Monday, 27 September 2010

Maja Sjostrom Tapestry

Illustration: Maja Sjostrom. Tapestry design, c1905.

This excellent example of early twentieth century Swedish tapestry design was produced by Maja Sjostrom in about 1905. Sjostrom produced various forms of woven textile and tapestry work over more than a twenty year period in Sweden itself, before moving to Italy in 1924. Along with work of a more personal nature she was also involved in publicly commissioned pieces that included textile work produced for the Council Hall within the Stockholm City Hall building which was started in 1911 but not completed until 1923.

Sjostrom was involved with, and was a firm supporter of the Handarbetets Vanner movement in Sweden, which was a form of textile hand craft support founded in 1874 very much with similar ideals to the various European Arts & Crafts movements. It is still very much in existence today supporting textile hand crafted work, along with their makers through a series of various support methods including an educational training course.
The tapestry shown here is typical of Swedish work produced during the period which runs from the very beginning of the twentieth century up to and including the First World War in which Sweden remained neutral. Superficially the work does have certain similarities to aspects of the international Art Nouveau movement, a shallow stylised graphic dimension and an emphasis on ambience and manner, rather than observational detail. These similarities at least draws attention to aspects of the huge output of illustrative and graphic work produced across Europe during this period. 

However, this piece, along with a high proportion of tapestry work produced during this period across the entire Scandinavian region from Finland to Norway, has definite and some would say even a defined nature to the stylised compositional landscapes, many set within woods, glades and lakes. It would appear that this defined style separates Swedish tapestry work in particular but Scandinavian in general, from the rest of Europe, making Sjostrom's work part of a unique understanding and interpretation of her immediate natural environment that was obviously such an important part of the Scandinavian makeup.

The natural world is reflected in a different form from that say of the English Arts & Crafts movement, which relied very much on an intimate observation of nature. William Morris produced prodigious amounts of textile work showing the tranquil details of English flora and fauna, and even tapestry work tended towards an intimacy with nature. Sjostrom's tapestry piece on the other hand, very much gives the impression of the mystery of the natural world. A world fuelled by spirits and myths that was a rich compositional and narrative theme across the entire Scandinavian region and was the subject of many tapestry pieces before, during and after this period.

These landscape compositions are also imbued with traditional Swedish interpretations of both nature and woven textiles themselves. In some respect artists and designers such as Sjostrom, were continuing the traditions of weave and craft that were seen very much at the time, as they are today, as part of a continuing cultural heritage that not only had to be preserved, but kept alive by integrating textile crafts within the contemporary world. To be able to reflect the ambience of that contemporary world without losing the identity that the traditional methods produced is a very fine balance and very difficult to achieve. That Sweden, with artists and designers like Maja Sjostrom, were able to achieve this balance, producing work that was relatively harmonious, appearing as if a natural progression of Swedish tradition, which in fact it was, is a testament to the many talented textile artists produced by Sweden during this period.

Reference links:
Handarbetets vanner och konstnarerna (Liljevalchs katalog) (Swedish Edition)
Swedish Textile Art
33 Contemporary Swedish Weaving Patterns for Monk's Cloth
The Big Book of Weaving: Handweaving in the Swedish Tradition: Techniques, Patterns, Designs and Materials
Swedish Weaving/Huck Embroidery Designs Book 2
SWEDISH TEXTILE ART: Traditional Marriage Weavings from Scania (The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Swedish Textile Art)
Swedish Weaving,
The Treasure Chest of Swedish Weaving
Swedish Hand Weaving
Weave Structures The Swedish Way - Volume 1
Dress Your Loom The Swedish Way an In-depth Study of Time Honored Techniques
Glimakra Emilia Rigid Heddle 13" Swedish Table Weaving Loom

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