Agda Österberg was active as a textile artist for almost seventy years. She mainly created textiles for ecclesiastical use and was one of the most prominent artists within that sphere.
Agda Österberg was born in Stockholm in 1891 and was the second child of six. Her father was August Österberg, a metal alloy worker, and her mother was Agnes Mittag. Her father died when Agda Österberg was eleven years old, which meant that her mother was forced to accept various jobs to earn a livelihood and ran a basic restaurant with one of her neighbours.
When Agda Österberg was 13 years old she gained a position as a nanny for a colonel’s family. She had become interested in sewing at an early age and without the aid of a pattern she had embroidered small rugs out of cut-offs from scrapped clothing. The lady of the house discovered and valued her talent. When Agda Österberg was 18 she was given the opportunity to attend classes at the Althin school for painters. Then Agda Österberg was accepted to evening classes at Tekniska skolan (later: Konstfack, University College of Arts, Crafts and Design) where she studied while still working as home help for the colonel’s family.
Thanks to scholarships Agda Österberg was able to continue at Högre konstindustriella skolan (the advanced commercial arts school) at Tekniska skolan. From 1912 until May 1914 she studied in the weaving department. The artistic director of Handarbetets Vänner, Carin Wästberg, selected Agda Österberg herself specifically to serve as an assistant for Maja Sjöström, a textile artist. Just a year later Agda Österberg became a pattern designer and in 1916 she was employed by Handarbetets Vänner as an ordinary pattern designer on an annual salary of 1,200 kroner. Her salary allowed her to rent her own apartment. Her worked with creating furnishing material, curtains and rugs.
From 1915 to 1921 Agda Österberg also worked for S:t Eriks Lervarufabriker in Uppsala, a ceramics studio and brickworks. She travelled to Uppsala at weekends with her sketches of everyday articles, which were then thrown on the pottery wheel and embellished with simple decorations. In 1917 she designed an entire table service of household items. Agda Österberg also created classically shaped, patterned ornamental garden urns for the Uppsala Fabriks- och Hantverksförenings exhibition of 1921. These urns became popular and were retailed for ten years.
In 1920 Agda Österberg designed a “flossa” (knotted pile) rug for the Swedish Patent and Registration Office on behalf of Handarbetets Vänner. Four years later she made four rugs for Crown Prince Gustav Adolf and his wife Louise’s sitting room at Ulriksdal castle. In conjunction with the 1923 Jubilee exhibition in Gothenburg Handarbetets Vänner displayed a large number of woven items, many of which had been fashioned according to Agda Österberg’s patterns. Her large pile rug entitled Djurgården, which became part of the Röhsska museum collection three years later, received attention for its highly-acclaimed use of colours and textures in Svenska Slöjdföreningens tidskrift (SST). At the 1925 Paris World Fair Agda Österberg’s work was represented by one of her antependia.
Handarbetets Vänner participated in exhibitions globally, including at the museums of art and design in Copenhagen and Basel in 1926. The following year Agda Österberg displayed her work as part of the Handarbetets Vänner section and as a solo artist in a travelling exhibition called “Swedish Contemporary Decorative Arts” which began at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Her work included Den heliga staden.
In 1926 Agda Österberg left Handarbetets Vänner and joined Libraria Konsthantverk AB, where she became the director of the ecclesiastical art department. In 1928 Agda Österberg created a chasuble of red silk brocade, with embroidered figures of silken and woollen yarns, a fabric known as “japanguld” (Japanese gold) and golden thread for Helsingborg’s St. Mary’s Church.
In 1933 Agda Österberg moved to Varnhem in Västergötland in order to become the artistic leader at Axevalla-Varnhem Slöjd, known for its rugs, several of which were by Agda Österberg. In 1935 she took over the company and changed its name to Firma Agda Österberg. The business was expanded to include an embroidery studio which allowed the company to accept commissions for ecclesiastical textiles. This in turn enabled a secure financial status. Between 1934 and 1975 the company produced several thousand chasubles, antependia, chalice coverings, seats, collection bags, funeral palls, and other items for Sweden’s parish churches, many of them in the Skara and Gothenburg parish. One of these works was the embroidery called Johannes uppenbarelse which was displayed at the Paris World Fair in 1937. It now lies in the Gustav Adolf Church in Borås.
In 1936 Agda Österberg married the artist Gunnar Lindström. Together they ran her company, which then employed 17 workers. In 1940 the enterprise moved to a combined residence and studio in the “funkis” (functional) style, designed by the architect Edvin Neuendorf. At that point the company name was changed to Tre Bäckar.
Agda Österberg filed for divorce from Gunnar Lindström in 1951. That year she employed Kerstin Persson, who took over design of the ecclesiastical textiles a few years later. Agda Österberg was then able to concentrate on creating rugs and woven visual art for other public spaces as well as for private commissions. Her modernist rugs became increasingly distinct in colour and shape as time went on. The patterns altered from being stylised to being non-figurative in strong colours such as lemon yellow, blue, cerise and turquoise and were often created using “röllakan”, a certain weaving technique. Agda Österberg created figurative and story-telling woven art such as Kunskapens träd på gott och ont for Lidköping town library in 1963. That year she also created Den första kvinnliga kosmonauten, to celebrate the first woman in space, Valentina Teresjkova. Skara and Skövde police station were supplied with Agda Österberg’s woven art in the 1970s. During her final productive years Agda Österberg became more freestyle in her creations.
Throughout her long life Agda Österberg received scholarships which allowed her to undertake study trips to places like Bauhaus in Germany. In 1951 she was awarded the royal Illis Quorum medal, of the 5th degree, for significant artistic efforts, and in 1965 she was given Skaraborg county council’s cultural stipend. Västergötland Fornminnesförening presented her with their golden merit medal in 1975.
Agda Österberg died in 1987 and her grave can be found at Varnhem abbey.