Märta af Ekenstam was the first female silversmith and embosser in Sweden. She worked in both gold and silver, often combined with ivory, and ran metalworking shops in Malmö and in the USA.
Märta af Ekenstam was born in Malmö in 1880. Her father was an officer and she grew up in a large family. She began her professional training as an apprentice for the silversmith and embosser Sven Bengtsson in Lund. She then continued her studies abroad. From 1902-1905 she got internships in Nürnberg and Leipzig in Germany and then in Naples in Italy.
In 1909 Märta af Ekenstam became the first woman in Sweden who was officially awarded permission to become a journeyman in metalwork. She was able to undertake further studies in Munich from 1909-1913 thanks to a state stipend. Märta af Ekenstam then referred to herself as a goldsmith and became an honorary member of Bayerischer Kunstgewerbeverein in Munich. She returned to Malmö in 1913 and set up the Märta af Ekenstam Konsthantverk workshop which she ran until 1918. There she produced work in gold, silver, ivory, copper and other materials. Märta af Ekenstam worked in what was then the trendy Jugend style albeit in a highly personalised manner. She liked to combine different materials, particularly silver and ivory, and this became a trademark of her silversmith work.
Märta af Ekenstam exhibited at the Baltic exhibition in Malmö in 1914. At the 1923 Gothenburg exhibition she gained attention for her wide range of work, including several rings and necklaces. She was also a participant in the 1925 international exhibition of handicrafts in Paris, although the critics considered her work to be altogether too derivative of German role models. She also exhibited at several other important exhibitions including the 1937 World Fair in Paris and the 1939 World Fair in New York.
Märta af Ekenstam was also active as a teacher of handicrafts at Malmö högre läroverk för flickor (advanced school for girls) as well as at the preparatory boys’ school in Malmö. She also ran the Scanian painting school in Malmö from 1925-1927, the first art school in southern Sweden. She herself painted watercolours of flowers and produced a number of sculptures.
In 1928 Märta af Ekenstam married the director Carl Jarmig, who had an art firm in Malmö. That same year the couple emigrated to the USA and settled in Pasadena, near Los Angeles, California. There Märta af Ekenstam established the Märta af Ekenstam Art and Craft company and held several solo exhibitions in the USA.
Märta af Ekenstam died in 1939 during a temporary visit to Malmö.
Märta Gunilla Matilda af Ekenstam, www.skbl.se/sv/artikel/MartaafEkenstam, Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexikon. Article by Märta Holkers. Translated by Alexia Grosjean. Retrieved 2021-05-19. CC-BY.
Cigar Lighter from Nationalmuseum