Ethel Halvar Andersson Rugs
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Ethel Halvar Andersson – (born 1917 and died on 2011) was one of the most productive and accomplished textile designers and artisan weavers from Sweden’s Värmland region. Andersson is highly regarded within Sweden and Värmland County for her work with textiles, fabrics and carpets. Born in 1917 near Lake Vänern and the village of Kristinehamn, Andersson began her studies in design at age 17 enrolling at the prestigious Konstfack in Stockholm, a university dedicated to arts and crafts. During her celebrated career, Andersson drafted more than 1,000 original designs for carpets, textiles and upholstery fabrics. Her works include but are not limited to ecclesiastical textiles featured in regional churches and religious sanctuaries and bold geometric carpets that combine whimsical folk-art influences with sharp Art Deco lines.
Active during the mid-twentith century, Ethel Halvar Andersson worked with the Värmlands Hemslöjd or handcraft society and Värmland County Arts for fifteen years. She was also actively involved with Skövde Arts and handcraft societies in Jönköping County, which are both located in Southern Sweden. During her long and productive career, Andersson created in impressive number of diverse area rug and textile designs ranging from medieval-inspired prints and elegant damasks to modern carpets and flat-woven Röllakan with designs that hover between Art Deco and mid-century modern. Locally and globally, Andersson has created an independent legacy and a grand body of work spanning many styles.
Ethel Halvarsson’s Origins and Textile Journey
Born in 1917 in Kristinehamn, Värmland, a picturesque town nestled near the northern end of Lake Vänern, Ethel Halvarsson’s story began. Positioned equidistantly between Stockholm and Oslo, the town’s geographical influence is woven into Ethel’s creative tapestry.
At the tender age of 17, Ethel embarked on her artistic voyage by enrolling at Tekniska Skolan, now known as Konstfack, located in Stockholm. Her chosen path led her into the realm of textiles. The culmination of her studies came in 1938 or ’39, marked by her graduation. Following this academic achievement, Ethel embarked on a European exploration, venturing to Germany and Italy. Fuelled by her newfound experiences, she stepped into the role of a junior designer with the Jönköping County Craft Association (Jönköping läns hemslöjd). From August 1939 to the summer of 1942, she dedicated her creative energies to JLH. Life’s chapters took her down the aisle, and during her marital years, she adopted the name Ethel Halvar-Andersson. However, by 1949, as her marital journey concluded, her maiden name, Halvarsson, once again graced her identity.
Ethel’s artistic narrative unfurled across the years, as she embarked on an enriching voyage through various County Craft Associations. Her talents stretched beyond rugs, encompassing the realms of damask weaves, embroidery projects, and intricate church textiles. An impressive testament to her creativity, she amassed a portfolio of approximately 1000 distinct textile designs. Later, she transitioned into the role of an esteemed educator at the local high school, KPS. Within the scope of this discourse, our focus rests upon Ethel Halvarsson’s designs for the Jönköping County Craft Association.
A recurring theme threads through the rugs Ethel crafted for the Jönköping County Craft Association—a garden motif. These designs often abstractly mirror gridded garden plots. It’s noteworthy that gridded garden designs are woven into the tapestry of numerous traditional Persian rug types, such as Bakhtiari, Kerman, and Heriz. Within the Islamic faith, gardens are often symbolic of paradise, as defined by the Quran. Hence, rugs crafted in the Islamic world often incorporate these allegorical designs. These rugs frequently feature four quadrants divided by watercourses or “bird’s eye” perspectives of gridded gardens, where water and lush trees reign supreme.
In the Swedish context, the perception of gardens as paradisiacal realms or water-rich havens diverges from the Islamic symbolism. However, Sweden’s short growing season fosters a deep appreciation for each flora’s fleeting beauty. Thus, it’s no surprise that Swedish rug designers breathed life into these ancient garden designs, tailoring them to their own cultural sensibilities. The allure of gridded gardens, in particular, resonated throughout the 20th century among Swedish rug designers. Märta Måås-Fjetterstöm’s vibrant area rugs, celebrated in exhibitions and museums, set a template, inspiring subsequent Swedish variations, including Halvarsson’s creations. While Måås-Fjetterstöm’s designs exuded color and integrated traditional Swedish weaving motifs, her grid patterns held a distinct irregularity, occasionally embracing a patchwork arrangement.
Ethel Halvarsson’s Artistry in Garden-Inspired Rugs
Ethel Halvarsson’s creative prowess extended to an array of rug types, encompassing rya, half-rya, pile (“flossa”), and flat-weave (“rölakan”). Her design approach often allowed room for versatility, with instances where she seemed to offer choices regarding the weave to be used for specific designs. Rooted in the prevailing style of the 1930s and ’40s, she frequently employed multiple concentric borders of varying widths. Within her garden-themed rugs, she deftly harnessed the power of color transitions and diverse patterns to signify both vertical and horizontal divisions within the garden plots. Unlike the Måås-Fjetterstöm prototypes, Ethel’s rugs displayed a more regular grid structure. Her designs span a spectrum, with some exhibiting detailed realism while others embrace a more fluid and abstract quality. Although one might speculate that her designs evolved over time towards greater abstraction, the absence of precise dates on all her sketches prevents us from confirming this trajectory.
Inscribing her own sketches, Ethel Halvarsson often marked them with a lowercase “eh,” occasionally appending the year of creation. Her titles were frequently rendered in a stylized, slightly enlarged font, a distinctive feature that sets her drawings apart from those of her contemporaries at Jönköping.
Halvarsson’s creative talents weren’t confined solely to rugs; she also showcased her aptitude in fabric design. Throughout her tenure at the Craft Association, her contributions extended beyond rugs to encompass fabric creations, cushions, and various textile products. It is plausible that she also lent her artistic touch to the crafting of church textiles.
An intriguing entry in Halvarsson’s repertoire emerges from 1940—a sketch depicting a blue and white rya rug with the enigmatic annotation, “Rya and garden fabric in wool or rayon.” This title hints at the versatility of the garden pattern she conceptualized, intended to grace both rugs and, perhaps, complementary fabric in rayon (“konstsilke”). While the forms of stalks and leaves in her garden motifs are discernibly rendered, her depiction of flowers leans towards abstraction, manifested through circles adorned with dots, hashes, and crosses.