When a large carpet once owned by Dag Hammarskjöld, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, came up for auction in Sweden, he was the purchaser.
The carpet was designed by a well-known Swedish textile artist, Edna Martin, but I couldn’t find anything written about this particular rug. Thus a search for information about this carpet began, and my education both about Hammarskjöld and about Edna Martin. A series of blog posts will record my quest to track down more about this rug and its owner, as well as look at the design of the rug itself. It will be in three parts— it was a long chase!
Dag Hammarskjöld is one of the most well-known Swedes of his generation. He served as the Secretary General of the United Nations from April 1953, to his death in September, 1961. He was born in 1905 and raised in gracious luxury in Uppsala, Sweden where his father was provincial governor and the family home was a 16th-century castle. His father, who had served as Prime Minister of Sweden from 1914-17, was from a noble family. By age 22, Hammarskjöld had studied French literature, social philosophy and political economy, and taken a degree in law at the prestigious Uppsala University, where he was recognized as one of the brightest minds of his generation. He was fluent in English, French and German as well as Swedish, and was serious about literature and poetry. He earned a doctorate in economics at Stockholm University in 1936 when he was 28, while working as Secretary of a government committee on unemployment. He progressed rapidly in his career, working concurrently in the worlds of Swedish finance and public service in the late 1930s and 40s, beginning in the Ministry of Finance at the same time as the Central Bank of Sweden, the Riksbank, and later became a Swedish delegate to various European committees on economic cooperation and post-war rebuilding, including the Marshall Plan Committee. In 1951-2, he served first as vice-chairman and then chairman of the Swedish delegation to the United Nations. On April 1,1953, Hammarskjöld was shocked to be told he had been voted Secretary-General to the UN, a statement he dismissed as an April Fool’s joke in quite poor taste! In fact, on March 31, the UN Security Council had voted between four candidates for the position and had selected Hammarskjöld. He replied in a telegram which perfectly captures his modesty and deep sense of duty:
“With strong feeling personal insufficiency I hesitate to accept candidature but I do not feel I could refuse to assume the task imposed on me should the [UN General] Assembly follow the recommendation of the Security Council by which I feel deeply honoured.”
Dag Hammarskjöld’s appointment as the Secretary General of the United Nations can be understood as either a compromise, or a serious mis-assessment of the man, or both. Following Trygve Lie, the temperamental Norwegian who served as the first Secretary General and who offended or alienated many with what they perceived as his very personal involvement in UN issues, Hammarskjöld was proposed almost as a place holder, one who would not rock the boat, or try to challenge the political positions of major powers. Douglas Hurd, a contemporary British diplomat recalled the expectations for Dag, that he would be “a calming intelligent influence as one would expect from a senior Swedish diplomat.” Well, not quite!
Hammarskjöld’s initial bridge-building was within the UN itself, where he made a point of meeting as many UN workers as he could and tightly organizing his own staff. But he did not do this out of ego. One long-time UN journalist, Pauline Frederick, recalled Hammarskjöld as self-effacing, diffident, even withdrawn. She recalled one of his most-quoted statements, “In my new official capacity, the private man should disappear and the international civil servant take his place.” She saw this statement as his personal credo. Hammarskjöld also brought a strong personal sense of spirituality, and belief in the possibility of peace —perhaps almost a sense of mission— to his role of Secretary-General.
When Hammarskjöld arrived to take up the position of Secretary-General at the UN, he had inherited the services of another Swede, Per Lind, whose judgement and loyalty he came to trust. Three years later, Lind returned to Sweden to work for the Swedish Foreign Ministry with his family so that his children could attend Swedish schools, but Hammarskjöld continued to rely on Lind’s assistance, especially with regard to affairs in Sweden. Lind’s name is one which we will run across several times.
