Maja Andersson Wirde was one of the leading Swedish textile artists in the first half of the twentieth century.
Maja Andersson Wirde was born Sigrid Maria Andersson, but very quickly became known as Maja. During the 1920s she took the surname of Wirde, like several of her siblings. Thus source material records her variously as Maria Andersson, Maja Andersson, Maja Andersson Wirde and Maja Wirde.
Maja Andersson Wirde was born in 1873 in Ramkvilla in Småland. She was the daughter of a clergyman, and was one of eight children. Her father was Carl August Andersson and her mother was Carolina Sandberg. When Maja Andersson Wirde was about ten years old the family moved to Karlskrona where she began to attend school. In 1893 the family moved again, this time to Algutsboda where her father had been posted as the local parson. Maja Andersson Wirde showed artistic talent from an early age. In 1897 she began to study at Högre Konstindustriella Skolan, now known as Konstfack, in Stockholm. She wanted to become a drawing teacher. During her studies she went on several study trips abroad. Amongst other places she visited London twice, in 1898-1899 and in 1901, and Italy in 1902.
Upon completing her training Maja Andersson Wirde worked briefly as a drawing teacher at Stockholm city public schools before becoming employed as a pattern designer at Handarbetets Vänner in 1907. She remained there for 20 years. The early 1900s proved to be an important period in Swedish textile art as traditional designs no longer dominated. The patterns became increasingly artistic, inspired by trends from other arts. Handarbetets Vänner was one of the most important actors in the development of the textile arts. Maja Andersson Wirde’s colleagues included Maja Sjöström, Carin Wästberg and Agda Österberg. During her time at Handarbetets Vänner Maja Andersson Wirde designed a large number of pieces for private customers, as well as for church and official clients. One of her earliest commissions was to design an antependium for Lund cathedral in 1909. This altar frontal piece was also displayed at the major Stockholm exhibition in 1909. Amongst Maja Andersson Wirde’s most important works from her time at Handarbetets Vänner are the carpets for Stockholm city hall from 1915, the carpets for the newly-built patent and registration authority in 1920, as well as textiles and carpets for Swedish American Line’s ship M/S Kungsholm. She created what was then the largest carpet ever produced in Sweden for Stockholm city hall. The carpet in the magistrates’ plenary hall was eleven by four meters long. For the patent and registration authority she herself created seven of the nine carpets that were ordered, including a large carpet for the director general’s room. The textile furnishings for the flagship M/S Kungsholm were divided between several different companies, of which Handarbetets Vänner formed just one. In addition to furniture coverings Maja Andersson Wirde created carpets using different techniques, including four spherical carpets for the music room.
Throughout her time at Handarbetets Vänner Maja Andersson Wirde participated in the many exhibitions the association either organised or was involved in. The major art and industry exhibitions which were held around the turn of the century gave companies, artists and associations important opportunities to expose their work to the wider public. In addition to the Stockholm exhibition of 1909, Maja Andersson Wirde also showed her work at the Baltic exhibition in Malmö in 1914, at Textilmötet in Stockholm in 1920, at Jubileumsutställningen in Gothenburg in 1923, at the World Fair in Paris in 1925, at the exhibition of Swedish handicrafts in New York in 1927, and at the Stockholm exhibition of 1930. She won prizes and special merits at several of the exhibitions.
Maja Andersson Wirde finished working at Handarbetets Vänner in 1929 when she began to work at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, located just outside Detroit, Michigan, in the USA. Her work initially involved providing textile art for the various Cranbrook buildings whilst also running the weavers’ studio at Studio Loja Saarinen. The applied arts artist Loja Saarinen only employed Swedish artists and weavers at her studio. Maja Andersson Wirde was responsible for Saarinen’s weavers’ studio but also gave courses on textile design and weaving. Her time at Cranbrook can be seen as the pinnacle of her career and the work she produced there was of exceptionally high quality. One of the first commissions for the weaving studio was to supply textiles for Kingswood School, a newly-built girls’ school. In this Maja Andersson Wirde was largely responsible for everything regarding textile output and she designed several carpets, curtains and textile furnishings for various rooms in the building. She also designed a number of carpets for Eliel and Loja Saarinen’s private residence. Unfortunately, Cranbrook’s finances suffered during the Depression and the art department was forced to close its studios. In 1933 Maja Andersson Wirde returned to Sweden.
After her return to Sweden Maja Andersson Wirde settled in her native town of Algutsboda. A few years later she set up the company Södra Sveriges Kyrkliga Textil (SSKT) in collaboration with the textile artist Sigrid Synnergren. They supplied many of the churches in Scania and Småland mainly with antependia and chasubles. During their most successful period they employed about 20 embroiderers and weavers in their workshops in Algutsboda and in Lund. They were in constant demand as the use of church textiles was changing with an increasing focus on colours, whilst there were relatively few companies which produced high-quality church textiles. Maja Andersson Wirde designed approximately 20 antependia, 25 chasubles, four altar cloths and four carpets for SSKT. In addition to that, many of the textiles were woven at the weaving studio that she had built on her own grounds.
Maja Andersson Wirde never married and did not have any children. She died on 11 February 1952, aged 78.