Maria Adlercreutz was a textile and visual artist. She was one of the most influential innovators of Swedish textile handicrafts during the post-war period. As a result of her intense personal and political engagement her textile work became a meeting point between the artistic and political debates of the time.
Maria Adlercreutz was born in 1936 into an artistic family. Her name as a child was Anne-Marie Kumlien. Her father was Akke Kumlien, primarily known for the artwork he did for Norstedt’s publishing house and for teaching textile studies and painting techniques at Konstakademien (the Royal Academy of Fine Arts) in Stockholm. Akke Kumlien was appointed curator of the Thiel gallery in 1946 and the family accordingly moved into the gallery residence. They remained there until Akke Kumlien died three years later. Maria Adlercreutz and her mother then moved to a nearby house on Blockhusudden.
Maria Adlercreutz was strongly influenced by her artistic home environment and already decided on her future career path as a child. After gaining her school-leaving certificate in 1956 she immediately began her studies at Konstfackskolan (University College of Arts, Crafts and Design) in Stockholm. She joined the textile department where Edna Martin was the head teacher. The teaching focused on the idea that textile artwork should assert itself as a form of artistic expression in its own right. One of Maria Adlercreutz’s early sources of inspiration was the work of the Swedish-Norwegian artist Hannah Ryggen.
Maria Adlercreutz established herself as a professional artist during the first half of the 1960s. She mainly created textile art and furnishings for ecclesiastical purposes. For example, she created an altarpiece comprising a cross slowly emerging out of warm red autumn colours for St. Göran’s chapel in Kjesäter near Vingåker. She also produced brightly coloured textiles for St. Sigfrid church in Lidköping and for Värmdö church near Stockholm.
A political awakening in the mid-1960s led Maria Adlercreutz’s art in a new direction. Her husband at the time, Magnus Adlercreutz, was in Spain working on an exhibition for Stockholm City Museum. In 1966 the couple undertook a study trip to Spain, then under fascist rule, and it proved to be an eye-opening experience. Maria Adlercreutz began to incorporate details of daily life and social awareness into her woven imagery. Her works Öde land, 1967-1968, and Skråpuken, 1968, with loose, abstract shapes and muted colours, can be viewed as a criticism of the exploitation of former colonies by the western world. The work Kompis, 1969, combines symbolic elements using the traffic sign for pedestrians (known as “Herr Gårman”) and the silhouette of an anonymous soldier. Maria Adlercreutz thus began to use media images as models when creating her art, where double exposures and captured image sequences became a recurring format in black-and-white colour schemes. The woven image Fyra bilder av tredje världen, 1970, comprises a sequence of images on oppression and the struggle for freedom – proceeding from order and action to result and resistance.
Few textile art pieces have become as well known as I hennes ögon bevaras folkets ljus, 1972. It was displayed at Galleri Heland in Kungsträdgården, Stockholm, in 1972 and was immediately acquired by Nationalmuseum. It became an icon of the zeitgeist of the 1970s, especially the opposition to the American war in Vietnam. The left-hand side of the weaving includes a portrait of Lê Thị Riêng, the textile worker who led the FNL guerrilla movement, the national liberation front of South Vietnam. Riêng was captured and killed by American soldiers. The right-hand side of the artwork includes an image of women and children who were massacred in the Vietnamese village Sơn Mỹ.
Maria Adlercreutz took inspiration for her woven images from various aspects around her. Political conversations about social conditions, such as injustice, oppression, war and the exploitation of natural resources, were strong influences. Press photography from newspapers and magazines often became her models. The crossed woven fibres in her fabrics can be considered to resemble the rasterisation of newspaper images. At the same time her work seems to desire to give back dignity to those depicted, whose suffering has been reduced to a small detail in an endless stream of news. Several of Maria Adlercreutz’s weavings contain Vietnamese themes, such as Sydvietnamesisk flyktingpojke, 1973, Nordvietnamesisk flicka, 1974, Syskonen, 1974, Fången, 1979, and På denna mark*, 1979.
Maria Adlercreutz was also inspired by contemporary poetry, theatre productions, classical music and traditional songs, art history and contemporary art. Theodorakissviten, 1978, is a sequence of five woven pieces which, at first glance, appear to be close-up studies of snail shells and grainy driftwood. These weavings are inspired by the Greek folk and protest singer Mikis Theodorakis, who was captured and imprisoned by the Greek military junta in the 1970s. Each weaving is related to a song and the sequence moves from dark to light.