Hammarskjöld believed strongly in a kind of quiet personal diplomacy. He worked behind the scenes to improve relations between Israel and Arab states; he personally met with Chou En-Lai of China during a time when the US was officially refusing to recognize China, to gain release for fifteen US pilots shot down by China during the Korean War; and founded the UN peacekeeping troops to address the Suez Crisis brought on by the invasion of Egypt by Israel, Britain and France in 1956 in attempt to regain control of the Suez Canal. He also made a 6-week trip to Africa from December 1959-January 1960 to visit 24 countries, a kind of fact-finding mission about the current state of the politics, challenges and needs of these countries. Members of UN staff on the ground at his first stop in Liberia (after a 16 hour flight from New York) were astonished to be asked to meet with him at 6:00 am that morning. The gathered personnel in varied fields from education, housing, agriculture and forestry were then asked to give him their own views of the local situation. Throughout his visit he held these kind of meetings, not top-down, but bottom-up, which earned him tremendous respect and loyalty from these UN workers, but which also gave him valuable local knowledge for his meetings with local governmental officials .
Hammarskjöld died on September 18, 1961 in a plane crash between Leopoldville in the Congo and Ndola, in northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) while he was working on establishing peace and stability in the newly-independent Congo, which was threatened by both departing Belgian forces and mutinous Congolese army troops. It was his fourth trip to the Congo, but not everyone was pleased with his efforts to bring peace to this corner of the world. The Soviet Union resented Hammarskjöld’s personal involvement and decision to send UN troops there, and Belgian mining interests had also been disrupted when the Congo became independent from Belgium in June, 1960. There has been considerable mystery about this crash and whether it was really an accident, with both governmental commissions and independent authors arguing the question. But people in both Congo and Zambia today remember Hammarsköld’s efforts to support African countries emerging from colonial control; Zambia with a yearly memorial celebration.
There was a spasm of world grief following the shocking news of this plane crash with the death of the UN Secretary General and all 16 passengers aboard. Hammarskjöld’s friend and former assistant, John Olver, recalls flying his body and those of others back in an almost interminable flight on a huge Pan Am plane from Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe) to New York with stops in Leopoldville, Geneva, Malmö, Stockholm, Dublin and Montreal to deliver each body killed in the crash to its own home. Hammarskjöld’s body was received by his family and hundreds of mourners, both Swedish and international at a service in Uppsala.
When Hammarskjöld undertook the job of UN Secretary-General, he was not widely known.
Unmarried, extremely private in his personal life, allergic to inefficiency, wasted time and even small talk, Hammarskjöld is an elusive figure. Able to get by on very little sleep, and prepared to work around the clock when circumstances required it, Hammarskjöld expected that his staff would be willing to rise to the same level of self-abnegation and service. He could be exacting and impatient with those not prepared to answer requests for specific information at two o’clock in the morning, or be able to prepare a translation for a text at three a.m., or staff who had not adequately studied up on the issues at hand. His relaxation and refreshment, such as it was, seems to have been through his intense appreciation of art, literature, poetry, music and wild places. Hammarskjöld became a member of the Swedish Academy in 1954, taking his father’s vacated seat, and voting on the yearly Nobel prize for literature. He maintained a daily discipline of reading literature, working on translations of poetry or plays, even amidst a heavy work schedule.
Brian Urquart, one of his advisors at the United Nations, described Hammarskjöld’s unusual integration of work and recreation —which he himself understood later, only in retrospect— in these terms:
“Even at the most critical periods, Hammarskjöld made a point of finding time for his literary and artistic interests. Just before and during the period of the Congo crisis, which absorbed absolutely all the time and energy of the rest of us, he translated into Swedish Perse’s Chronique and Djuna Barnes’ extremely difficult play, The Antiphon, which premiered in Stockholm, published an article on Mount Everest with his own superb photographs, and kept up his correspondence with Barbara Hepworth. He also started on a translation of Martin Buber’s Ich und Du, which he was actually working on during his fatal last flight. He evaded answering a journalist who asked him how he found time for all this extra-curricular activity. The point, I think, is that, for Hammarskjöld, it was not extra-curricular. It was very much a part of a perfectly balanced curriculum.
Hammarskjöld’s friend and correspondent, British sculptor Barbara Hepworth offered her posthumous assessment of his character in similar terms:
‘Dag Hammarskjöld had a pure and exact perception of aesthetic principles, as exact as it was over ethical and moral principles. I believe they were, to him, one and the same thing.’
