One of the continuing puzzles to me, in looking at Swedish mid-century rugs, is how little they seem to have penetrated the American market during the 1950s and 60s. There were exhibitions of Swedish craft at American museums from the 1920s on, and, Sweden showed rugs by some of its best designers at the 1959 New York Worlds Fair. Several individuals, often of Swedish descent, build significant collections of Swedish rugs. But looking at American decorating and architectural magazines of the period, I am struck at the near-total absence of these rugs in magazine images.
There seem to be a number of reasons for this. The post-war period was a period of aspirational striving marked by pride in both the industrial capabilities and history of the United States. “Colonial” architectural styles were of as much interest to new house builders as more modern ones. “Buying American” was seen as a way to support American industry after the war. Thus magazines are full of ads for wall-to-wall carpeting made in America, and colonial style houses are often pictured with newly-made but old-style braided rag rugs, factory rather than home-made. And undoubtedly, the new machine-made American rugs were undoubtedly less expensive than those imported from Sweden.
It was a pleasurable surprise, then, for me to recognize a Swedish low pile rug on the cover of a popular 1955 American decorating magazine called House and Garden. The October 1955 cover of the magazine shows a rug by Sigvard Bernadotte.
But nowhere in the magazine is the rug or its designer identified! The description of the cover is simply this:
Studio guest room of H&G’s Art Editor Wolfgang Fyler makes a point of felt cushions and bed
coverings in brilliant green, blues and red against flat white walls. Beds are foam rubber on bleached mahogany door bases. Mr. Fyler laid the vinyl tile floor, built the storage cabinet, made the lamp from a blown glass bottle. Window wall sash is painted to give the effect of a shoji screen. The curtains by Jack Larsen are an abstract tree design in beige and white on natural linen.
There is an added note: for detailed information on home furnishings, houses or gardens shown in this issue, please write to House and Garden Reader service. Presumably the rug might have been identifiable to those who really wanted to know in this way, but it was apparently not considered worth a credit line. On the other hand, the curtain fabric, designed by young American textile designer, Jack Lenor Larsen, is called out.
It is not very surprising that of all of the Swedish rug designers, Bernadotte had come to the attention of the art editor of the magazine. As I mentioned in an earlier post on Bernadotte, he was a talented multi-faceted designer who worked in silver as well as plastic and decided in the late 1940s to design rugs as well. Bernadotte had several other advantages, He spoke excellent English and was a former member of the Swedish royal family, who much like Prince Harry of Britain’s royal family today, decided to pursue his own interests outside of princely duties and constraints. The fact that the editor of House and Garden magazine, Wolfgang Fyler, had come from Germany to the United States as a young man, may also have made him more interested in these Swedish rugs than some of his peers.
Unlike most of his contemporary Swedish rug designers, Bernadotte had no problem imagining and funding an American “tour” of his own rugs. In 1950 he showed 100 —that’s 100!— of his rug designs at Lord and Taylor, New York, and the rug show, apparently travelled to large upscale department stores in successive cities: Chicago, Dallas and Minneapolis. The following press photograph is from his appearance in Chicago at the Marshall Field department store. It’s possible that Wolfgang Fyler, whose guest room illustrated the H&G magazine cover five years later, purchased his rug at Lord and Taylor in NY in 1950, or at least first encountered the Bernadotte rug collection there.
When I recently ran across the H&G magazine cover, I recognized the rug as one by Bernadotte called Tegel, or Brick. Finding a photograph of the blue version proved more difficult. But Gallery BAC in New York has a red version of the Tegel rug and kindly provided an image.
Before the Tegel carpet moved to Gallery BAC, it was part of the personal collection of the founder and owner of the gallery, Carlos Aparicio, a Cuban-born architect, turned modern furniture dealer. In his own stylish apartment he paired modern French and Danish furniture with Swedish mid-century rugs and lighting. Furniture by Jean Michel Frank, Andre Arbus and Andre Sornay and Danes Kare Klimt, Johan Rohde, Fritz Henningsen and Erik Jorgenson showed happily with at least six Swedish rugs including ones by Marianne Richter, Barbro Nilsson and Märta Måås -Fjetterström.
Other photos show other corners of the well-curated apartment. Unfortunately, although the furniture is usually identified in this article, the designers of the wonderful rugs are not. Two more photos of the apartment, showing rugs and original captions are below. Note that in the first, there do not seem to be two pieces of furniture, although two are mentioned. Not noted at all is the Märta Måås-Fjetterstrom “Ulriksdal” rug. This is a small version of the one originally designed in 1924 for Ulriksdal Castle for the Swedish king Gustav VI Adolf on the occasion of his second marriage after being widowed. According to the initials visible in the lower left hand corner of the rug, ABMMF, this particular example was produced after 1941 when the weaving studio was incorporated. The second photo shows —but does not identify — Marianne Richter’s “Gulträdet” (The Yellow Tree) rug from 1945. Richter was one of the brilliant “second-generation” designers for the Märta Måås-Fjetterstöm studio. This too is signed, though not visible in this photograph, as ABMMF and MR.
Although his rug was not identified in the 1955 House and Garden article, Bernadotte is acknowledged as designer of the Tegel rug in the second article, perhaps because his pedigree made him of particular interest. But in this article from 2008, these other major Swedish rug designers are —once again —not mentioned. Business as usual, in the American magazine world, I’m sorry to say!
Bellen, Sian and Lesley Hauge and Jeff Hirsch, “Carlos Aparicio” in the “House,” column of New York Social Diary (online), April 11, 2008.
Gallery BAC, with a thank you to James Buresch, gallery director, for use of photos of Tegel rug
House and Garden magazine, October 1955, vol 108, no. 4.
“Se på mattorna —det är jag,“ (Look at the Rugs —Find me), 100 years of Textile Art since 1919. Catalog of 100 year-anniversary exhibition of Märta Måås-Fjetterström’s rug designs
held at the Royal Palace, Stockholm 2019-2020.