The furniture comes mainly from the Museum of Furniture Studies in Stockholm, a private initiative by the collectors Lars Bülow and Kersti Sandin Bülow. Inspired by an article written by the Swedish design journalist Ingrid Sommar in the journal Arkitektur (2/19), which questioned the missing presence of women furniture designers, the couple decided that the museum would draw on its collection for an exhibition to highlight these women. The collection turned out to possess the above-mentioned imbalance – of the approximately 300 objects, only 20 per cent were designed by women – a fact that the couple will keep in mind in their future work with the collection.
The exhibition presents about 20 designers, including such well-known names as Charlotte Perriand, Eileen Gray, Estrid Ericsson and Anna Kraitz. In some cases the women designers had to stand in the shadow of their better-known husbands – one example being Aino Alto and Kajsa Strinning.
Sweden’s design universities are now producing more female graduates than male ones but this fact is not manifested in the public sphere. In the above-mentioned article, “Männens möbelmarknad” (The men’s furniture market), Ingrid Sommar noted that during the 2019 Stockholm Design Week and Furniture Fair, the vast majority of the stands of the major furniture manufacturers showcased furniture designed by men.
This situation is backed up by statistics. The Omforma project has studied the conditions for male and female designers since 2014. The results show that 76 per cent of Sweden’s furniture designers are men, and at some companies as much as 90 per cent of the employees are men. Women are to a great extent still concentrated in “softer” fields such as textiles and interior design. The furniture industry could do with some self-reflection.
The exhibition Female Traces should not be seen as a comprehensive account of women designers through history up until today. Instead, it aims to shed the spotlight on the designers behind some of design history’s best-known works and the knowledge, creativity and skill that lies behind them.