Let’s return to the real impulse for this blog post, Hammarskjold’s own Swedish carpet. When Hammarskjöld came to New York in 1953, he brought furniture and art with him to furnish his new apartment. He may have also brought one or two small rugs. Within the next year, however, he had ordered both one hand-woven rug from the Märta Måås-Fjetterström atelier in Båstad, and several rugs from the well known Swedish hand-weaving operation called the Friends of Handicraft in Stockholm (Handarbetets Vänner), of which the pile rug, Läggspel, was one. The director of this organization at that point was the energetic and creative Edna Martin, who had previously headed Svensk Hemslöjd, the Stockholm-based and long-established handicraft organization with branches all over the country.
I don’t think Hammarskjöld knew Martin personally, since he seems to have always addressed her through intermediaries like his assistant, Per Lind, but he certainly knew of her organization and probably knew her by reputation as one of the movers in the Stockholm crafts world. And the organization she had previously headed, Svensk Hemslöjd, was where he ordered much of the furniture for his new apartment.
Edna Martin was 3 years younger than Hammarskjöld, born in 1908 and raised in Gothenburg. Unlike Hammarskjöld, she had a hard time learning. Left handed and forced to use her right hand, Edna did not do well in school. She was possibly dyslexic, fearful, afraid of the dark, and had red hair— all of which made her the object of teasing and bullying as a child. Even the local vicar, who should have known better, cautioned her that her red hair might burn her up!
Edna’s solace was at home with extraordinarily sympathetic parents. Her mother was an excellent seamstress. When she finished making clothes for her three daughters, she would tip all the fabric scraps from her projects onto their playroom floor, allowing them to find and combine the scraps however they wished for their own play. When the local school became too much for Edna, her father sent her to a girl’s boarding school in France for a year. Edna looked back on this as her first positive school experience. And when the time came, her father wanted all of his daughters educated to support themselves. He steered Edna towards a career in the arts.
At 17, she entered the textile stream of the Handicraft Society School, Slöjdföreningens Skola in Gothenburg, now known as HDK. This is where Edna finally thrived. In 1931, the year after her graduation, Eda had a solo exhibition at Gothenburg’s prestigious Röhsska Museum. The same year, at 23, probably through Karna Asker, a professor at the Slöjdföreningens Skola, she became artistic director for Axevalla Konstslöjd’s shop and exhibition space newly opened in Varnhem. (See earlier posts on Karna Asker and Agda Österberg for more on this enterprise).
Edna did not stay in this position long, but moved to Stockholm where she found a bohemian group of friends. She married, and had a daughter. Profiting from one of the extraordinary new daycare programs pioneered by Alva Myrdal, Martin was able to work full time for two years for Estrid Erikson at Svenskt Tenn. Being exposed daily to this passionate merchandiser and her ideas in Stockholm —and this was at the point just after Josef Frank had joined Erikson’s operation— was in itself another kind of education for Martin. Although her marriage did not last, Martin was on her way professionally. She remarried several years later, very happily, and had two more children. She renovated a still-rural property with a small 18th-century farmhouse in Lidingo on Stockholms outskirts where she installed her family and a nanny.
Martin’s next professional step was as director of Svensk Hemslöjd, the Association of Swedish Handicrafts from 1946-51. In 1951, she took over the running of Handarbets Vänner, The Friends of Handicraft, a venerable but creaking institution at the time she took it on. Martin stayed 16 years, until 1977, balancing the difficult roles of designing and keeping the organization on an even keel economically. Under her tenure, in 1952, another textile firm, Liceum, which specialized in producing and maintaining liturgical textiles became part of the Handarbetets Vänner operation. She herself designed a hugely successful series of embroidered cushions, sold in kit form. She also brought in fresh young talent, encouraging them to try new directions in craft and weaving, and under her leadership the organization also produced large public works, such as a well-received “modern” piece, a very subtle landscape scene for the country’s parliament.
In 1957, while still with HV, Martin became head instructor for textile work at Konstfack, one of the country’s foremost design schools, in Stockholm. Many of her students became both friends and employees at Friends of Handicraft. In 1980, Martin wrote a book called Swedish Textile Art which argued for an understanding of woven textiles as as much art as craft. It was certainly rare for one person to have been so fully engaged with all three of these major Swedish institutions, but Martin had great talent, color sense, drive, and enthusiasm.
