This month, the National Hall at the Swedish Royal Palace saw the conclusion of a year-long exhibition dedicated to celebrating the pioneering work of Marta Maas, the ultimate rug weaver of the Scandinavians.
With over 50 pieces on display, including some items from the Royal Collection and others from several private collections, the unique colours and exquisite designs of Maas were brought to the attention of visitors of the exhibition. The thoroughly hand-made work was initiated with the launch of the first atelier that Maas started in her town of Bastad back in 1919, where she worked until she passed away in 1941 in her late 60s.
And as Maas would have said and hoped, the experience of looking at her rugs is never just about appreciating the skilful artwork that she so patiently and passionately produced, but it is also about knowing who Mass really was – for she believed that carpets talk and tell the stories of their makers.
The story of the Marta Maas legendary rug-making project started at the end of World War I, when Sweden was pursuing the long but inevitably attainable path of being a welfare state, no matter the limited resources.
The hard work and innovation of Swedish men and women was the most crucial element in securing this target. Maas is one of many who came forward to get real work done.
The launch of her atelier was small scale. In her mid-40s, Maas recruited the clever hands of five women. With business skills that matched her artistic talent, she was fast to expand the atelier into a larger scale workshop with some 20 women and later into a factory with a few dozen women weavers.
Between 1919 and 1941, Maas herself produced around 700 pieces – each of which is a unique work of art with exceptional attention to detail and colour combination. Ever so effortlessly, she produced patterns that are naturalistic, abstract, complex and simplistic all at the same time.
A few years after her death, the factory that Maas started moved, in 1948, from its original location to a house that was designed by the architects Ivan and Andres Tengbom, where it still resides today.
Apart from the year-long exhibition that started on 13 October 2019 and ended on 4 October this year, the works of Maas can be found in many leading world museums, including The Victoria and Albert Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Louvre, Trondheim’s Museum in Norway, The National Museum in Stockholm, among many others.
For the Swedish, Maas is not only a remarkable artist who had an indelible imprint on the industry of rug-weaving the world over, she is also a pioneering entrepreneur whose own story is part of the very story of ambition and success that this Nordic country takes pride in.
*A version of this article appeared in the September issue El Beit Magazine.