Anna Thulin was a drawing instructor, an illustrator, and a designer. She was one of a series of women who contributed to making pewter a popular modern element of interior design.
Anna Thulin was born in Lund in 1904. Her father Emil Thulin had worked at Helsingborgs högre allmänna läroverk (advanced general school) and then become acting principal of Folkskoleseminariet in Lund. Just as he began his research as a postgraduate in theology he was appointed pastor, first in Södra Mellby and then in Vitaby and, from 1910, in Ingelstorp and Valleberga. The family resided at the Ingelstorp parsonage, a sizable building constructed with Scanian red bricks. Anna Thulin grew up there with her parents and her three siblings.
Given the family’s already established academic tradition, it was no surprise that three of the four children trained to become teachers. Anna Thulin also displayed an artistic inclination from an early age. On her graduation certificate from Ystads högre läroverk för flickor (advanced school for girls) she was awarded the grade “med utmärkt beröm godkänd” (passed with great credit), the second highest mark possible, for her “drawing aptitude”. In 1923 she began her training as a drawing instructor at Högre konstindustriella skolan (now known as Konstfack, college of arts, crafts, and design). She was in the school’s other main section, the training department for teachers of drawing and penmanship.
Anna Thulin’s training was provided by several established Swedish artists and sculptors, including Carl Kjellin and the sculptor Herman Neujd. Anna Thulin was taught how to make models, work in plaster, and “wood-cutting” by the sculptor Gustav Malmström. Both Gustav Malmström and Anna Thulin later worked as designers for Ystads Metallindustri.
The drawing instructor course was varied and lasted for three years. Anna Thulin studied perspectives, penmanship, textile art, art history, porcelain painting and drawing for the applied arts. Her grades and instructors’ reports suggest that she was well-liked by her teachers and she was commended for her diligence and behaviour. The Konstfack archives contain a watercolour signed Anna Thulin which is a typical student still life piece comprising an apple, a towel, and a pewter beaker. Upon receiving her final qualifications in 1926 she was also awarded a minor stipend.
At the age of 22 Anna Thulin settled in Ingelstorp near her parents and siblings. Despite being fully qualified she found it difficult to get a job. Notices in the daily press from 1926 reveal that Anna Thulin worked in several schools, usually only as a temporary substitute teacher. It is highly likely that this was how Ystads Metallindustri (later known as Ystad-Metall) appeared on her horizon. In addition to gaining purely artistic perspectives Anna Thulin’s Stockholm studies had given her a broad understanding of production processes in the applied arts. Thus, probably already in the autumn following her graduation, Anna Thulin began to work for Ystads Metallindustri, a company which since its inception in 1919 had produced items in copper, brass, bronze and – from 1923 onwards – in pewter. At that time Idoff Göransson, the general manager, was in the process of expanding the company by hiring designers to increase the artistic element in the output.
The following year, in 1927, a major art and applied arts exhibition was held in Tomelilla. Several of the major interior furnishings companies in Sweden were represented at the exhibition, including Nordiska Kompaniet, Rörstrand, Gustavsberg, and Firma Svenskt Tenn. Pure art was also on display and Carl Milles organised a major separate exhibition at which Ystads Metallindustri exhibited its new pewter collection. Anna Thulin was one of the designers whose work was on display, along with fellow designer Hugo Gehlin.
Anna Thulin worked for Ystads Metallindustri until about 1930 it seems. Towards the end of the 1920s she was tasked with designing the advertising announcements and brochures for the company, some of which are even signed “A. Thulin”. She also created individual items and designed several others, almost all of them in pewter. Sometimes her monogram “AT” was stamped onto the items. Her style was fairly typical of the Swedish pewter work of the 1920s and 1930s, comprising engraved decorations and small moulded details. Anna Thulin’s designs included an artful dolphin which came to form part of the company’s selection for several decades. These dolphins appear on seal stamps, lid-handles, or as candelabra feet, and elsewhere. Anna Thulin’s accomplished illustration work is more rarely displayed in the items. An example of this is a can with a perforated lid which represents birds sitting amongst branches.
On 22 July 1927 the Skånska Dagbladet newspaper visited Ystads Metallindustri, describing Anna Thulin in the following words: “Anna Thulin’s pewter pieces appear sweeter and more graceful in design. There is a beautiful feminine charm to her work which Metallindustrien has successfully exploited. She has almost completely sought to soften the dull facades through simple decorations, variously engraved according to the artist’s inclination. Looking at it from a purely technical aspect it seems like something new has emerged, moulded pewter. An example of this is the small graceful dolphin”.
At the 1930 Stockholm exhibition held at Djurgården one section of Hall 14 – the area for noble metals – was dedicated to pewter items from Sweden’s leading designers, including Ystads Metallindustri. Here too Anna Thulin’s work was displayed, including a square, upside-down triangle-shaped lid handle furnished with a hedgehog.
In 1931 Anna Thulin began to work fulltime at Tomelilla kommunala mellanskola (municipal middle school) following a stint working by the hour in Svedala. Alongside this job she in 1933 also began working as a teacher at Ystads högre läroverk för flickor. She quickly acquired her own car, a Dodge, to transport her to her two jobs. This was a hectic time in her life and she had no spare time to work for Ystads Metallindustri. Anna Thulin also spent the summers working as a teacher at August Abrahamsons stiftelse (foundation) in Nääs. She did this off and on between 1929 and at least up to 1944. In 1931 Anna Thulin took an evening course in metal-working.
Despite the positive initial period, Anna Thulin’s career as a designer for Ystads Metallindustri did not last for a very long time. There is no indication that she approached or was approached by other companies after having worked for Ystads Metallindustri. Instead she dedicated her life partly to teaching and partly to helping her parents out at the parsonage. Her illustrations, however, found widespread distribution because she, on several occasions, provided illustrations for Professor Herman Siegvald’s textbooks in the Vill du läsa series, likely beginning in 1936. In a few editions Anna Thulin’s illustrations are side by side with those of Elsa Beskow.
Anna Thulin’s work in pewter art formed a minor element within her life. It is, however, not difficult to place her work in the wider context of the modern pewter artists of the 1920s. Several women achieved great success in this sphere: Anna Petrus-Lyttkens designed lion-themed pieces for Herman Bergman several years earlier and later on worked for Firma Svenskt Tenn. Sylvia Stave designed items for C.G. Hallbergs Guldsmeds AB.; Maja-Lisa Ohlson was employed by Guldsmedsaktiebolaget, Astrid Aagesen ran her own pewter company in Helsingborg and Estrid Ericson was both an established designer and the owner of Firma Svenskt Tenn. All of these names are more or less well-known today. Anna Thulin, and several others alongside her who either worked in the background or did not produce a lot of pieces, have long since become forgotten.
Anna Thulin died in 1996. She is buried at Ingelstorp cemetery.