Elisabet Hasselberg-Olsson was a textile artist, perhaps best known for the so-called Riksväven, Minnet av ett landskap, that has since 1983 hung in the Swedish Parliament.
Elisabet Hasselberg-Olsson was born in 1932 and grew up in a middle-class home in Gothenburg. After her marriage to John Olsson, an architect and sculptor from Hässleholm, in 1956, she acquired a more significant relationship to both Skåne and Stockholm, to which the couple moved and where their daughter Anna was born in in 1957. It was when they were living as newly-weds in lodgings in the home of the textile designer Elsa Gullberg that Elisabet Hasselberg-Olsson started weaving. She was eventually able to start exhibiting her work in the shop Elsa Gullbergs Textil och Inredningar AB in Regeringsgatan in Stockholm. She had her first separate exhibition in a gallery in 1965, and the same year, Nationalmuseum purchased one of her works.
Elisabet Hasselberg-Olsson was completely self-taught as a textile artist. She established herself rapidly in an art world in which textile art in general and weaving in particular were being used by more and more artists, especially women. From the end of the 1960s and during the whole of the 1970s, established traditional art forms like painting and sculpture were questioned. Photography, performance and textiles stood for the new, pioneering and untested. Despite the fact that many contemporary women textile artists like Sandra Ikse and Maria Adlercreutz were working with politically inspired themes, Elisabet Hasselberg-Olsson chose another path.
Her woven art works are certainly figurative, with their realistically pictured natural motifs and sparingly depicted indoor surroundings, but they never contain people and seldom any details typical of the times. Even so, her artistic expression is clearly stamped by the trends of the era: photographic realism and the preference of postmodern art for ambivalence — as in the many woven works in which a rag rug, with its fringe hanging in the middle of the work, is actually the motif. To depict a woven work with a woven work became a way of effectively marking an ironic distance to the claims of art history and its educational ideals, while bestowing upon the traditionally based weaving techniques a modern, conceptual form of address.
Elisabet Hasselberg-Olsson started her career as an artist in the mid-1960s, a period when the building sector was expanding greatly. Textile art was in demand not only for all the new public environments like hospitals, schools and university buildings, but also for companies and in the new suburban church buildings. Many considered that her woven art works with meditative natural themes in grey scales and earthy colours were perfectly suited to quiet rooms for worship as well as large auditoria and exclusive head offices. Orders streamed in.
Simultaneously, she participated in several group exhibitions, among others the recurrent thematic Ting och bruksting that was shown in several places in Sweden at the beginning of the 1970s. She had separate exhibitions at the Form/Design Center in Malmö and the Swedish Institute in Paris. She participated in Fri textil at the Lunds konsthall in 1973 and with Helena Hernmarck and Maria Triller in 1976 participated in Nationalmuseum’s Tre temperament i väv. Since collective exhibitions of Swedish textile art started touring internationally from the mid-1970s, her woven goods were shown in Canada, France, Germany, the USA and Japan.
When a new chamber was built during the renovation of the Parliament building in Stockholm, a competition was announced in 1981 for a work of textile art to cover the wall behind the speaker. In competition with more established textile artists such as Kaisa Melanton, Ulla Schumacher-Percy and Maria Triller, Elisabet Hasselberg-Olsson’s suggestion Minnet av ett landskap won, and was woven at the association Handarbetets Vänner in Stockholm by the weavers Barbro Gren and Emiko Uematsu. The work, with its suggestively lit archipelago landscape, is in three sections and measures almost ten times five metres in its entirety. On account of its situation, it is sometimes known as Riksväven, and is probably the Swedish work of art that has been shown most times on TV.
Elisabet Hasselberg-Olsson worked on this project, as she always did, in flax. People from all over Sweden, mainly women, contributed to the work by sending material to the artist. Minnet av ett landskap is therefore woven in flax thread of different ages and character that in a way also mirrors symbolically the country’s population — the people whom the parliamentary members represent.
The years that followed after 1983, when the work was installed in the chamber, she confirmed her position as a nationally known artist with separate exhibitions at Västerbotten Museum, Södertälje konsthall and Borås konstmuseum. She was awarded the Prins Eugen medal and the Täby municipality culture prize. What turned out to be Elisabet Hasselberg-Olsson’s last great solo exhibition was shown in 1993 at Prins Eugen’s Waldemarsudde in Stockholm.
Elisabet Hasselberg-Olsson died in Täby in 2012.