Munkki is a Finnish rug, or ryijy, handcrafted from wool and cotton, and designed by the acclaimed textile designer Uhra Simberg-Ehrström (1914-1979). Among her other achievements, Simberg-Ehrström 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 to mark 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-Ehrström 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-Ehrström 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 took two experienced weavers seven months to complete. It was exhibited in the Finnish pavilion of the 1967 Montreal World Expo, and is now held in the City Hall 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 Kuringgai College of Advanced Education. The composition of Munkki comprises a wide black border that surrounds a central framework of vertical and horizontal lines. The minimal bands of colour surrounding the lighter 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.

Janet Ollevou
Curator, Colour on the Concrete

Uhra Simberg-Ehrström