Maria Adlercreutz viewed forests, mountains, shores and fields as places to practise the art of seeing and to learn from the visual richness of nature. She collected plants to create dyes and dyed her yarn herself. She saw similarities between nature’s innate capacity to create unpredictable shapes and the artist’s struggle to represent a concentrated version of nature in textile form. From the 1970s onwards her nature studies represent fibres, surfaces and layers of snail shells, bark, grainy wood, stones and lichens as a microcosm within which the smallest piece is actually the largest. Stenstudie från Abisko, 1976, is an experimental work using string, yarn and strips of bark from the forest.
During the 1970s Maria Adlercreutz’s work was not only often displayed in galleries and exhibitions but was also often publically displayed in official spaces, at libraries, embassies, and other institutions. She was keen for her art to gain public exposure and for it to stimulate further exchange. Riksutställningar (Swedish Exhibition Agency) put on a travelling exhibition called Vävda bilder which included her works Pilen – en riktning, 1967, Gränsen, 1967, Brunnen, 1967, Ett annat ansikte, 1968, and the aforementioned Kompis, as well as textile samples and study materials. The exhibition toured from 1972 to 1978. In the introduction to the exhibition Maria Adlercreutz explained her driving forces: “I weave in order to survive. In order to try to free myself from strong inner forces. In order to reveal my anxiety openly – and thereby perhaps manage it. In order to better remember, some images just cannot be allowed to be forgotten, whether they are of the unbearably inhumane sort or warm and life-affirming!”
In the early 1980s the intense activity which characterised Maria Adlercreutz’s artistic output subsided. Her life partner at the time, Harald Lankjær, died of cancer and this affected her personal finances. She began to work in the offices of the Almqvist & Wiksell publishing house and only produced a small number of textile images during this period. Her main theme became personal experiences and feelings. Vårt rede är våra vingar, 1986, and Brevet, 1988, can both be interpreted as originating in the desire to retain the image of a beloved life partner and the sorrow caused by the gradual loss of memories. Till mine av en stor glädje, 1982-1983, is created in the same style, using delicate shades of white and grey, producing an almost monochrome effect. These weavings call to mind the transience of a thin pencil sketching, an over-exposed photograph, or a disintegrated sheet of paper.
The solidarity Maria Adlercreutz felt for people in different parts of the world was a constant source of inspiration. The 1970s demonstrations against the military junta in Chile were the starting point for the expressive face portrayed in Ropet (Chile 1973), 2000-2002. The weaving entitled To ANC, 1984, was dedicated to the eponymous South African resistance movement, with abstract patterns in the yellow, green and black colours of that organisation. The eye in the centre of the image seems to portray an indomitable human strength.
Maria Adlercreutz’s work Det vita mörkret also reflects the situation in South Africa, depicting a military policeman with his weapon drawn next to a portrait of a refugee boy. This weaving, in tones of white and grey, was begun in 1989 but was unfinished when it was cut from the loom after Maria Adlercreutz’s death. It was later finished by Handarbetets Vänner (Friends of Handicraft).
Hanna Keller, textilarbeterska på Tuppens fabriker i Norrköping 1920, 1994, is a weaving about women’s work, and was based on a photograph from the early twentieth century’s textile industry, which Maria Adlercreutz had found in Norrköping city archives. She was commissioned to produce the weaving by Arbetets museum, which closely documented the entire process. Maria Adlercreutz’s creativity was reinvigorated by this project and it was further strengthened by new attention from the artistic feminist movement, which included her work in their displays.
Maria Adlercreutz’s last completed work was Skogsanden, 2013, which shows the connections between nature’s rhythms, societal changes and social movements. This weaving comprises a glowing white light formed as a cross which floats freely in a sphere coloured in shades of indigo blue. It is produced as a double-sided piece with no front or back. The idea for the piece emerged during a visit to Norrland to see the author Sara Lidman, a friend of Maria Adlercreutz, and from impressions gained at a gripping theatrical production about the Chernobyl disaster.
Maria Adlercreutz died in 2014 and is buried at Norra begravningsplatsen (the Northern Cemetery) in Solna.