As I began to research the large colorful rug associated with Hammarskjöld, my first question was: where in fact did he use this rug? There were three possibilities: his own New York city apartment, his office at the UN, and his “country house” in Brewster New York.
Dag Hammarskjöld arrived in New York and was officially “installed” in his new position April 10, 1953. The United Nations rented an apartment for him in an elegant maisonette, a two story apartment entered from the side street in a well-designed Park Avenue apartment building. The newly-appointed Secretary General’s new address was 73 East 73rd St. The building itself was 778 Park Avenue which had been designed by one of New York city’s finest architects of pre-war apartment houses, Rosario Candela.
It seemed likely, when I began my research, that the rug I was researching had furnished this apartment. But photographs taken by UN photographers a year after Hammarskjöld had arrived in New York, show a spacious but partially furnished living room with uninspired wall-to-wall carpeting in some neutral color used throughout the apartment. The pile rug I was chasing is not visible here. Let’s look at these UN photos of the apartment which are the earliest ones I have identified of the apartment.
In photographs of the living room, sofas and chairs with modernist lines mix with a modern marble-topped, metal-legged coffee table. There is a custom built-in sofa in dark stripes in one corner and several small older stools are covered in the same fabric. Hammarskjöld’s mother’s writing desk (described as “birch-root”—maybe birch burl?— in the accompanying UN caption) has a prominent spot on the outside wall, between two windows. There is the apparent border of a Persian rug in the foreground, and a dark patch near the striped sofa which looks like a small throw rug, but neither of these is readily distinguishable. Note also the heavy wooden mantlepiece, which was one which Hammarskjöld “remodeled” within a few months of this photograph.
The painting on the wall over the desk is called “The Track,” is by Leander Engstrom, of Lapland, and the one over the striped sofa is by Carl Kilgerg, called the “Deluge”. The one over the fireplace is not identified in the caption of this photo.
Another photograph taken the same day shows Hammarskjöld seated on a second light
colored sofa. The coffee table and chair seen in the right of the previous photo are those seen here. Here the painting over the sofa is described as one of Hammarskjöld’s favorite paintings; it is by the Swedish artist Bruno Liljefors, of the uplands near Uppsala, Sweden.
Several other photographs taken by UN photographers on the same day show other rooms in the apartment as they were furnished at this point. In the photograph of the entry hall a flat-weave rölakan rug, is visible. But this is not the large pile rug. I am assuming Hammarskjöld brought the hall rug with him or it was delivered to him in the year since he had taken office, as it is evident in these May 1954 photographs.
Despite the fact that he worked almost around the clock some nights (and slept at his UN apartment), Hammarskjöld’s job required that he be able to entertain, large groups. He apparently arrived in New York equipped with a dining table and 24 chairs. His position also enabled Hammarskjöld to give smaller and more personal dinner parties to which he could invite important cultural figures he wanted to meet himself. While in New York, he sought out musicians, writers and artists. Dinner guests apparently included conductor Leonard Bernstein, and cellist Pablo Casals. Greta Garbo, fellow Swede and fellow recluse, was also an occasional guest. He was in contact with playwright Eugene O’Neil, poets H.W. Auden and—- and the French diplomat and poet, St-John Pearse and British sculptor, Barbara Hepworth were two of his most frequent correspondents. Bo Beskow, a Swedish painter who he had met when having his portrait painted for the Riksbank became a personal friend and was also an occasional visitor.
In the UN photo of the entry hall of the apartment is the one place, there is (the edge of) what looks like a Swedish rug visible. The photo caption gives a description of the furniture here: “The table and chairs, which are by Jacob Kjaer, are made of ashwood and dark green leather. Most of the furniture for the apartment was ordered by Mr. Hammarskjöld through the Association of Swedish Handicrafts,” ie Svensk Hemslöjd. There is no information offered about the rug.
With regard to the apartment dining room, the photos taken first by UN photographers, and then by the New York Times, are remarkably consistent. The placement of furniture and accessories varied little. The dining room apparently never had a Swedish rug, but Hammarskjöld’s dining table and chairs were installed upon his arrival. The 24 mahogany chairs are quite specifically described in the text accompanying the 1954 UN photograph as being designed by A. Bjorkland, and upholstered in red and dark grey linen damask. The painting is identified as one of a Lapland landscape by Nils Nilson, evident in the second photo below.
