In August 1954, the New York Times published an article on Dag Hammarsköld’s apartment in their weekly magazine supplement, titled “Scandinavian Import.” Apparently earlier that summer, rugs which Hammarskjöld had commissioned from the Friends of Handicraft, Handarbetets Vänner in Stockholm, had arrived in New York, and the arrangement of his apartment seems to have been more or less settled. The article was a breezy two-page view of Hammarskjöld’s principal rooms, more photograph than text. But, despite being in black and white, the photograph of the living room made it clear that the rug I had been tracking (discussed in Part 1) was indeed the rug which had furnished Hammarskjöld’s New York apartment living room at 73 East 73rd Street in Manhattan.
Finding this NYT magazine article pushed forward my search for the pile rug designed by Edna Martin and delivered to the Secretary-General in 1954. It opened the search more widely, because it showed not just one, but three rugs! There are photographs of the large pile carpet for the living room, a larger image of the flat-weave röllakan rug in the front hall and a rya rug in Hammarskjöld’s library, and the article also mentions two smaller rya rugs, not visible in the photographs. In the absence of color photographs, the article provides color descriptions of several of the rugs.
Unfortunately, when viewed as archival images via the NYT website today, the photographs show the living room rug clearly but the other two rugs— those in the front hall and in the library— are almost unreadable. Fortunately, the National Library of Sweden has a folder on Dag Hammarskjöld’s apartment which includes four of the five images from this NYT article, and the rugs can be seen more clearly in these. All of these bear a stamp, “Studio of the New York Times” with address and phone number, but no identification of the original photographer.
As Betty Pepis, the writer of this NY Times Magazine article observed, “The decoration of these rooms… is quietly conservative, tasteful, and intensely personal.” As we have seen already, in Part 1, most of the furniture, art and objects Hammarskjöld used to furnish his apartment came with him from Sweden. These were largely pieces of Danish and Swedish “modern” furniture, although his mother’s writing desk was clearly antique. Paintings throughout the apartment were primarily landscape scenes which reminded him of places he knew and loved in Sweden. At the point this article was written, decorative accessories evident in the photographs included a modernist Swedish glass bowl, an enameled sculpture in the entry stair hall probably by a Danish sculptor, Johannes Hedegaard, a Sami knife on his library desk, as well as small boxes and ornaments acquired around the world or given to him by friends. Later, other objects acquired as gifts or purchased on his travels as Secretary-General would decorate both his home and his office.
Over the fireplace Hammarskjöld hung a gift given to him by the Nepalese Sherpa, Tenzig Norgay, one of the first men to summit Mt. Everest in May 1953. To celebrate their mutual love of mountaineering, and Hammarskjöld’s UN appointment, Norgay gave him a climbing pick inscribed, “So you may climb to even greater heights.”
The first photograph available of the apartment living room was taken just a few months before the New York Times image. The May 1954 UN photo shown in Part 1 shows an elaborate Renaissance-style wooden mantle, rather out-of-character with the apartment design, and perhaps installed by an earlier tenant. Hammarskjöld seems to have modernized the fireplace surround specifically to display this ice pick, perhaps just in time for the NYT magazine photographer. The new fireplace surround is blocky and somewhat modernist, probably a simple box cover up of the older mantle, but it is white, with a bit of architectural molding, and allows him to use its large surface for display. The new carpet by Edna Martin with its black and white edge, sits on top of the older wall-to wall carpeting.
Now that we can see how the carpet sat in the room, we can compare a few colored images of the rug to give a sense of the beauty of this carpet. The following photograph is courtesy of FJ Hakimian.
Edna Martin, Detail of pile rug (“flossa”) designed for Dag Hammarskjöld
The image of the entry hall and clear shot of the rug placed there make it possible to identify the entry hall rug as a flat-weave rölakan called Tegelstenar (“Bricks“) designed by Edna Martin, currently held by the Stiftelsen Dag Hammarskjölds Backåkra. The NYT article’s odd brief description of this rug is that it “is shades of blue, green, maroon and purple.” Although the border of the rug is not mentioned in the article, the image from Backåra confirms this rug both by color and by its distinctively checked border.
As noted in Part 1, in the dining room of Hammarskjöld’s apartment, the neutral-toned wall to wall carpet which was apparently in place at his arrival was not changed. There was no hand-woven Swedish rug in this room. The woven seats on the chairs provided needed color. While the caption to the UN photograph of these chairs described them as dark grey and red linen damask, The New York Times magazine article about the interior design of the apartment says, perhaps more reliably, “chairs are covered with handwoven fabrics in red, orange and purple.” The magazine article also cropped this photo to eliminate the high walls and focus more on the table and chairs.
