Marjatta Metsovaara

The large scale of the creations, inventions, and artistic values of Marjatta Metsovaara has made an immense contribution to the world of interior textiles and the reputation of Finland worldwide in art and design.

Her creative talent and engineering skills in creating all types of new fabrics never seen before, like new modern carpet designs, blankets in mohair/wool, special fabrics for room dividers and wallpapers, tightly woven furniture fabrics for Artek, Artifort, and Asko, as well as the Finnair and other airline fabrics, the invention of the Lappi-satin cotton fabric ideal for reactive printing, and her close collaboration with the most significant architects like Alvar Aalto are a few of her references.

Marjatta Metsovaara can genuinely be considered Finland’s Queen of Textiles and one of the most considerable textile designers of all time.

Marjatta Metsovaara and the world of interior textiles.

Marjatta Metsovaara was one of the most productive and creative textile artists and was recognized internationally. She was known for being bold and rich in ideas using new materials. As an experimenter, she created different invented wefts in different colors and material implementations unseen before.

Suomen Matto Oy (Finnish Carpet Ltd) was founded in Urjalankylä, Finland, by her father, Santeri Metsovaara, in 1932. As a little girl, she accompanied her father to Helsinki to choose the carpet designs of Elsa Kallio. This made a big impression on her, as she drew carpet designs before she was three years old. At 10, she handled carpet orders smoothly on the phone, was an avid reader, and played the violin. She went to the girl’s school in Tampere and dreamed of becoming a ceramic artist.

Her father and Arttu Brummer saw a talent in textile design and sent her to the Art and Crafts Academy (now Aalto University) in Helsinki. Erik Bruun, Yki Nummi, Timo Sarpaneva, Nanny Still and Maija Isola were classmates. Tapio Wirkkala and Dora Jung were among her teachers.

The design and production of high-quality interior textiles started when she graduated from the Helsinki Art Academy in 1949 and then started Vennas Oy with Helin Vennas and Senja Laine-Ylijoki in Helsinki. Metsovaara Oy was founded in Urjalankylä in 1954.

Operations at Metsovaara expanded every single year. The first orders came from Artek, Asko, and Function.

During the 1960s, her textiles were also produced by several Finnish textile factories. In addition, large interior design projects, hotel projects worldwide, domestic and foreign exhibitions, and the awards received made Marjatta Metsovaara world famous.

In 1962 came a significant turning point when she created a modern spinning and weaving mill in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium. This new factory was as good as a textile research center and on par with the textile artist and brilliant textile designer’s possibilities.

With her diversified productions of interior textiles, Marjatta Metsovaara wanted to satisfy the needs and desires of as many consumers as possible. The dynamic artist was a businesswoman meeting always the demands of the time.

This is best seen when following her furniture and curtain fabrics development to meet the requirements of the 1950s until the end of the 1960s. The curtains designed by Marjatta Metsovaara were marketed in the context of appreciating traditional curtain designs but making it easy for consumers to buy curtains made of new fibers that were considered strange. The advantage of man-made fibers was reliability and easy maintenance. The fabrics were also wool-like in appearance and highly translucent, which was an ideal complement to the large window surfaces of modern houses. The curtains were the most extensive and varied in colors in the existing market and embodied the credo of the arts and crafts movements with the right design view for the buildings in the 1960s. Metsovaara textiles are complete works of art unifying the different fields of design.

The average consumer knew Marjatta Metsovaara’s home interior textiles, such as carpets, furniture, curtains, and printed fabrics. These printed fabrics could be produced in large quantities, making procurement affordable. In addition, woven table textiles in impressive color choices with matching monochrome napkins were readily available. Tampella Oy made all these textile products in Finland for Metsovaara Oy.

The fast-paced aesthetics of printed fabrics are strongly reminiscent of the 60s art trends and the colorful printed materials of Marimekko and Vuokko. In the 1960s and 1970s, Metsovaara’s woven and printed fabrics referenced modern textile design. Reactive dyes on the famous Lappi-satin cloth she invented in collaboration with the engineers at Tampella were a revolution.

The number of patterns Marjatta Metsovaara made is difficult to estimate. In a newspaper interview, she said she was doing approximately a hundred models a year and had only the time to implement a fraction of her ideas and designs.

When Marjatta Metsovaara had her first solo exhibition in 1957, she woke up interested in anticipation of what would follow in the future, and she was consistently exceeding the bravest expectations. The production of interior textiles was constantly expanding, and new domestic and foreign factories joined as manufacturers.
The Helsinki Art Hall solo exhibitions in 1963, 1966, and 1969 (or mostly remembered as Expo 63, Expo 66, and Expo 69) accustomed visitors to the shows and were organized adventure tours rich in colors, surprising materials, and varied surfaces where the abundant world of extensive production of interior textiles was introduced in a technically spectacular setting. These were the most significant private exhibitions ever in Finnish history.

On the other hand, Marjatta Metsovaara’s world in Belgium is not so much known in Finland, even though the products manufactured in Sint-Niklaas were the most advanced in the textile market and well represented in plenty of exhibitions. Nevertheless, the fabrics designed and produced there still reflect today’s best standards and are copied. She also partnered with design houses and bus, coach, and rail operators to translate a design vision into material reality.

Marjatta Metsovaara’s success was partly based on her deep knowledge of fabrics. She designed and developed fabrics that were wefts of the best material construction, strength, and flexibility. The fabric had to meet all the requirements for its intended use. The glorious appearance was accompanied by complete functionality and technical certainty, which has always been Metsovaara’s business model. All outsourced fabrics were also developed by her and manufactured for her.

Colors were part of Marjatta Metsovaara’s designer image and inseparable. Color options for upholstery fabrics matched each other, and the same shade of orange could be repeated in the patterns of printed materials, fabric wallpapers, and rugs. The same color used for one design could also be used in different textiles.
Creating interior design entities was easy, even for a home decorator unfamiliar with the vast choice. Metsovaara’s interior textiles’ characteristic color scale is impossible to describe because the textile artist thought no color was ugly. Still, the color combination can be either good or bad. The colors favored by the artist were exotic aniline red (fuchsia red) and green-green, which is greener than grass. She also liked ripe lemon yellow.

The audience never shied away from her novelties, be it the use of unique materials for her special textiles or encouraging the use of Lappi cotton satin for her print collection. She was a pioneer in woven fabrics and led Finland’s industrial breakthrough in woven interior fabrics.

Her production is best known in the literature of the Finnish art industry (Juliana Balint and Erik Kruskopf). In Lesley Jackson’s book ‘The Sixties: Decade of Design Revolution’ Marjatta Metsovaara was mentioned as the reference in colorful jacquard fabrics. Textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen in the US also had the highest mention of her in his books Material Wealth’ and ‘A Weaver’s Memoir.’ We can easily say that Marjatta Metsovaara is the most interesting, inventive, and innovative textile designer Finland has ever had.