In these May 1954 UN photographs, the shot in his library is focused on Hammarskjöld at the desk; the floor is not visible except for the wall-to-wall carpeting near the wall.
Having seen all of these photographs, I began to wonder if the large pile rug I was looking for might have been used elsewhere. I pored through UN photographs looking for signs of the rugs in the furnishing of his UN office or in the furnishing of his house in Brewster, New York, located about 3/4 of an hour north of New York City.
Photos of Hammarskjöld’s personal office at the UN from the UN photo archive, taken in both March 1954 and in September 1954, show a modernist office space with a neutral color scheme, wood-veneered walls, walls of windows and wall-to-wall carpeting. The furniture was clearly Scandinavian. I don’t know whether this was all selected by Hammarskjöld himself or whether —luxurious as it now seems— it was standard issue, chosen by Scandinavian designers of the UN for the office of the Secretary General.
Hammarskjöld definitely made a personal contribution to both his own office and on the walls of public areas at the still-relatively new and unfurnished United Nations building with his choice of paintings, borrowed (!) from the Museum of Modern Art. These paintings were not randomly chosen, and the process of their selection reveals a great deal about Hammarskjöld’s depth of knowledge of art history, his sensitivity and the confidant independence which ruled his aesthetic choices. In January 1954, Andrew Cordier, Chief of Staff to the Secretary General accompanied Hammarskjöld to the Museum of Modern Art to choose paintings whose loan to the UN had been arranged by American architect Wallace Harrison, head of the international team who designed the UN buildings. While Hammarskjöld studied and discussed paintings he was considering, the Director of the museum, Rene d’ Harnoncourt, pulled Cordier aside and asked if Hammarskjöld was Director of the Swedish Royal Museum. When he answered no, d’Harnoncourt commented, “Well, we have never had anyone come to this museum who is so familiar with the lives and the contributions of the artists represented here, or who has made such perceptive comments on individual pictures.” This quote is taken from the unpublished masters thesis of Shantala DuGay, who has studied Hammarskjöld’s selection of art for the UN, and who further comments,
“I conclude that Hammarskjöld exercised thoughtful restraint in his choice of works because he was conscious of their function as silent communicators of his humanism on the walls of his office. As such, the content of his selections were diplomatic, meaning universal in theme and appealing to a multicultural audience.”
Below, Dag Hammarskjöld with painting borrowed from the Museum of Modern Art. Caption reads,
“Mr. Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary-General of the United Nations, photographed in his outer office, on the 38th floor of the Secretariat building, standing in front of “Rational Look,” a geometrical abstract painting by Fritz Glarner, lent to the United Nations by New York’s Museum of Modern Art. “
Dag Hammarskjöld is shown below in his private apartment on the 38th Floor of the Secretariat building with painting borrowed from the Museum of Modern Art, by Fernand Leger entitled “Woman Combing her Hair,”
In the reception room of the Secretary-General’s office, on the 38th floor of the Secretariat building at United Nations Headquarters were paintings, by two contemporary American artists, both lent to Mr. Hammarskjöld by the Museum of Modern Art of New York. The large painting on the left is “Viaduct” by Lyonel Feininger; the small canvas at right is “The Boat”, by Peter Blume.
In the private conference room adjacent to Secretary-General’s office on 38th Floor of the Secretariat building was Picasso’s “Still Life with a Cake,” lent to Mr. Hammarskjöld by the Museum of Modern Art.
The private office of the Secretary General, on the 38th floor of the Secretariat building, overlooked New York’s East River.
The private office of the Secretary General, on the 38th floor of the Secretariat building, shows the Barbara Hepworth sculpture titled “Single Form” in the corner.
Hammarskjöld also spent time in a private personal apartment at the UN on 38th floor which had a similar style. It had a living room with wall-to-wall windows, contemporary furniture; a small bedroom with a single bed; and small bath and kitchen. The photographs of this space were taken in January 1953 however, before he took office, so these images are not particularly useful about furnishings he may have added.
