Currently on display in the ‘Touch Too‘ exhibition in the UTS Tower foyer is one of the more unusual items in the UTS Art Collection – titled Munkki, it is a Finnish rug, or ryijy, handcrafted from wool and cotton. It was designed by the acclaimed textile designer Uhra Simberg-Ehrstrom (1914-1979), who among her other achievements was one of the designers for the original Marimekko collection in 1951.
Ryijy are a traditional form of textile art in Finland, originally with a practical application as bed covers replacing furs. Over time the design of the ryijy became valued in itself and the rugs became prized as decorative wallhangings and momentos of special occasions. By the end of the 19th C however, mechanical reproduction and inferior design threatened to reduce the ryijy to mere kitsch, and at this time the “Friends of Finnish Handicraft” was established to celebrate and maintain the traditional handcraft techniques and quality. Simberg-Ehrstrom was one of the designers who worked with this group, and Munkki is a product of this collaboration.
In the early 1950s, the ninth Triennale of Design in Milan brought the ryijy to international attention, and Simberg-Ehrstrom went on to represent Finland in three subsequent Triennales with her designs. One of the ryijy she exhibited internationally entitled Forest measures 40 sq m and is now held in a public collection in Helsinki.
Munkki is a wonderful example of these shag-pile wall rugs and came into the UTS Art Collection along with several other textile works through the Kuring-gai College. A wide black border surrounds a central framework of vertical and horizontal lines. The minimal bands of colour surrounding the central block are deceptively simple; closer inspection reveals a complex layering of dozens of colours filling the larger areas. A small monogram in the lower part of the design is a traditional inclusion — in older ryiji, the date or initials of the maker or owner of the rug are commonly shown.
It has been wonderful to see this object from our Collection out on display, and especially in this context: the depth and texture of the wool makes this an almost irresistible object for an exhibition about the sense of touch.
Do you know any more about this object? Do you have any memories or stories to share about seeing it when it was installed at Kuring-gai?
Or maybe you have seen it for the first time in the ‘Touch Too’ exhibition, what was your response?
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