Coming up for auction in Stockholm on May 10 at Bukowskis auction house is a major piece of weaving by Swedish designer, Marianne Richter. This carpet , made of knotted pile (“flossa” in Swedish) was designed in 1959, and woven by the Märta Måås-Fjetterstöm workshop in Bastad.
The name of this rug is Fläkten, named after the company for which it was woven, AB Svenska Fläktfabriken. This company made ventilation systems for various Swedish industries— the word fläkt means in fact, current of air. An archival photo of a Svenska Fläktfabriken air-conditioning system for a chocolate factory gives a sense of the products of this company.
For a handwoven rug, this piece is a very large — about 13’ x 16’4.” During Märta Måås Fjetterström’s life, her studio had produced large scale rugs for the boardrooms of important Swedish corporations —in fact it became a kind of mark of corporate success for a company to have such an MMF rug. After her death in 1942, and under the studio’s new head, Barbro Nilsson, other large companies again commissioned important rugs to furnish board rooms, or public spaces. Earlier blog posts looked at Barbro Nilsson’s production of rugs and tapestries for a number of these Swedish companies. In 1966 the Sydkraft energy company commissioned a set of fantastic mythological gobelin tapestries about water energy. Earlier, during the 1950s and 60s the Zoegas coffee company had also purchased a number of rugs previously designed by Barbro Nilsson and newly made in brown tones. Another of that company’s purchases, in 1958, was for a brown version of Marianne Richter’s Rubirosa rug in gobelin (“gobelangteknik”). But this particular assignment, given to Marianne Richter a year later, was for a rug to be newly designed to honor of the Svenska Fläkt company.
Richter had been Barbro Nilsson’s student at Konstfack, hired after Mårta Måås-Fjetterström’s death to join the studio, and to help Nilsson give it new energy and direction, as well as maintain the recognized MMF standard of design and weaving. Richter’s consistent use of interesting color combinations and exuberant patterns generated joyful and often playful designs. As this blog has explored in previous posts, Marianne Richter designed flat-weave röllakan rugs and intricate and lively tapestries, but frequently turned to pile and rya weaving techniques for richness and depth of color.
In the design of this rug, Richter chose to let reds and pinks predominate, with smaller elements in varied tones of blue and green. Although the rug is composed of several hundred colorful smaller and larger squares in about 11 patterns, and 21 diagonally-striped rectangles, —which in other hands could have become chaos— the rug’s design has a clear 3 part visual structure with three red/pink vertical stripes separated by two stripes which read as blue, and the whole piece framed by alternating squares in pink, blue and green patterns. Take a look at the rug’s overall patterning, and then zoom in on these elements.
The rug marks its centers both horizontally and vertically. In the rug’s vertical center, thin multi-colored diagonal lines intersect to form subtle chevrons. The horizontal center is marked by a series of pink squares outlined with white dots and leading the eye from side to side. The color white also animates two other horizontal belts of decorative circles, one at the top and one at the bottom. These pink and green circles have a whirling (fan-like?) quality
The fine colored diagonal lines which cross the rectangles on each side of the rug and which meet in the center to form chevrons do more than provide another layer of decorative pattern. They also give the rug an apparent depth with these stripes appearing to slide under the horizontal rows of squares containing colored circles and peak in the center. But even there there is variation: most of the colored lines transform as they appear to “pass through” the vertical blue-striped rows, becoming blue or green stripes before transforming back to their original color as a chevron in the center, one row up. The photos below show how these diagonal lines appear to move across the rug and and how this white-dotted pink squares mark the horizontal center “path” discussed above. It is a little confusing with some of these images taken from different directions, but refer to this large photograph of the whole rug to make sense of the other two images.
Richter defined the upper and lower ends of the rugs with a series of tiny colored tabs of her basic colors. And in the rug’s borders are found three typical elements: the AB MMF signature (the firm’s post 1942 signature) in the lower left; the designer’s signature the lower right corner; and colored dots representing the weavers who wove the rug in the upper right corner.
Two colored dots show that there were two weavers, working together.
The following photos capture the nature of the rug’s surface and the intensity of Richter’s colors and their marvelous juxtaposition.
Once having been made for Svenska Fläktfabriken, the Fläkt design became part of the MMF collection of patterns. But not everyone wanted or could afford such a large or costly rug. (The pattern is one of the most expensive at the MMF studio because of the time involved in knotting the pile by hand—today it costs about 12,000 Eros/square meter). At some point the design of the original rug was tweaked so that it could also be used as a smaller wall hanging. The size of this wall hanging is 144 x 203 cm. Here there are no blue stripes, but only central column of pink color, and the band of pink and green circles here define the horizontal center of the piece. It is unclear to me whether fringe was original to this piece or not.
I don’t know how many times the pattern was made as a wall hanging, but do know that in 1970, one such piece was commissioned by a new Stockholm-area hospital. The cost of the hanging was very likely paid for under a program original to Sweden which allocates 10% of the construction budget for a new building to public art. That program began in 1971. What this means in practice is that all art thus commissioned for public buildings is under the watchful eye of a public agency called Kultureförvaltningen, the Management of Culture, whose job it is to make sure art in public buildings is positioned where it can be being appreciated and maintained, and if the original situation changes, to recuperate those pieces of art and relocate them to new environments.
I visited the hospital to see this hanging in 2017. I have decided not to identify the hospital here since they were decidedly unenthusiastic about having textile visitors. This hanging is used as the backdrop in the entertainment or communal gathering room of the hospital, and is definitely the most handsome element in the room.
Like the large rug above, the wall hanging also carries the MMF signature hidden under the lush pile in the lower left, and Marianne Richter’s initials in the lower right. In the upper right there is the weavers mark of the single weaver responsible for weaving the wall-hanging. And on the reverse side are agency tags labeling the piece, one of which is shown below.
10 years younger than the original Svenska Fläktfabrik piece, and having hung on the wall rather than having been walked on or placed under furniture, this piece is a bit more springy and dense, though the colors in both pieces are equally vivid. The following several photos show at close hand the condition of the close pile weaving, front and back.
The last photo, of the back of the densely-woven Fläkt wall-hanging makes evident the handwork involved in weaving a pile rug. Each of the little elements is a knot, tied by hand between rows of flat-weave which gives the yarn anchored by the knots a little area to spread out as pile. Not only does this rug look like a festive celebration from the front side, but the back side reveals and celebrates the challenging row-by-row and colored-thread-by-colored-thread process of knotting and weaving a pile rug.
And as a post-script…. Like many artists, Richter often found that the discoveries she made in the design of one piece of work were further realized future work. This is the case here. The arrangements of colored squares and vivid colors in the Fläktfabrik rug were echoed in her “Blommig rya” or Floral rya rug designed 10 years later in 1969 for MMF. In size, this piece was similar to the Fläkt wall-hanging.
—Bukowskis Auction House, Stockholm. All of the photographs of the original rug are from the online auction catalog for the upcoming auction
—email correspondence with Xueyin Chen, Coordinator for the acquisition of art, Kultureförvaltningen, Stockholm läns
—https://www.mmf.se/products/flaekten, Märta Måås-Fjetterström website