Luckily, there are many strong role models for Swedish female designers and artists. Here are four women that completely changed the road map of Swedish textile design! I encountered their names early on in my art education as their influence on what we consider typically “Swedish” is groundbreaking. Back then, I didn’t really contemplate the social context in which they grew up and claimed their place, but now I clearly see how brave and determined these women were! The first one in this quartet was born as early as 1894 and I have already mentioned her unprecedented visionary drive in this post.
Estrid Ericson (1894-1981)
It must have taken an enormous courage and determination being an entrepreneur starting your own business in the 1920’s. Especially if you were a woman. But strong winds for women’s rights were blowing through Europe and in Sweden women got the right to vote in 1919. Strengthened by a sisterhood of highly profilic women from different areas in society, it was maybe again not so surprising that this happened at this particular moment in time. Originally an art teacher and skilled pewter artist, Estrid Ericson founded the design company “Svenskt Tenn” in 1924, together with another pewter sculptor, Nils Fougstedt. They wanted to offer beautiful, yet affordable pewter pieces, like candle holders, teapots, boxes and mirror frames etc. Soon the company grew to represent various artists and a vast home decor line. In 1934 Estrid met the Austrian designer Josef Frank and offered him a safe place to escape from the escalating fascism spreading from Germany to Austria. She had an eye for unconventional design and she earned an international reputation as the “Mistress of Swedish Modern”. The textile pattern above is actually the only one you can find from her and it is still in production by Svenskt Tenn, her company that still exists at the same Stockholm address where she moved in 1927. Her pewter pieces, on the other hand, are as numerous as they are popular. She ran her company until the age of 81(!) and I remember my mother, who worked there as a young girl in the 40’s, telling me about this remarkable woman and the beautiful store of Svenskt Tenn.
Göta Trägårdh (1904-1984)
Göta Trägårdh is the early Queen of fashion design and illustration, founder of the legendary Beckman School of Design (together with Anders Beckman), today THE school where the most famous Swedish fashion designers started their careers. She began as a print designer for several of Sweden’s largest textile companies and her graphic, colourful patterns soon became in demand on the market. In 1926 she obtained prestigious assignments as a fashion illustrator for the daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet and Bonniers Weekly Magazine and her stylistic drawings were trendsetting. After founding Beckman’s School of Design in 1939 she also worked as its main teacher and have made an imprint on generations of designers since. She never gave up her own creative passion for textiles and clothes and continued to work until she was eighty. Her last pattern is called “Rapid” and was created in 1983 for Borås Wäfveri. Before this she was also the leader of Stockholms bomullsspinneri (Stockholm Cotton Mill), STOBO, where her assistant, Inez Svensson, would later become one of the founders of 10-gruppen, find out more in this post.
Astrid Sampe (1909-2002)
Imagine this: yesterday I was in the Uniqlo store in Berlin and what do I see if not the pattern above! It’s one of the most iconic Swedish patterns “Perssons Kryddhylla” created by Astrid Sampe, one of my absolute favourites in the history of Scandinavian design. She won reputation for the interior design of the Swedish pavilion on the World Exhibition in Paris 1937 as well as for being the head of the Nordiska Kompaniets textile design department (Textilkammaren) where she remained from 1938 until 1971. In 1954 she launched a new textile collection “Signed Textile” from twelve of the most famous designers at the time such as Stig Lindberg, Anders Beckman, Sven Markelius and Viola Gråsten to mention a few. The purpose was to improve the status of textile design as an art form by letting the designers sign their work. Remember that the copyright regulations were still neglected and that most textiles before this time had anonymous creators. You might say that Sampe was the first one to acknowledge the pattern designers and use their names in a prominent position in the marketing strategy. After retiring from Nordiska Kompaniet, she established her own studio in Stockholm where she created her most beloved patterns as “Perssons kryddhylla”, “Fina Fisken” and “Bagare Boll” for Ljungberg Factory. And this leads us back to my shopping in Uniqlo yesterday… Uniqlo brand themselves with unique cooperations and this spring there’s a line of T-shirts created with patterns from the Ljungberg Factory! An unlikely and nostalgic meeting with a Swedish icon!
Viola Gråsten (1910-2002)
Just the name of this pattern – Oomph. Sooo cool! Such a name make you curious of the creator. This is what I know… In 1947 Astrid Sampe managed to recruit a very special designer to Nordiska Kompaniet. Her name was Viola Gråsten and she came to Sweden from Finland in 1944 to work in an atelier for rug carpets, something she would later be very known for. She loved working with wool but in Nordiska Kompaniet she also designed prints in her own very special colourways known as “Gråstens-colours”. She used “forbidden” combinations such as orange/cerise or blue/green. She left Sampe in 1956 to become the artistic leader of fashion textiles at Mölnlycke, another textile producer, but until then she created iconic patterns as Oomph, Tuulipu and Festivo which was a part of Sampe’s “Signed Textile”-collection (see above). She retired in 1973 and there is not much information about her since she had no relatives. But she will always be remembered being a designer ahead of her time! Oomph!!!
This is just four of a bunch fabulous female designers and I will certainly cover a few more of them in upcoming posts! Happy weekend from Dot Oddity!