Texture, Hue & Pattern

Jeffrey Head

During her tenure as the Creative Director of Märta Måås-Fjetterström AB, from 1942 to 1970, Barbro Nilsson developed an exceptional use of color in combination with dozens of original patterns. As a designer and weaver, her command of the textile arts was technical, hands-on, and aesthetic. While Nilsson’s use of Rölakan, a traditional Swedish weaving method, was well established at the studio, she advanced the technique, setting a precedence for what was possible. Rölakan, also known as a flat weave—interlocking method, lent itself to geometrical forms with inlays. Nilsson made special use of the weave’s slits and diagonals, creating more of a relationship between color, shape and form. This is most immediately visible with the background and foreground of her textile designs. The effect becomes an almost three-dimensional illusion, with multiple planes of depth, although diagramed and then constructed in a flat, two-dimensional layout. The detail and finesse is more suggestive of needle work than a large hand-operated weaving loom.

Nilsson’s color palette was both vibrant and subtle. New and artful color combinations appeared, further enhancing a pattern’s visual texture. To achieve such results, multiple colors of wool yarn, at times nearly imperceptible, were often blended into one. This reinforced Nilsson’s imaginative compositions and themes which were most often tied to nature. Whether the subjects of her pattern were flowers, blueberries, seashells, or seaweed the effect she produced was an aesthetic comfort, with a calming, rhythmic repetition. Nilsson’s expressive designs help define the interior space in which they are placed and also provide connection to the outdoors.

The origin of the Salerno pattern is unusual because it commemorates a historical event, albeit in a stylized, highly interpretative way. In 1947 a plane accident involving the Swedish Air Force occurred near Salerno, Italy. Inspired by the international event, Nilsson created the design which was presented to the Archbishop for the Salerno Chapel, in gratitude for the care given to the Swedish crew. The pattern is generally considered to be an abstract, symbolic representation of an aircraft. Another perspective, given Nilsson’s affinity toward nature, is seeing the pattern as a coastline with small color accents representing boats or sparkles of water. Especially since the Salerno pattern was first done in blue. The Salerno pattern was also available in brown, grey, and red.

Early examples of the Salerno carpet were commissioned by: The Scandinavian Bank (Malmo), The Swedish American Line (Gothenburg), The Swedish Embassy in Brussels, Belgium and clothing manufacturer Hj. Söderberg (Uppsala). The design was also scaled for residential use shortly after its introduction in 1948. A number of variations evolved from Nilsson’s original pattern, further highlighting the dynamic adaptability of the pattern’s intricacies while ensuring its beauty.

Barbro Nilsson 1899–1983

Barbro Nilsson was born in 1899 in Malmö, Sweden and was a skilled, passionate and intuitive weaver, creating works deeply rooted in the folk traditions of Sweden that were also radical in their sheer exuberance and technical feat. The daughter of Swedish architect and designer Erik Lundberg, she went studied at the Brunssons Vävskola and Tekniska School in Stockholm (now known as Konstfackskolan). From 1934 to 1947, Nilsson taught at Konstfackskolan, Stockholm (University of College of Arts, Crafts, and Design) and later served as the head of the school’s textile department.

In 1942, Nilsson became the artistic director and chief designer at the Märta Måås-Fjetterström workshop where she continued the studio's tradition of high quality craftsmanship and creative fervor. She created many flatweave, pile and tapestry-woven carpets for Märta Måås-Fjetterström. Her designs often feature nature-inspired patterns with an emphasis on color, the subtle variations in hue enlivening her works. Barbro Nilsson died in 1983 and her textile designs continue to be highly coveted by decorative art collectors.

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Auction Results Barbro Nilsson

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