There was another slight detour in my search for the large Swedish rug Hammarskjöld had commissioned. This came with the discovery that from the time he arrived at the United Nations, Hammarskjöld had championed the idea of a meditation room, a kind of secular chapel, or what he himself called a “room of stillness” at the UN building. The idea was not original to him, but a photograph taken of the assigned space half a year before he arrived showed a remarkably uninspiring space with rows of seats, a tree trunk and a UN flag. The caption to the photograph is almost apologetic: “Decoration and fittings of the room are temporary; the room will be redecorated in a near future.”
This was a project in which Hammarskjöld took a very personal interest, and it seems to have gone through several permutations before it was as calm as he thought it should be. A UN photo caption describing the final fresco describes the room undergoing “a continuing programme of redecoration” [stet with British spelling].
Journalist Pauline Fredericks recalled one instance of Hammerskjöld’s devotion to getting this space to be exactly right:
“I remember very distinctly one night, when I heard that he had been working most of the night, and about two o’clock in the morning, he called some of his aides in, and they assumed that there had been some bad news from one of the fronts where the United Nations Emergency Forces were then located, but he said, “I want to go down to the Meditation Room.” And he took them down to the Meditation Room, and it was about, as I said, two o’clock in the morning, and there he spent considerable time directing the painters to put just the precise coat of paint on the walls of that Meditation Room, so the light would be just as he wanted it.”
UN correspondence shows several letters written in 1956-7 between Per Lind, now working in Stockholm in the Royal Ministry for Foreign Affairs, but still assisting Hammarskjöld’s office, and Edna Martin at Handarbetets Vänner on the subject of a rug for this room. The initial idea seems to have involved asking French painter, Georges Braque to paint the end wall in this room, and for Swedish furniture maker Carl Malmsten to make some low stools (kneelers?) for the space, and for Edna Martin to design a rug for the room. In letter dated 26 Nov 1956, Martin says she is sending Lind yarn color samples for a rug and discusses her own analysis of rug colors which would work with Braque’s work. Her letter is quite revealing about her own thought process and her confident opinions about woven color.
Martin said, (my translation):
“Since I have now tried different red color tones, I have concluded that the rug should not be red. The reasons for this point of view is
That red is not a calm still color, but seems the opposite.
The wood for the stools is unlikely to be red. I have discussed this with Professor Malmsten.
Since I’ve looked through several books about Braque’s work, I find it difficult to combine red with his color scale.
In the end, I think the grey-tinted tone in the block of ore does not work with red.
I have tested several different tones and found that blue— a blued grey would be a possible color and I attach two different shades, a clear blue and a shiny blue grey.
I even tested green shades, and a pure grey, but have finally stayed with my proposal of a blue tone
As soon as I have received your reply to this proposal, I will come back to you with sketches of the carpet as a whole. I assume that the pattern of the rug must be discreet and subordinate to the decorative end wall.”
By April, 1957, it was apparent that Braque would not paint the wall in the the Meditation Room but that Martin’s suggested “clear blue shade” would be acceptable for the rug, Martin was asked to start the weaving as soon as possible with the added comment, “The faster it gets done the better.” Yet by the end of April, it seems that Hammarskjöld himself was offering a counterproposal of “natural wool” for at least some part of this rug. Martin replied with some asperity in a letter to Lind dated April 23, “ Natural wool comes in white, brown or black, but these do not work with blue.” She countered, suggesting a blue rug with the border in a slightly darker blue tone.
There was apparently further hiatus in this discussion, undoubtedly due to more pressing world events, and finally in a letter dated 26 November 1957, Hammarskjold wrote Lind that
“After further consideration, we have now determined that the most appropriate solution would be to cover only part of the floor of the Meditation Room with a carpet, that is, the entrance and the area up to the barrier which has been reserved for the public. We intend to keep the slate floor in the rest of the space as it is.”
I don’t know if in fact there was a blue rug produced for this public area outside the Meditation Room proper. It seems that Hammarskjold’s vision for the room was increasingly reductive; a slate floor, large piece of iron ore (a gift from the King of Sweden and Swedish mining companies), and an abstract painting on the far wall.
