Gertrud Grenander Nyberg was an ethnologist and a textile researcher.
Gertrud Grenander Nyberg was born on 26 July 1912 in Umeå. Her father was Tell Grenander, a forester. Her mother Gunborg Markgren was the daughter of the Burträsk pastor. When Gertrud Grenander Nyberg was nine years old the family moved to Uppsala, where she attended school and, in 1931, obtained her school-leaving certificate. She then went on to train as a weaving instructor and, after gaining that qualification in 1933, she spent some time working on a handicrafts exhibition at Liljevalch gallery for Gerda Boëthius. In order to continue working in museums she began to study archaeology, art history, and ethnology. She majored in ethnology and in 1938 she then presented her Bachelor’s thesis in 1938 to Professor Sigurd Erixon. That same year she married Alf Nyberg, a meteorologist, and they went on to have three daughters together. Alf Nyberg became the head of SMHI once he had gained his doctorate, and was later promoted director general in 1964. He had already become president of the global Meteorological organisation in 1963.
Gertrud Grenander Nyberg accompanied her husband on his many travels and combined them with ethnology studies. While in Chicago she had been inspired to undertake a study of the modern textile industry. It ended up being a study of the Swedish sewing industry in 1900 which she presented as a licentiate thesis and published in 1948. She also undertook a study of a charcuterie factory but this was not published until 1985. Following the gaining her licentiate it would be almost 30 years until she defended her thesis on Lanthemmens vävstolar in 1974. During the 1980s she published a series of various works.
Gertrud Grenander Nyberg was one of the first people to work on modern ethnology, which she expressed in her licentiate thesis and in the long unpublished study of a charcuterie factory. In the meantime her greatest contribution took the form of textile research. Although she has been called ‘the grandmother of ethnology’ this is probably not entirely accurate as the field of ethnology progressed along a different track from the one she followed when she became an active author. Her most important works were published from the time she was in her 60s until she was about 80 years old. This late flurry of publications was actually connected to a lengthy growth process during which she amassed enormous amounts of material.
Gertrud Grenander Nyberg’s approach to textile research was also quite different from the majority of her colleagues. Instead of focusing on the cloth and clothes made from it was the tools used to create the textiles which interested her. She had already focused on one such item in her Bachelor’s thesis, namely the yarn winder. This tool comprised two wooden limbs which were held together by a central piece – the intention was to stop the yarn from becoming tangled and instead form an easily managed ball of yarn. This tool also meant that the yarn used could be measured exactly and Gertrud Grenander Nyberg showed that this apparently simple tool demanded considerable intellectual ability. She would frequently return to the yarn winder and to the concept that the traditional technique, particularly the one women employed, was actually connected to great skill and thought processes.
Gertrud Grenander Nyberg’s doctorate largely seems to follow approaches developed by her predecessors, including Sigurd Erixon. Ethnologists sought to identify cultural borders and the movement of influences. Her doctorate is a major presentation on Swedish weaving. At the same time the study is underpinned by what was just highlighted, namely, an intellectual approach, as the weaving loom is one of the most technically complicated implements of Swedish folk culture. In continental research it is often claimed that the recumbent weaving loom, that is, the one which we consider to be the usual one, was so technically advanced that in the towns it was used by men. This is a highly dubious claim, even for the continent in general, and in Sweden it is completely erroneous. Men were involved in setting up weaving looms but it was women who did the actual weaving.
During the 1970s Gertrud Grenander Nyberg worked with Matyás Szabó and Janken Myrdal on a major archaeological study of wooden items from Viking times. In connection with this, and partly as a result of the discussions which were being had, Gertrud Grenander Nyberg wrote a programmatic article in 1976 on tools as evidence. This was in part aimed at the dominant ethnology of the time and its abandonment of classical areas of research. However, it also contained a deeper aim which was her desire to reveal the tools’ major symbolic meaning and its relation to functionality.
In her continued publications, which include international overviews, Gertrud Grenander Nyberg increasingly came to emphasise and problematize the belief that women are equally technically talented to men. She did this with the help of her deep knowledge of the tools which were used for textile production.
Gertrud Grenander Nyberg died on 24 October 2003 in Stockholm. Her grave lies at Råcksta cemetery.