Friday, July 31, 2009

the Stobo Company

This design by Al Eklund, produced for the Swedish company Stobo in 1958, is called Fagelbur. The design is made up of a vast number of seemingly random crossed and overlapping lines. This rough lattice pattern could well be a representation of the weaving technique used to produce fabric, and with the design being reproduced on a coarse and fairly rough woven linen, it is as if the pattern is copying, or even reinterpreting the base fabric. However, when the Swedish name of the textile is translated into English as Birdcage, the design takes on a different connotation as it could then be interpreted as the latticed bars of a birdcage, or perhaps it could be seen that the oval motifs are the birdcages, with the rest of the pattern taking inspiration from these motifs. In other words the design is open for interpretation and reinterpretation.

Eklund produced a number of textile designs for Stobo during the 1950s that were very similar in style to Fagelbur. Many took on the same monotone and dense appearance, so that they tended to appear as brooding abstract canvasses, rather than as interior furnishing fabrics.

Eklund was in fact a graphic designer, who was commissioned by Gota Tragardh, the then artistic director of Stobo, to produce a range of contemporary and hopefully uncompromising textile design work for the company. Along with a number of other carefully chosen leading Swedish artists and designers from a variety of disciplines, Tragardh hoped to make a name for the company nationally and more importantly internationally, by pushing Stobo into the cutting edge of 1950s textile design. To achieve this she encouraged her commissioned artists and designers to approach the textile medium with a fresh and uncluttered outlook and with a minimum of preconceptions of what a textile design should be.

She largely succeeded, as the work produced during this period for Stobo was some of the most innovative and uncompromising textile design work on offer anywhere in the world. The fact that Stobo itself did not survive the 1960s is a shame, but sometimes a company or a set of designers can be a little too ahead of their time and can only be appreciated with a little hindsight.

Fifty years on, which is more than enough time for hindsight to kick in, the textile design work commissioned by Tragardh, like Eklund's and the general output of Stobo, must be seen as some of the most inspirational and innovative work achieved during the 1950s. A decade which in itself was a period that was no stranger to inspirational and innovative design work from any number of disciplines.

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