Traditions from the Weavers

Does your family have a certain pose that they always do for a family picture? My cousins and I always had to stand or sit by the same log at our cottage each summer to get a group picture. Even when the log had disintegrated, and we were all adults, we still stood in the same spot to take the picture.

The Swedish weavers of Studio Loja Saarinen were the same way. After every rug was completed, they would unroll it behind the studio, lay it on the lawn, and pose at the end. This not only documented their work, but also served as a record of who worked on each piece. In Cranbrook Archives, we have a few examples of these images.

Cranbrook Academy of Art Rug No. 14

This rug lay in the center of the Studio Loja Saarinen Weaving Room. A flatwoven rug with stylized meanders in the border, and an elegant color scheme of dark browns, blues, and beiges, in form, structure, color, and design it shows the contemporary style of Swedish weaving that would become the foundation of Studio Loja Saarinen’s work.

Cranbrook Academy of Art Rug No. 14, designed by Maja Andersson Wirde and woven by Lillian Holm for Studio Loja Saarinen, 1930. CAM 1955.2. Photographer James Haefner.

This was one of the first rugs executed under the “Design and Supervision” of Maja Andersson Wirde, who was Loja’s right-hand-woman from 1930 to 1933. The rug is actually a variation of a design Wirde made for the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris (the “Art Deco” World’s Fair).

When Wirde wrote to Cranbrook’s secretary from Sweden before immigrating, she said she would bring along prepared designs and wool and linen yarns to be able to get started right away. She certainly did! Below, you can see Wirde and possibly Lillian Holm and Ruth Ingvarsson holding up the rug behind Studio Loja Saarinen just months after their arrival to Cranbrook.

Studio Loja Saarinen weavers with Rug No. 14 behind the Cranbrook Arts and Crafts Studios, 1930. Courtesy Smålands Museum, Sweden.

Kingswood School Cranbrook Study Hall Rug

Another excellent rug and weaver photograph combination: the enormous Study Hall Rug, which featured abstract representations of all the Cranbrook Institutions knotted into its orange, red, purple, and brown geometric design.

Kingswood School Cranbrook Study Hall Rug, designed by Maja Andersson Wirde for Studio Loja Saarinen, 1931
The weavers from Studio Loja Saarinen sit on the Academy lawn at the end of the Kingswood School Cranbrook Study Hall Rug, 1931. The designer, Maja Andersson Wirde, is third from the right. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Kingswood School Cranbrook, Rug No. 31

Commissioned by the Cranbrook Foundation in 1931 for the reception hall between the dining hall and the auditorium at Kingswood School (known as the Rose Lobby), Rug No. 31 was woven on the largest of the Studio Loja Saarinen looms, which had a width of twelve feet.

Kingswood School Rug No. 31, design attributed to Loja Saarinen, 1931. KS 1931.15. Photographer James Haefner.
Studio Loja Saarinen weavers Elizabeth Edmark, Marie Bexell, Peggy Broberg, and Gerda Nyberg at a twelve foot loom, circa 1931. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

It originally had one foot of fringe on each end, which was worn off with daily use over the years. The pattern of this rug is sympathetic to the design of the lobby and mimics patterns in the ceiling light fixtures, curtains that originally hung in the lobby, and of course, the architecture of Kingswood. The colors reflected the rose of the dining hall and the grays of the auditorium.

The rug on the lawn was designed by Loja Saarinen for the Reception Hall, also known as the Rose Lobby, at Kingswood School Cranbrook. The Swedish weavers are (second from left): Lillian Holm, (far right): Ruth Ingvarsson. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Here at the Center, we also love tradition! While filming on set at Kingswood for our upcoming documentary, Room for a Lady: Loja Saarinen at Cranbrook, Center Curator Kevin Adkisson and Center Collections Fellow Nina Blomfield channeled the weavers when we returned the rug to the Rose Lobby. “Weavers’ pose!” was all I had to say and they got right into position.

Kingswood School Rug No. 31, also known as the Rose Lobby Rug, 2022. Recreating the weavers’ poses are Center Curator Kevin Adkisson and 2021-2023 Decorative Arts Trust Marie Zimmermann Collections Fellow Nina Blomfield. Photographer Leslie Mio.

Leslie Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research with Kevin Adkisson, Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

The Center is rolling out the red carpet for the virtual world premiere of our film Room for a Lady: Loja Saarinen at Cranbrook on May 21, 2022!

You’re invited to be our guest and experience the Center’s new film Room for a Lady: Loja Saarinen at Cranbrook, in your own home. Written and directed by Curator Kevin Adkisson and produced by Vince Chavez and Elkhorn Entertainment, the thirty-five minute documentary shares the story of Loja Saarinen: her roots in sculpture and modelmaking in Finland; her enterprising weaving workshop at Cranbrook, Studio Loja Saarinen; and her accomplishments in design and landscape gardening.

Through high-definition cinematography of Studio Loja Saarinen textiles, archival images and family home movies, and new interviews with her family and Cranbrook experts, the Center will illuminate Loja Saarinen’s contributions to the Cranbrook vision in a whole new way! 

Guest experts in the film include Loja’s grandsons Robert Saarinen Swanson and Eric Saarinen; internationally renowned fiber artist Gerhardt Knodel, who also headed the Academy’s Fiber Department and served as the Academy’s seventh director; and Lynn Bennett Carpenter, head of the Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School Fiber Department.

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