The first part of this post looked at several of the flat-weave rugs, called rölakan in Swedish, designed by this very prolific mid-century designer, Ingegerd Silow. During the first part of her career, Silow drew on traditional Swedish textile motifs, but found creative ways to inflate sizes, change colors, and generally oomph these forms into something much more contemporary. These rugs were produced in great quantity— in both a range of sizes and colors— by several Swedish companies, notably Axeco AB and Eric Ewers AB, and proved extremely attractive to young Swedes moving into the new housing being rapidly produced at that time. The designs of these rugs, both traditional and modern at the same time, spoke to this generation’s desire in furnishing their new post-war homes to retain something familiar in style, and at the same time satisfy the urge to update their decor.
In the later part of her career, Silow produced many rug designs which moved further away from her Swedish traditional sources. She seems to have been influenced both by the larger graphics and vivid colors of the late 60s into 70s, as well as by exposure to the designs of other cultures. It would be useful, and fun, to be able to trace some of the study and travel abroad she is reputed to have done during this period, but that information is elusive. We may have to be satisfied to deduce it to some extent through the rug designs she produced.
As in the first post, I do not have any specific dates for the designs of Silow’s rugs, so I am dating and presenting these more by their stylistic characteristics. I have chosen to a certain extent those designs I could find titles for, and those for which I could identify the companies who produced the rugs. But it should also be noted that beyond the 20 or so rug designs shown in these two posts, Silow designed probably another 20-30 lines of rugs, each with multiple colors, as well as great number of small pictorial wall-hangings woven in the same rölakan technique. As to rug sizing, dimensions of rugs are written on tags on the backs of the rugs— that is, IF the maker’s tags remain on these rugs, and IF the tags of the rugs are shown when they are auctioned, which is not always the case. Otherwise, sizes are slightly approximate.
As discussed in the last post, Silow designed a number of rugs for Axeco AB, based on design elements frequently-used in traditional textiles, specifically the 8-sided star, the simple cross, and the shape made by imposing a square on a cross. The following design, called “Storsjön, made for Axeco is typical of these, made new by its play of what is foreground and what background and by its more ‘50s color palette(s)
One of Silow’s most-frequently seen designs for Axeco, for which I do not know the name, made flowers of some of the traditional cross shapes. And unlike rölakan rugs designed earlier in the century, which used multiple borders, Silow’s design for this rug distributes the pattern all over the rug and pushes into the area where borders had been, becoming increasingly “modern” in this regard.
Silow is described in biographical material as having travelled in the United States and Mexico. A number of her later rugs suggest that she probably did see and study flat-woven Navaho blanket and rug designs. Notched forms, stylized feathers and mountains, and the use of natural colored wools punctuated by occasional reds are characteristic of these rugs. If she travelled in the western United States, Silow may also have encountered another popularized version of Native American weaving: blankets made by important American blanket companies like Pendleton, and sold during the 1930s and 40s when Navaho weaving was perceived by non-native Americans as both authentic and exotic. These blankets were reversible and had a strong graphic punch. Some were more neutral in color like the originals, but most adopted bright colored elements. Mexican rugs too are characterized by the juxtaposition of intense colors; this colorful culture may well have influenced Silow, although it’s hard to know since she really never seemed timid in her use of color!
Here are several Navaho and Mexican rug designs, as well as a few images of one Pendleton “Indian” blanket for comparison to some of Silow’s designs which I assume are from the 1960s and 70s. There is is no direct “borrowing” of stylistic elements from these kinds of rugs by Silow but quite a few of her rug designs from this period seem different than those we looked at in Part 1, and much less connected to traditional Swedish weaving, both in color and in design.
A number of rugs Silow designed which seem to draw on these non-Swedish rug traditions are shown below. One of these which is attributed to Silow, though is unsigned, was designed for a Finnish company, Alestalon Mattokutomo OY. (The OY in Finnish means “incorporated”, as does AB in Swedish).
A number of other designs are for the Swedish company, Eric Ewers, AB, which made both upholstery and drapery fabric as well as rugs. In the late 1940s and early1950s, their offices were located at #22 Birger Jarlsgatan, Stockholm.
Two particular lines of Eric Ewers rugs designed by Silow seem to draw on Native American patterns, despite the fact that the first of these is named “Båstad,”the name of a coastal resort town on the west coast of Sweden where the Swedish Open tennis tournament is played annually, The green color seems to have been the popular favorite.
The name of the second of these Eric Ewers rugs is “Skarup”, but its horizontal elements which recall some of the feather elements on Navaho rugs, and some of the colors call up—if not actual colors of Navaho rugs—colors ones associates with Navaho culture, like red and turquoise. The brown color shown last seems to have been the most popular, judging from the number of examples of this color sold at auctions.
Silow designed several other lines of rugs— for whom I am not sure, but I suspect Axeco Ab— which also have a certain “Indian blanket” feel, each in several colorways.
At some point Silow did another rug for Axeco AB called “Örbyhus.” This is the only one of her graphic rug designs —she did others which are more pictorial— which is still in production at Axeco, although not in all of the original colors.
Finally, Silow seems to have kept her finger on the pulse of the time, and varied her designs for Axeco frequently. She seems to have been well aware of the ephemeral pop art graphics of the time such as that used for record album covers, product advertising, as well as the bolder scale of pattern and color of the 1960s. One of her rug designs almost seem to adapt that period’s “puffy” inflated letter fonts to a textile form, although with gentler colors, and another reflects the brighter colors and enlarged scale of graphics.
Another rug looks like it filters a more complex Navaho pattern through Silow’s own color sensibility and the complex graphics of the late 1960s. Compare this with an vintage Navaho rug:
The last of the rugs I am looking at from this later period of work seems a masterful assimilation of 1960s-70s graphic design—translated into woven form. This design has a larger pattern and bolder kaleidoscopic quality than her earlier work, and although the colors are bold, they are also soft in tone, and beautifully integrated.
While there is a lack of biographical information on Silow, there is such a great number of her rugs offered at Swedish auctions. Consequently, I have tried to chart some of Silow’s possible influences and evolution of her patterns by looking primarily at the patterns of the rugs themselves. There may be inaccuracies in my dating of her rugs, and in assumptions about possible influences on Silow, but what is clearly evident is the sheer quantity and range of Ingegerd Silow’s designs for these several Swedish commercial rug companies. She was a true popularizer, making the traditional hand-woven Swedish flat-weave rug available and attractive to a new generation of new consumers of home textiles.
Auktionsverket Norrköping via auctionet.com
FORM magazine, 1950, no 4
Garpenhus Auktioner, Malmö via auctionet.com
Gomér & Andersson, Norrköping via auctionet,com
HemslöjdMattor on Etsy
LBrown Art and Design, on Etsy
Nyköpings Auktionsverk via auctionet,com
Stadsauktion Sundsvall via auctionet,com