The title page of the article was anchored by a cameo photograph of Hammarskjöld at his library desk. This was not a NYT photograph, but instead, in an image cropped from the photogaph shown in Part 1 of this blog post, taken by a UN photographer. This makes me wonder whether all the photographs taken by UN photographers in May 1954, as this one was, were taken for possible use by this article. If so, it seems that this was the only such image used, since all the others carry the Studio New York Times stamp .
In the New York Times photograph of Hammarskjöld’s apartment library, one can see the edge of a red and black pile or “rya” rug called Tigerfällen (“Tiger pelt”) designed by Barbro Nilsson for the Märta Måås-Fjetterström studio, and delivered to Hammarskjöld in 1953. This was probably one of the first Swedish rugs which Hammarskjöld acquired, along with the one designed by Edna Martin in the front hall. The Barbro Nilsson rug is also currently held by the Stiftelsen Dag Hammarskjöld at Backåra. The MMF studio confirms that this rug was ordered directly from the studio, not through a designer at Svenskt Tenn or the Nordiska Kompaniet department stores which was, according to MMF, the procedure “otherwise quite common for ‘international Swedes’ at this time.”
The article also mentions two smaller rya rugs. These are not pictured in the article, but are described as “thick and long haired- one in two shades of rose with a putty-toned background; the other in brown, white, rust, yellow and green. I have not conclusively identified either of these, although later photographs show a rya rug with a traditional vase-with-flowers pattern positioned under a small side table. This may be the latter rug described in the article. That photo is shown below. This may also be the rug in the earlier UN photo showing a small table in the living room on a rug, perhaps one brought with him by Harmmarskjöld to furnish his apartment.
The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation holds one more of Edna Martins flat-weave röllakan rugs, which they believe was in Hammarskjöld’s apartment. I cannot prove or disprove this, since it does not seem to appear in any of the apartment photographs. But it is shown below, a rug called “The Church Window,” or “Kyrkfonstret,” in Swedish. Hammarskjöld’s Christian faith was an important part of his upbringing and character, and one can see why this rug might have appealed to him.
These were the rugs which which Hammarskjöld chose to surround himself while at home in New York. They offered quite a range of luxurious Swedish handicraft — from the subtle but nicely colored rug in the front hall to the small traditional rya with its folkloric Swedish imagery, to the possible small “Church Window” rug and to the very large and unique modern pile rug in the living room which reminded some of stained glass windows, and others of puzzle pieces, to the rich pile rug in the study which evoked exotic animal skins, and far-away countries — no longer so far away to this world-traveller. Just as Hammarskjöld brought an extraordinary intensity to the solving of diplomatic problems of nations in his work at the United Nations, so too, he brought an extraordinary level of attention to his own personal environments. The warmth, color and patterns of these rugs were ones he chose: they gave him personal pleasure and at the same time, for his role as Secretary General, also were part of a sophisticated presentation of the best in contemporary Scandinavian design. In looking at the interior design of his apartment, these rugs in particular, like the paintings he loved, should be understood as a measure of Hammarskjöld’s own aesthetic. These are a clear measure of his own spirit, which turned to beauty, design, language and music as salve for him from the world’s pressing needs.
The night before Hammarskjöld flew out to Africa for the last time, his secretary, Hannah Plaz, surprised herself by asking the Secretary-General what she should do, “in case something should happen,” and asked if he had anything written down “in black and white” about this. He said he did not, but that he would give her something. This exchange was recorded later by Per Lind in an article called “An Unusual Letter.” The essential lines are as follows, with the characters being the Secretary-General, and Hannah Palz:
S-G: (patting the paper and putting his hand flat on it) Now let’s go over this. By “this” I mean, everything in here (pointing at his own office, to which the door was open), everything in here (pointing at the safes and cabinets in my office), everything in 73rd Street and everything in Brewster. And you will see to it that nothing, but nothing is touched before Per comes, and then you will help him with it (all this in complete seriousness).
HP: Yes, I understand. I take it then that all the safes in there (pointing at his office), all of them in here (pointing at my office), everything in 73rd Street and in Brewster should be considered as sealed until Per comes.
S-G: Yes.HP: And this paper?S-G: You put it in the safe.HP: In a special envelope in this office (meaning mine)?
S-G: Yes.HP: I understand.
He then looked at me to see if there would be any other questions from my side, but when he saw that I was just waiting to see if he would add anything, he said, “So that’s it,” got up, gave the paper to me for final typing and went into his office.