Finally Hammarskjöld commissioned his Swedish friend, the artist Bo Beskow, to decorate the end/front wall of the room with an abstract geometric fresco. This fresco is about 9 feet high and 6-1/2 feet wide, and is pulled forward from the front wall of the room. It was designed to respect and instill an atmosphere of calm. The caption to a black and white image of this fresco notes that, the “abstract design was painted on wet plaster in blue, white, gray and yellow geometric forms, with light pure colours intersecting to form deeper shades. The painting was designed to conform with the purity of line and colour sought for what Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld has called a room of stillness, where nothing intrudes on those who wish to find stillness.”
The exchange of letters about a rug for the Meditation Room shows that Edna Martin was obviously someone with whom Hammarskjöld had dealt with, even if indirectly. But this correspondence was a few years later than what I was looking for. I was looking for possible written records from 1953 or 1954 about the order (or possible location) of the large pastel pile rug which Martin designed and which set my on this search. I concluded that any orders coming from Hammarskjöld for earlier rug(s) must have been personal orders between him and the Friends of Handicraft Organization, outside UN channels.
I next looked for photographs of the interiors of Hammarskjöld’s weekend house in Brewster, but found none, although the UN archives have two photos of him relaxing on the property. Staff members who occasionally accompanied him said that this house was a place he liked to go for some brief access to nature. UN captions to these two photos describe it as his “summer house,” which seems inaccurate given how constantly he worked, and his interest in returning to Sweden for rare vacation time.
Neither his office nor the house in Brewster seemed to be where the large and rather decorative pastel pile rug was used. As I continued to look for the carpet’s original location, it seemed more and more probable that the rug would have been used at 73 E 73rd St rather than at his office, his office apartment or his Brewster house. But how could I prove that? I kept reading more about Hammarskjöld, his career at the UN and time in New York—UN documents, recollections, memoirs, and scholarly studies.
I also studied Swedish periodicals from this period. At last, progress! An advertisement for Handarbetets Vänner in an important Swedish design magazine gave me both the name of the rug and the date by which it was delivered! The rug title was “Läggspel,” an unusual Swedish word. It means “puzzle,” or a the kind of game where pieces have to be assembled to make a whole. Apparently it can also mean the tricky sort of process of trying to work out a time schedule, or a logistical problem. Even if intended to describe the design of the rug, one can see how the idea could also apply to the kind of constant diplomatic balancing act required by Hammarskjöld in his role as Sectretary-General as well.
It was strategic of the Friends of Handicraft organization to use this image of the rug in this particular edition of FORM magazine. It would have been seen by a wide range of architects and designers since that month’s issue of the magazine was concerned with a major upcoming Swedish exhibition of modern life called Helsingborg 55.
Two more fortuitous finds pushed my research forward. One of these was finding a masters-degree thesis on Hammarskjöld’s aesthetics (looking at both the paintings in his own collection and those he chose to hang at the UN) which in turn pointed me to a contemporary New York Times Magazine article written about Hammarskjöld’s apartment. Another was the discovery of a foundation in Sweden devoted to Hammarskjöld’s memory. At the recommendation of his friend Bo Beskow, Hammarskjöld had purchased a property called Backåkra, in Skane on Sweden’s southern coast where he eventually hoped to retire. Sadly, while he did spend some time painting and furnishing the house, it was not a place he ever got to live for any length of time. When I got in touch with this foundation, they kindly provided me with images of three rugs which Hammarskjöld had had, and which are now part of their collection. Together these gave me quite a bit of information.
The New York Times Magazine article was published in August 1954, a year after Hammarskjöld took office, and several months after the May photographs taken by UN photographers. The title of the article was typical for the time, with America fascinated with all things to do with “Scandinavian,” decor, and perhaps a bit of a pun on Hammarskjöld himself as an import from Sweden. The summer of 1954 seems to have been the point by which rugs Hammarskjöld had commissioned from the Friends of Handicraft, had arrived in New York, and the arrangement of his apartment seems to have been settled. And despite the fact that it seems to have taken until the summer after Hammarskjöld arrived for it to be installed, the photographs in this article confirmed that the large pastel-colored carpet I had been tracking was indeed the living room carpet for this apartment!
To be continued in Parts 2 and 3.
Annan, Koffi, “Dag Hammarskjöld and the 21st Century,“ essay in “Development Dialogue,” 2001/1, a United Nations Publication.
