Veronica Nygren was a textile artist, a professor of textile art at Konstfack (school of arts, crafts and design), and she was one of the fashion designers behind the Mah-Jong label.
Veronica Nygren was born in 1940. The death of her father, Gösta Nygren, just two years later resulted in her mother Gerda Nygren deciding to the move the family – Veronica and her sister Laila – to live with their maternal grandmother, Signe Henschen, who was the daughter of the financier Ernst Thiel and his wife Anna Thiel. Gerda Nygren was head of the pathological department at the Karolinska hospital. Veronica Nygren’s interest in drawing, painting, and sewing developed at an early age. She taught herself to weave when she was twelve years old. Her weavings mainly took the form of small pieces as she did not have access to a loom. She was not scholastically inclined and thus, aged fourteen, she decided to work as an au pair for her maternal aunt in France. She returned to Stockholm in 1955.
Upon her return Veronica Nygren obtained a placement at Handarbetets Vänner (friends of handicrafts), where Edna Martin was the artistic director. While serving her placement Veronica Nygren worked on applications to Konstfack, and gained admittance to the institution in 1957. Edna Martin was the instructor for the textile department at that institution. A couple of years later Veronica Nygren took a sabbatical during which she had a placement with Elsa Gullberg and then she went to Paris. There she spent her time drawing, designing patterns, and visiting museums. Veronica Nygren began her professional career in the summer of 1963 and appointed an intern to manage all her commissions. She had already sold tapestries when she was a student and she was invited to exhibit her artwork at the Liljevalchs konsthall in 1964. Veronic Nygren gave birth to her son Lucas in 1965. That same year she was commissioned to embellish public spaces such as the library at Medborgarplatsen in Stockholm, for which she produced the weaving called Gårdsbrunn. The next year the National museum acquired their first example of her work for their collection, a weaving called Snart är det vår. It was while attending a fashion show at the Moderna museum that Veronic Nygren and her fellow textile artists Helena Henschen and Kristina Torsson (who had been her contemporaries at Konstfack) decided to set up a clothing company. Veronica Nygren and Helena Henschen were cousins, as well as distant relatives of Kristina Torsson. It took them by surprise to learn that they had independently, yet simultaneously, begun to work with the same type of design, namely machine-knitted jumpers and simply-designed dresses in vibrant colours.
The three women set up the Mah-Jong fashion company in 1965. They intended to revolutionise the clothing industry by rejecting fashion hysteria and Parisian dominance of the fashion scene. Instead the trio sought to create durable, comfortable, and beautiful clothes which were not subject to the fickle fashion trends. Mah-Jong labelled clothes are typically made in vibrant colours, patterns, and easy-care fabrics. They were unisex clothes and became the trademark of followers of left-wing politics. The first collection presented for sale at Nordiska Kompaniet sold out before they had even been advertised. In the long-term, however, it became apparent that it was harder to make a success of the trio’s vision of durable Swedish-made fashion which didn’t follow the latest fashion trends than they had hoped. Tensions within the company, difficulties in living up to delivery-schedules, and financial problems all conspired to result in the company’s demise in 1976.
In addition to being an artist Veronica Nygren was also a politically active feminist. From the 1970s onwards she was a member of the Grupp 8 feminist group, which had been formed a few years earlier. One of her primary feminist concerns was her desire to highlight female artists and their work. She was, for example, critical of the fact that textile art was deemed of less worth than other art. She was one of the arrangers of the major Kvinnokulturfestivalen (women’s cultural festival) which was held in Stockholm in the autumn of 1977. She herself exhibited in the Vi arbetar för livet! exhibition held three years later at Liljevalchs konsthall, displaying the work of 29 female artists.
Following the demise of the Mah-Jong company Veronica Nygren acquired a studio together with Fatima Ekman (now Svendsen), a former colleague at the company. Veronica Nygren was fascinated by older handicrafts and took inspiration from weaving techniques of the Navajo Indians. Two years later she held her first solo exhibition at Konstform in Norrköping. She continued to produce woven pieces for public spaces whilst also being involved in a range of exhibitions. In 1983 she held a successful solo exhibition at Svenska Bilder in Stockholm, which received press coverage. In 1988 she was appointed professor of textile art and design at Konstfack. This post was made permanent two years later. However, due to disagreements in the workplace she resigned after five years and then devoted her time researching into flaxen by-products – the left-overs from spinning. In collaboration with Saimi Kling she set up Fiber Art Sweden, FAS, a federation of artists who worked with fibres and promoted textile art.
Veronica Nygren also designed woven rugs, curtains and flax wallpaper. One of her last commissions was completed in 2005, which entailed embellishing Sjöstadskapellet in Hammarbysjöstad in Stockholm.
Veronica Nygren developed cancer in 1998. She died in 2006, aged 66. She is buried at the Sandsborg cemetery in Högalid.