Signe Sohlman was a much-loved textile artist, illustrator and painter.
Signe Sohlman was born in 1854. She was the second child born into a large family in Stockholm. Her mother was Hulda Maria Sohlman af Sandeberg who hailed from Ösmo. Her father, Per August Ferdinand Sohlman, was nine years older than her mother and had been born at Skogaholm in Svennevad parish. Not only was he the well-known chief editor of the Aftonbladet newspaper but he was also a controversial politician and an illustrator. He campaigned for increased freedom of religion and for an increase in women’s rights to independence, both of which issues made him subject to opposition from many corners. Signe Sohlman’s sister, Nanna Sohlman, married Bendixson, became a well-known visual artist in her own right and her paternal aunt, Astrid Sohlman-Nyblom was similarly a textile artist. The large family household also comprised two hired maids, named Selma Karlström and Maria Petersdotter.
Signe Sohlman’s childhood home endowed her with a love for the arts and literature and she displayed her own artistic talents at an early age. She was always a happy child and her face shone with it, leading to her being nicknamed ‘Solkula’ (sunbeam). Once she had completed her schooling she began her artistic training at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm in 1872. Carl Larsson and Ernst Josephson were amongst her fellow students. She studied with Professor Johan August Malmström, eventually becoming one of his favourites and a friend. She and he jointly illustrated an edition of Zacharias Topelius' Läsning för barn, first released in 1877. Signe Sohlman’s father, August Sohlman, became renowned himself for his Afhandlingar och skizzer uti kultur- och konsthistoriska ämnen, which was used as a teaching tool at the academy of art from 1855–1862.
Signe Sohlman was, however, forced to break off her studies three years later when she developed tuberculosis. Given that there was no effective cure available at that time she never fully recovered from the disease. Patients were sent to sanatoria, of which there were several in Stockholm, where they were told to rest, enjoy exposure to sunshine, fresh air, well-rounded nutrition and minor surgical operations.
On 5 July 1874 Signe Sohlman’s father died unexpectedly. He had vainly attempted to save his son who was drowning a few metres from the shore following a sudden summer storm at Baggensfjärden near Älgö. This untimely loss was a great tragedy for the family, who then moved house to Uppsala.
Signe Sohlman was extremely interested in the ongoing social debates at Rossanderska kursen, otherwise known as Aftonkursen för fruntimmer (evening course for ladies), which ran from 1865 to 1882. There she met similarly minded people, such as Ellen Key and Anna Whitlock. In June 1876 Signe Sohlman headed off, along with them and Julia Kjellberg, on a walk through the Norwegian mountains, partly in order to visit new ‘folkhögskolor’ (people’s colleges) and partly in order to visit the controversial author and Norwegian celebrity, Bjørnstjerne Martinius Bjørnson at Aulestad farm in Gudbrandsdalen. She wanted to benefit from his ideas and literary efforts. These four wandering ladies have since become recognised as pioneers who independently sought to discover their own views on life and contribute to women’s emancipation and an increased belief in the future. The four women became friends for life. They recorded their walks in their diaries, describing their adventures as an expression of their freedom, love of life, and their sense of themselves, as Mattias Andersson has put it in his biography of Signe Sohlman.
Despite her illness Signe Sohlman was able to produce patterns for Handarbetets Vänner and for the Almedahl linen weavers in Gothenburg. Her talent for design was revealed in her textile artwork when she created the dragon-pattern in the then very popular ancient Norse style. Almedahl produced this design from 1877 until 1989 on their prime linen cloth named Drakduken. In 1877 Signe Sohlman was awarded the first prize at the first world design exhibition held in Amsterdam. Her work can be seen at the National museum in Stockholm which has her drawing, entitled “Skolgossens sommarminne”. Her work can also be seen at many of the regional and local museums throughout the country.
Signe Sohlman died in 1878 as a result of a lengthy illness. She was only 23 years old. Her body lies in her father’s family grave at Huddinge cemetery.