Maja Fjaestad Biography

Maja Fjaestad




Painter, printmaker, and textile artist Maja Fjaestad was born Kerstin Maria Hallen on May 30, 1873, in Horby, Skane province, Sweden. Showing an aptitude for drawing and painting at an early age, she was sent to the Landskrona school of art at age eleven. Her higher education took place at the Technical College in Malmo, where she learned textile arts and printmaking; she also began private lessons in portrait painting.

Following graduation she took a position at the Lund Cultural History Museum as a textile designer. Her attempt at this time to enroll in the Swedish Academy of Fine Arts was rejected by the school based on her gender; undeterred, she continued her lessons in painting on her own, studying under Kerstin Cardon. In 1893 she was accepted into the Artists' Association School, where she studied under Richard Bergh, Carl Larsson, and Anders Zorn, and in 1895 she became a member of the Association, exhibiting regularly and with growing success through 1897. As well, she began to receive commissions for her textile and furniture designs.

After marrying artist and fellow Association member Gustaf Fjaestad in 1898, they moved to Arvika where they were offered a house to rent by the sculptor Christian Eriksson, remaining there until they could design and build their own house on Lake Racken, Varmland. The couple encouraged artist friends to visit them and, with Eriksson, they soon formed the Rackstad art colony - in which Maja was the only female artist. Hoping to support more women artists, Fjaestad opened a textile shop employing skilled local women weavers, which rapidly gained popularity and led to the opening of a full textile mill in 1901. In 1905, in addition to her personal artistic output, running a household, and raising four children, Maja Fjaestad started the region's first women's suffrage association. She found great inspiration in the folk and domestic arts of the region and she organized a group of works to be exhibited at the Baltic Showcase in Malmo in 1914.

In 1910 Fjaestad began experimenting with color woodcuts, inspired by Asian and Nordic folkart, especially imagery of flowering branches and other intimate, nature-based motifs. These works were widely exhibited throughout the 1920s and '30s, beginning in Sweden and expanding to Europe, England, and the United States. She cofounded founded Arvika Crafts shop in 1922 with twelve likeminded artists and chaired the co-op until 1948. 

Maja Fjaestad died on November15, 1961. Her work can be found in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum.

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