Palz considered the issue and thought that the Secretary-General would like to have copies of this document delivered both to his Stockholm lawyer and to his friend Per Lind, so she made copies which she asked him to sign. He signed without further comment except to confirm that she should send these. And she did, the following day, the same day he left for the Congo.
Not surprisingly, it was a shock on top of shock for Per Lind to receive this communication from Hammarskjöld’s office so soon after the news of his death. But following Hammarskjöld’s directive, Lind returned to New York, to undertake the disposal of his papers and the closure of his apartment. Lind wrote that this mission was carried out in October of 1961.
Shortly after discovering the New York Times magazine article, I was
reading a recent biography of Hammarskjöld and came across an intriguing bit of information: that with Per Lind in charge of closing Hammarskjöld’s New York affairs , there were photographs taken of the apartment. I was able to track these down in the National Library of Sweden, and Hammarskjöld’s family very kindly gave permission for me to use them here. These photos really help fill in the specific details of the rugs. The National Library file included legible copies of the New York Times photos, as well as the photos taken just after Hammarskjöld’s death. There were more views of the apartment, and its rugs, than had been available in either United Nations or the New York Times photos. These later photographs, taken in October 1961, just after his death, capture the arrangement of the apartment, as if Hammarskjöld had just walked out of it — as in fact he had.
Because the National Library of Sweden’s photo file includes both the New York Times photographs (helpfully labeled) and various UN photos (not labeled as such, but several duplicates of photos found in the UN photo archives), I have assumed that the other photos in the file are those taken of the apartment under Per Lind’s direction. I have thus noted below where this is my assumption.
The photographs of the apartment living room from the National Library file reflect changes which had been made in the furniture arrangement to make it more serene and livable: a second sofa and chair pulled up closer to the fireplace in a seating area, bench and stools placed on the side wall, and his mother’s desk moved to the back wall of the room. In addition, the old wall-to -wall carpeting has been pulled up and Edna Martin’s rug sits on the handsome herringbone parquet floor.
Hammarskjöld was the youngest of four sons and had been very close to his mother, Agnes. She had died in 1940, when Hammarskjöld was 35. The fact that Hammarskjöld brought his mother’s antique desk among his other modern furniture to New York, suggests that this was a kind of reminder of her presence in his life. This desk stood at the back of the living room, behind the sofa as shown in the previous photo.
There seem to have been no photographs of the entry and stair hall taken in October 1961. Of the two photographs In the National Library file of this space, one, which is shown in Part 1 of this post, was taken in May 1954 by a UN photographer with Hammarskjöld posed by the table in the entry hall, and the other is shown above, from the New York Times article which shows more of Edna Martin’s flat-weave rug. .
The dining room of the apartment was perhaps the least changed over the years of Hammarskjöld’s occupancy. Two photos seem to have been taken of the room after his death, but only one of them adds anything to what we have seen in earlier shots. This one provides an understanding of the architecture of the room when seen from the opposite direction, and another painting on the left hand wall.
The five photos of Hammarskjöld’s library in the photo file of the National Library of Sweden are a curious hodgepodge. One of them is the New York Times magazine photo shown above. Two show the same desk corner but also show the room’s fireplace, and seem to have been taken at different times judging from the location of some large books. One of these two photos shows books lined up on the floor under his bookshelf as if Hammarskjöld is running out of shelf space. This is one of three photos taken by UN photographers, Three of the five photographs of this room are duplicated in the UN files, so apparently taken by UN photographers. Not all are identified, but one is identified as taken by Teddy Chen and all carry that UN photo system date of 1 October 1961, which I understand to mean sometime that month, not necessarily on that exact date. See note below Sources below about who was taking photographs for Per Lind after Hammarskjöld’s death.
These several photos show other aspects and furnishings of the room not captured in the earlier New York Times magazine photograph: the addition of a small animal skin rug under the desk; a love seat on the wall opposite the fireplace; an African fan (?) on the wall next to the stereo; and a small image of the Bo Beskow fresco for the UN Meditation Room on the wall facing Hammarskjöld’s desk. This was a gift from Beskow, and its prominent position here suggests again how much this project meant to Hammarskjöld.
One other photo from a separate photo sub-file belongs in this room. This shows the small sofa facing the fireplace.
The National Library photo file also includes photos of Dag Hammarskjöld’s bedroom, and shows how spartan that was. Bed table, lamps, books, a few ornaments, and two pieces of art on the walls, one of which may be a Buddhist devotional hanging called a thangka. In some ways, if the small flat-weave rug called Church Window was in the apartment, I might have expected it to be here, but what we see is more of the wall-to-wall carpeting which came with the apartment.
