Thyra Grafström ran a highly reputed textile atelier for more than 25 years, under her own name, in Stockholm. She was one of the most influential women in the artistically developing textile field at the turn of the century 1900.
Thyra Grafström was born in 1864 in Stockholm and she grew up as one of seven siblings in an artistic home. Her father was Johan Boklund, a painter and curator at the National Museum, and her mother was Johanna Carola, née Stuttgardter. Several of Thyra Grafström’s siblings chose artistic professions and socialised in the artistic and literary circles of the capital. Her oldest sister, Isaria “Sas” Boklund, married the artist Oscar Björck, and her sister Blenda Boklund married the artist Nils Lundström. Her brother Harald was educated to be an architect and her sister Cecilia Bachér was educated as an artist and was also for many years a co-worker in Thyra Grafström’s textile atelier. Thyra Grafström married the opera singer Jean Grafström in 1891 and in 1896 their son Bo was born.
Thyra Grafström attended the Higher industrial arts school at the Technical College, nowadays Konstfack, to train as a teacher of drawing. She also attended a school of painting run by the artist Kerstin Cardon between 1875 and 1911. In 1882, Thyra Grafström was employed by the crafts association Handarbetets Vänner, for whom she drew patterns using various older techniques. Handarbetets Vänner had been founded in 1874 and it had close contact with the Higher industrial arts school. Several of the women educated there became linked to Handarbetets Vänner and became important for the continued development of modern Swedish textile art.
Thyra Grafström displayed her artistic talents at an early age and received prestigious assignments. She was among other things responsible for the Swedish exhibition of industrial art at the Nordic Exhibition of Industry, Agriculture and Art in Copenhagen in 1888. She was elected to the board of the Stockholm Exhibition in 1897 and participated in organising the Stockholm city and handicrafts showcase.
Around the turn of the century 1900, textile visual arts started to gain a significant place in architecture and furniture art, and several ateliers were founded. Inspiration came from England and William Morris, among other sources. Apart from the associations Handarbetets Vänner and Föreningen för Svensk Hemslöjd, Thyra Grafström’s textile atelier was one of the new companies focusing on large-scale textile production. Thyra Grafström’s textile atelier opened in 1897 at Birger Jarlsgatan in Stockholm. It soon became a respected atelier with clients like Prince Carl and princess Ingeborg. Thyra Grafström introduced the concept of a textile shop, and she soon became renowned for the refined artistic taste that characterised the work sold at her shop. The atelier’s speciality was mainly embroidery, but also lace and woven goods. She was an early entrepreneur in the burgeoning crafts and textile movement and she participated in contemporary artistic development with modern patterns and traditional techniques. Her products were noted for their elegance and ornamentation founded on realistically drawn plant motifs. She devoted herself to the development of textile art, particularly in the question of home decoration, and she was a much appreciated advisor on the home decoration of a number of Swedish manor houses and castles. One important customer was Hedvig Ulfsparre of Hofors Manor who bought textiles produced by Thyra Grafström’s textile atelier for the furnishings of the manor house.
As early as 1898, she was persuaded to move her textile atelier to K.M. Lundberg’s newly-built department store at Stureplan in Stockholm. This was Stockholm’s first large department store after the continental model, constructed in seven floors according to the designs of the architect Erik Josephson. The same year, the atelier was employing over 60 persons. In 1902, K.M. Lundberg was absorbed into the newly established Nordiska Kompaniet (NK) and Thyra Grafström’s textile atelier moved with it. For 20 years, her enterprise was accommodated at NK, and during that period, many textile products designed by leading artists and pattern-makers were manufactured. Under the leadership of the businessman Josef Sachs, NK became one of the main companies in furnishings and fittings, and it participated in several exhibitions with its products. One of the atelier’s greatest works was an embroidered wall tapestry, executed according to the designs of Ferdinand and Anna Boberg. The modern tapestry depicting a funeral, Begravning i Leksand, was exhibited at the exhibition of industrial art in Stockholm in 1909, at which Ferdinand Boberg was the main architect. The great tapestry awoke enormous attention, starting with the exhibition period itself, when it occupied a whole wall of the Boberg room. Thyra Grafström’s textile section at NK was counted along with Handarbetets Vänner as the main representative of art nouveau in Sweden.
Thyra Grafström did not compose her own patterns, but hired various artists, several of whom she worked with for many years. She had skilful technical employees who carried out the work according to originals. During the first year of her enterprise, the textiles were composed by among others the artist Nils Lundström who was her brother-in-law, and who was pattern-maker and designer at the Rörstrand porcelain factory during the years 1896–1935; and Gunnar Wennerberg, a glass artist and the artistic leader of the Gustavsberg porcelain factory in 1892–1908. Collaborators for many years were among others the artists Annie Frykholm, Ellen Ståhlbrandt, Agnes Sutthoff and Alf Munthe. They composed art tapestries, embroideries and hand-sewn lace. The atelier was known above all for its artistic embroideries. Also, Hilda Starck-Lilienberg composed patterns in hand-sewn lace that became very popular.
Right from the beginning in 1897, Thyra Grafström arranged annual exhibitions with newly-composed textiles. The exhibitions received much attention and attracted many visitors. In 1904, she also started a sewing school at NK, at which artistic needlework was taught in the atelier, and also gold embroidery.
In connection with a change in NK’s enterprise in 1922, the business exchanged hands, and Thyra Grafström opened her own company once again under the name Thyra Grafströms Textilaffär AB at Mäster Samuelsgatan in Stockholm. She planned to have the production and sale of art textiles there, and also a more factory-like production of woven fabrics. The same year, she arranged a jubileum exhibition; it was of course 25 years since she had started her textile business. She took with her the clients and artists with whom she had cooperated during the many years at NK. In 1923, the atelier manufactured embroidered wall-hangings, composed by Alf Munthe, for the architect Gunnar Asplund’s Skandia-Teatern. At the World Exposition in Paris in 1925, Thyra Grafström’s textile atelier participated and two of its leading artists, Annie Frykholm and Alf Munthe, were awarded a Grand Prix. Alf Munthe had among other things composed a canopy that was situated over the entrance of the Swedish pavilion.
After Thyra Grafström’s death in 1925, the company continued to be active. Elsa Gullberg was responsible for a brief period, but in 1927 she had already started her own company under the name Elsa Gullberg Textilier och Inredning. One of Thyra Grafström’s collaborators for many years, Ellen Ståhlbrandt, then assumed the responsibility for the atelier.
Thyra Grafström lies buried in her family grave at Solna Cemetery.