Carin Ax was an illustrator, graphic designer and author, working in Uppsala where she was born and lived all her life.
Carin Ax was born in 1915 as the daughter of Artur Ax, a travelling salesman, and Ragnhild Nyman. She was a genuine Uppsala citizen, growing up in the part of the university town that belonged to the working classes and craftsmen.
Carin Ax’s mother was a baker’s daughter from the village of Svartbäcken. The family moved there when Carin’s father started having economic problems at the time of his daughter’s confirmation. Artur Ax worked as a salesman for a local coffee producer. Carin Ax was particularly close to her maternal grandfather who was nonconformist but not at all narrow-minded, and a literary person who was a writer.
In her early teens, Carin Ax left school and started work at the Upsala Ekeby porcelain and pottery factory, her workplace for many years. She developed and kept up her own artistic gifts through private studies. She was later awarded bursaries from Anna-Lisa Thomson’s memorial fund, set up after the potter’s death in 1952. Carin Ax probably decorated porcelain and pottery at Upsala Ekeby during the 1930s and 1940s. Archival sources also bear witness to Carin Ax’s having been a skilful fashion designer. Her work at Upsala Ekeby porcelain and pottery factory apparently ended during the 1960s when pottery was replaced by plastic products.
In the 1950s, Carin Ax started to accept assignments as a book illustrator, firstly for children’s and young people’s books but also for botanical textbooks. In 1955, she was one of the founders of the Uppsala Artists’ Club and a board member and cashier. Carin Ax also participated in starting a graphic art workshop. She began to concentrate more on lithographs, a technique she had learnt at the Grafiska Sällskapet atelier in Stockholm. She also began cooperating with a lithographer in Solna. Initially, Carin Ax sold her works in Stockholm and they were distributed further over the whole country via the Konstfrämjandet association. Later she often showed her work and sold her Uppsala and Uppland pictures at Galleri Linné in Uppsala.
Carin Ax’s most successful and permanent illustration assignment was Vår flora i färg. Kryptogamer by Ivar Elvers et al from 1976, for which she did the time-consuming botanical illustrations. It was a work that was published in five editions up until 1999. The original images for Vår okända flora, that is, the cryptogams, were later exhibited at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm. Her cooperation with Ivar Elvers continued in 1980 with Lilla vårfloran and Lilla trädfloran. Carin Ax harboured a great interest for botany all her life and was more than just an amateur in that field.
The insight into textbooks gained by Carin Ax during the 1950s and 1960s was later developed through her own authorship of a companion reader published by Magnus Bergvall’s company in 1967: Den indelte soldaten. It was about a soldier, and shows her deep, well-documented interest in history.
Her illustrative documentation of cultural settings in Uppsala and Uppland became Carin Ax’s hallmark. Innumerable city motifs from Uppsala have received intense and exact portrayals in her colour lithographs. These classical Uppsala views have thus been saved for posterity, since much has been knocked down and changed. She did not however portray people in her lithographs, only buildings, plants and trees. However, in ephemeral verses and articles in Upsala Nya Tidning under the signature Carina and which were accompanied by illustrations, she let stories about people come to the fore.
Carin Ax’s first separate exhibition took place in Uppsala in 1973 when she was almost 60 years of age. By then she had already participated in Sveriges Allmänna Konstförenings (the Swedish art association’s) collective exhibitions, Liljevalch’s spring salons and graphics triennial as well as the National Museum’s youth exhibition Unga tecknare. She is represented by her illustrations at the Uppland Museum and even more so out in the counties and municipalities that have purchased works via the state art board Statens konstråd. Government buildings, universities and research centres in Japan and the USA also own works by Carin Ax.
In the year book Uppland, Carin Ax wrote valuable articles about her family history. In 1958, she was elected as a member of the ladies’ association Damsällskapet Concordia in Uppsala. It was a cultural association founded in 1919 that gathered together middle-class women during a time when they began more and more to leave the housewife role for various professional careers. Carin Ax’s field of action was visual arts in which she had the power to support herself but she also had to admit that she chose not to marry so that she could wholly give herself to her art. She gave lectures on Uppsala themes and other cultural subjects to various societies, often in cooperation with Kerstin Berglund, a vicar. One example from 1973 is a lecture for Concordia on portrayals of the Virgin Mary in churches in Uppland.
For thirty years, Carin Ax had her summer cottage at Ekeby village about 10 kilometres west of Uppsala. She lived on the Gillbergska estate with an atelier for her artistic work. Of course she did research on local history and was active in the village history society. Thoroughness and objectivity were typical of her personal approach. The archivist and ethnologist Wolter Ehn, another Uppsala resident, also lived in the village and had extensive knowledge about local country life. Ekeby is Sweden’s only village with a circular main street and medieval land division into plots.
Carin Ax’s artistic works have been reproduced and spread to many Uppsala homes through art lotteries. Her pictures are often on sale in the city’s galleries. Her contemporary Reinhold Ljunggren, in his pictures of Trosa, has a similar artistic style to hers. There is a certain bleakness in these small town pictures, but in a longer perspective, the well-known motifs will be valuable for their historical documentation of the culture, showing with exactitude how Uppsala was transformed from an intimate small town into an anonymous big city.
Carin Ax died in 2006. She is buried in the Old Cemetery in Uppsala.