After Hammarskjöld’s death, it was in this bedroom, on the bedside table that Per Lind found Hammarskjöld’s diary, a book-length record of his spiritual musings and searching, begun when he was 20. This was where he recorded his sense that his destiny was in a kind of selfless service. The diary was subsequently published in Swedish as a book, and then translated into English by the poet W.H. Auden, who had been a friend of Hammarskjöld. It was published under the English title, Markings which as many have suggested, might better be translated Waymarks. Ever since it was published, Swedes and those who read Swedish, have raised questions as to whether this translation really captured the words in which Hammarskjöld recorded his own moral and spiritual struggles. One recent newpaper article cited Swedish poet and haiku writer, Kai Falkman:
“It is a pity that foreigners will never be able to understand the purity and beauty of Hammarskjold’s language,” he said. “I feel that Auden did not understand this austere, serious, exacting man who was very much a product of Swedish austerity, sense of duty, men of few words and lonely farmers and mountaineers in far away places.”
It may well be the case that Auden’s own emotional concerns at the time he made the translation, distorted this written record of Hammarskjöld’s own spiritual wrestlings. I like to think, however, that the pieces of art and craft with which Hammarskjöld surrounded himself in his daily New York life, express the kind of “Swedish austerity” to which Falkman refers. In their own way these represent a search for truth, for the essential, for purity and economy of form which I believe appealed to Hammarskjöld in an almost spiritual way. In a speech made for the 25th anniversary of the Museum of Modern Art in October 1954, Hammarskjöld had postulated several qualities essential to both artists and scientists. He might well have said artists and diplomats. He focused on courage and perseverance, mentioning that modern artists must search for “an essential expression of the spiritual situation of our generation,”
and further emphasized that the artist’s search to “isolate beauty from the impurity of life” provided a model for all human efforts to progress past circumstances dictated by history and sociological conditions.
The superb paintings Hammarskjöld borrowed from the Museum of Modern Art and Barbara Hepworth’s spare sculpture which furnished his office; the paintings from his native land, the many art objects he acquired in his African travels, and the handwoven rugs from Swedish designers which brought so much color, warmth and lively pattern to his New York apartment a— all of these seem to be clear and undeniable evidence of Hammarskjold’s personal aesthetic, his complex spirit, exacting intellect, and his joy in things beautiful and honestly made.
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.
Chard Uściło, Martin, of the Märta Måås Fjetterström studio for help dating the Barbro Nilsson Tigerfällen rug.
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) 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.
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.
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.
Hoge, Walter, “Swedes Dispute Translation of a UN Legend’s Book” New York Times, May 22, 2005, about Auden’s editing of the English translation of Hammarskjöld’s posthumously-published book, Markings.
Korpi, Barbara Martin transcript of talk on her mother, Edna Martin at Svensk Hemslöjd, Stockholm 15 April 2015
Lind, Per, “An Unusual Letter,” in Hammarskjöld Remembered, UN publication available online.
Lipsey, Roger, Dag Hammarskjöld, A Life, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2013, especially footnote 97, p 686.
Edna Martin, Swedish Textile Art/Svensk textilkonst, LiberFörlag, Stockholm, 1979.
National Library of Sweden, Kungliga Biblioteket, with particular help from Johannes Fahlström, librarian, and Karin Sterky, archivist.
New York Times archive
Nordiska Museet archive of Handarbetets Vänner sketches
Olver, John A. “Under Fire with Dag Hammarskjold,” essay in Hammarskjold Remembered, UN Publication, available online.
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”
JP Willborg, Stockholm carpet dealer.
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/.
Note about the Hammarskold photo file in the National Library of Sweden:
There is some confusion about the National Library file, because there also exist a number of UN photos, dated October 1, 1961 which seem to have been photos taken by UN photographers after his death. (Note: it seems to have been the policy of the UN photography department to date any photographs taken during the month to the first date of that month, so whether or not these were taken that exact day, they were clearly taken after his death.) It seems unlikely that this series of UN photos has nothing to do with the photos organized by Per Lind. Yet many of the photos of the apartment which are in the National Library photo file seem unique, and not held in the UN archives. Thus it is unclear whether photos of the apartment taken after Hammarskjöld’s death were shot by both UN photographers and other unidentified photographers as well, or whether Lind exercised a kind of claim for the Swedish government over many of the apartment images, even if shot by UN photographers. It is also possible that the photos unique to the National Library collection were shot by entirely by non-UN photographers whom Lind hired. I have not been able to find complete clarity on these issues.
Please reference as follows:
Whidden, Anne, “Furnishing a New York Apartment: Dag Hammarskjöld and Edna Martin, Part 2 – theswedishrugblog (9/11/20); theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (day/month/year)