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.
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Weaving Lessons: Ruth Ingvarsson’s Manuscripts

Among the treasures in Cranbrook Archives is a manuscript that, although I can’t read anything written inside, is one of my favorite things at Cranbrook. Bound in handwoven cloth by the author herself, the cover hints at what’s inside. This is Ruth Ingvarsson’s weaving book.

Ruth Ingvarsson’s weaving manuscript, hand-bound in a cloth cover of her own design and execution, ca. 1932-1935. Rigid Swedish-style counterbalanced loom depicted on the front, “R I” on reverse. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

One of two manuscripts written in Swedish and assembled by Ingvarsson between 1932 and 1935, each of the more than 100 pages discuss different weave structures, materials, patterns, and techniques. Who was Ingvarsson, and how did these treasures end up at Cranbrook?

Rut “Ruth” Elisabeth Ingvarsson was born on October 1, 1897 in Glemminge, Skäne, Sweden. Like many Scandinavian girls, she learned weaving first from her mother and then at school, graduating from the Glemminge Folkskola in 1918. In 1922, Ingvarsson began studies at the celebrated weaving studio of Märta Måås-Fjetterström in Båstad, Sweden.

Ingvarsson continued working for Måås-Fjetterström until 1928, learning technical skills including knotted pile rya or flossa weaves, rölakan flatweave, and a discontinuous (or supplemental) weft style of tapestry weaving known as the MMF technique. Under Måås-Fjetterström, Ingvarsson developed great skill painting watercolor sketches on graph paper in the popular “Swedish Grace” (or “Swedish Modern”) style. She also befriended another young weaver, Lillian Holm, who entered into the Måås-Fjetterström studio in 1926.

Watercolor of a rug design in the “Swedish Grace” style by Ruth Ingvarsson in her untitled manuscript on weaving, ca. 1932-1935. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

In late 1929, Ruth Ingvarsson and Lillian Holm immigrated to America to start work that December at Studio Loja Saarinen, Cranbrook’s weaving workshop. Here, Ingvarsson executed designs from Loja herself and other members of the Saarinen family, as well as designs by the Studio’s shop supervisor and prominent Swedish weaving expert Maja Andersson Wirde.

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Transcontinental Threads: Maja Andersson Wirde

One of my favorite parts of my job as an archivist is assisting researchers with locating materials in our collections. Often times a scholar will visit here with a set plan for their research project, and pre-conceived ideas about what they might find here or how the materials in our collections will support their thinking. One of my personal pleasures is when the researcher finds something new or surprising in our collections that changes their course of action. This is exciting on many levels – for them as well as for me!

In August 2015, Swedish author Marie Andersson visited Cranbrook to study the work of the Swedish weaver Maja Andersson Wirde (no relation) in preparation for a monograph on the life and work of Wirde at the request of Wirde’s family. Wirde (1873-1952), an accomplished weaver and textile designer, was asked by Loja Saarinen to come to Cranbrook in 1929 and oversee the operation of Studio Loja Saarinen which was established to design and produce all of the textiles for Kingswood School Cranbrook. As many researchers before her, Marie Andersson found her visit to Cranbrook Archives to be a revelation, and she recently wrote to me that “the Cranbrook chapter became an important part of the book, much more than I thought before I visited you.”

Maja Andersson Wirde (standing) with Loja Saarinen, Studio Loja Saarinen, ca 1930. Detroit News photograph, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Maja Andersson Wirde (standing) with Loja Saarinen, Studio Loja Saarinen, ca 1930. Detroit News photograph, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Prior to coming to Cranbrook, Maja Andersson Wirde had been employed by Handarbetes Vänner (The Friends of Handicraft) in Stockholm from 1907-1929. Her textile designs were represented in international exhibitions including Stockholm (1909 and 1930), Malmo (1914), Gothenburg (1923), and Paris (1925). However, according to Marie Andersson, Wirde’s “time spent at Cranbrook must be looked upon as the most important period” in Wirde’s life as an artist, and she created some of her most significant work while here.

So, what did Marie discover at Cranbrook Archives? Comparing photographs and documents from our collections with images of watercolor sketches from museums and archives in Sweden, Marie and I spent two days of “fantastic co-operation” in order to uncover the extent of Wirde’s contribution to the history of textiles at Cranbrook, particularly Kingswood School.

Watercolour sketch by Maja Wirde (1873-1952), Collection of Smålands Museum, Växjö, Sweden.

Watercolour sketch by Maja Wirde (1873-1952), Collection of Smålands Museum, Växjö, Sweden.

The rug for Reception Room III (Rose Lounge) in situ, Kingswood School, 1932. George Hance, photographer, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The rug for Reception Room III (Rose Lounge) in situ, Kingswood School, 1932. George Hance, photographer, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Prior to Marie’s visit, Wirde was known for her work as the shop supervisor at Studio Loja Saarinen, the weaving instructor at Kingswood School, and for her designs for several rugs and textiles for Kingswood School, including the fabric for the dining hall chairs and most notably, the large rug for the Green Lobby. However, Loja Saarinen was given credit for the rest. Now, Cranbrook can tell a more inclusive story – for we discovered that it was Maja Andersson Wirde who designed the majority of the textiles for Kingswood School – eleven rugs for lobby/reception halls, all of the curtains and rugs for the dormitory rooms, as well as curtains for the dining hall, study hall, and library! In addition, she designed rugs for the Academy of Art, Saarinen House, and George Booth’s Cranbrook Foundation Office.

While the book, “Trådar ur ett liv: textilkonstnären Maja Andersson Wirde” was published pirmarily in Swedish, there is a translation of the chapter on Cranbrook in the back, and the book features numerous images from Cranbrook Archives. We are so excited to be able to tell a more comprehensive story not only about the objects in our care, but also a key individual in our rich history.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

 

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