State-supported crafts seem like a dream to most of us. In these challenging economic times, arts organizations struggle to stay funded and afloat themselves, much less to support individual artisans. But beginning in the mid-19th century, the Swedish government funded textile arts programs, ensuring that the country’s long tradition of hand weaving would continue and that design influences like Art Deco and Art Nouveau wouldn’t overshadow Sweden’s historic weaving patterns and motifs.
The programs meant that rural women could learn to weave and earn an income while doing so. One of them was award-winning rug weaver Märta Måås-Fjetterström, who in 1905, at the age of 32, was named director of a weaving workshop in Malmo. The purpose of these workshops was to preserve traditional designs, but Måås-Fjetterström wanted to create her own — and her insistence on innovation led to her being fired in 1911.
In 1919 she started her own studio and designed textiles for the home, which were woven by women in Malmo district. Her designs reflected Swedish traditions, including a nod to nature and the colors and light of summer, but also incorporated elements of the Oriental rugs she studied. These innovative designs stood out in an era when tradition reigned, as well as because few women were designing at the time. In the next decade her work was exhibited at the Paris Expo and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1934, when she was more than 60 years old, she had a major show of her work in Stockhholm and Swedish art critics took notice.
Måås-Fjetterström died in 1941, but left more than 700 designs, as well as instructions for their creation. Her workshop paved the way for other innovative women designers, including Barbo Nilsson, Marianne Richter, Ann-Mari Forsberg, and others. Each new designer built on Måås-Fjetterström’s work, while bringing her own aesthetic to the workshop. Rugs with the initials of these innovative designers woven into the corner continue to be sought after by collectors and interior designers alike. And the support provided by the Swedish government for crafts workers meant that people with an interest in weaving could make a living while learning the art, ensuring a high level of professionalism and skill. As noted by Kim Hostler of Hostler Burrows in an article in the June 2011 Elle Décor, “Because of socialism, people didn’t have to worry about whether they could afford good schools or health care. If they loved a craft, they could afford to pursue it and still have a decent quality of life.”
Rugs are still woven by hand at Märta Måås-Fjetterström AB studio. A combination of tradition and innovation continues, as well: wool is dyed using recipes collected by Märta Måås-Fjetterström and Barbo Nilsson, and each year the company names a Swedish textile artist MMF Artist of the Year and produces one copy of a rug of their design. The company started by a headstrong Swedish weaver melds the imagery and skill of the country’s textile history with the vision and innovation of today’s artists.
Do you think state-supported crafts could produce skilled craftsmen and women today?