Bo Beskow, Dag Hammarskjöld: Strictly Personal – A Portrait (1969) I could not find a hard copy of this book in this Covid time, but as it is a portrait of a friend by an artist friend, it seems important to include it here.
Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation https://www.daghammarskjold.se/backakra-hammarskjold/
also known in Swedish as Stiftelsen Dag Hammarskjölds Backåkra. Thanks to Kristina Erlandsson for email correspondence and loan of photographs of several rugs owned by Dag Hammarskjöld.
DuGay, Shantala M, Dag “Hammarskjöld and Modern Art: An Inquiry into the Aesthetic Values of the Second Secretary-General of the United Nations,” City University of New York (CUNY) master’s thesis, 5/19/2016.
Email correspondence with Roxanne Hakimian
Email correspondence with Erik and Elinor Hammarskjöld, and kind thanks for their permission to use the photos of Hammarskjöld apartment now held in Sweden’s National Library.
FJ Hakimian Antique Carpets, New York
Form Magazine, 5/55, Svenska Slöjdföreningen Stockholm
Frederick, Pauline, UN Interview, June 20, 1986 conducted by Norman HO, UN Oral History paper, and earlier interiew for the same project.
Frölich, Dr. Manuel, “A Fully Integrated Vision: Politics and the Arts in the Dag Hammarskjöld– Barbara Hepworth Correspondence,” essay in “Development Dialogue,” 2001/1, a United Nations Publication, available online, see Hanley, below.
Glambek, Ingeborg. The Council Chambers in the UN Building in New York, Scandinavian Journal of Design History, vol. 15, 2005, pp. 8-39.
Google Earth, Street view for view of Brewster, New York property
Hanley, Mary-Lynn and Henning Melber, editors, Hammarskjöld Remembered, A Collection of Personal Memories, published by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and the Association of Former International Civil Servants, Uppsala Sweden December 2011; online copy.
Korpi, Barbara Martin, transcript of talk on her mother, Edna Martin from April 15, 2015 at Svensk Hemslöjd in Stockholm
Lind, Per, “An Unusual Letter,” in Hammarskjöld Remembered, UN publication available online, see Hanley above.
Lipsey, Roger, Dag Hammarskjöld, A Life, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2013,
Edna Martin, Swedish Textile Art/Svensk textilkonst, LiberFörlag, Stockholm, 1979.
National Library of Sweden, Kungliga Biblioteket, with help from Johannes Fahlström, librarian, and Karin Sterky, archivist.
New York Times archive
Olver, John A. “Under Fire with Dag Hammarskjold,” essay in Hammarskjold Remembered, UN Publication, available online, see Hanley, above.
Pepis, Betty, “Scandinavian Import,” New York Times Magazine article 8/1/54.
Southeast Museum Association, Brewster, NY, historical landmark plaque on stone wall of house in Brewster where “Dag Hammarskjöld, UN Secretary General enjoyed seclusion until his death in 1961.”
Sullivan, Jacqueline, “Higher Calling: FJ Hakimian, one of the world’s premier textile galleries.” https://www.pamono.com/stories/higher-calling
United Nations photo archive including photos of transcripts of correspondence between Edna Martin and Per Lind about a rug for the Meditation room at the UN.
Urquhart, Brian “Dag Hammarskjöld: A Leader in the Field of Culture,” essay in “Development Dialogue,” 2001/1, a United Nations Publication, available online.
Urquhart, Brian, Memories of Dag Hammarskjöld
von Platen, Jenny, of von Platen Modernform, assistance with the word, “Läggspel”
Young, Michelle, “The Hidden Apartment Inside the United Nations Headquarters Filled with Priceless Art”, 8/13/20, https://untappedcities.com/2020/08/13/the-hidden-apartment-inside-the-united-nations-headquarters/.
Please reference as follows:
Whidden, Anne, “Furnishing a New York Apartment: Dag Hammarskjöld and Edna Martin, Part 1” theswedishrugblog (9/9/20); theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (day/month/year)
Thank you so much for this well written essay . Woman Coming Her Hair by Fernand Leger is the very same painting Fidel Castro stood in front of when Dag and Mr. Castro met . Hammarskjold was quite a political maverick and lover of the visual messages within modern art . Thanks again the reboot .