The Joy to be Vindicated

3 February 2017

Johanna Bjarsch Follin

A young woman is standing alone in the middle of New York City, with a heavy portfolio in her hands filled with designs and patterns. The woman is Joy Zandén, on her way to fulfil her dream. But she is still blissfully unaware of the difficulties she is about to encounter, walking up and down the streets of Manhattan to meet advertisers and printing companies. Little did she know that she would have to wait until the age of 94 before she finally had her breakthrough. Her designs have now come to life in a collection of wallpaper from long ago. Joy Zandén was 60 years ahead of her time. Now she is bang on the money.

Taking the boat from Sweden to New York in the 1950s to display her designs required courage, a courage that was slowly replaced by disappointment as one printing company after another turned the young miss Zandén down. Despite relatively positive feedback on her designs, Joy didn’t manage to sell a single one.

New York was a failure. Filled with disappointment she took her portfolio back to Sweden.

“I just gave up. Instead I moved to Stockholm to be a mother,” Joy tells the LINK.

She gave up designing and started working in the shop at Moderna Museet in Stockholm, a job she loved. It was an eventful time at the museum, and even though she was not performing and designing any art herself, she was surrounded by it. When she retired, Joy moved back to Särö on the west coast of Sweden, where she had spent most of her childhood.

Fast-forward almost 50 years, to 1995. Joy’s daughter Jessica Zandén is paying a visit to her mother at Särö when she stumbles upon her mother’s old patterns in the basement. Amazed by her mother’s talent, Jessica starts contacting design and printing companies in order to give the patterns the recognition they deserve. Yet again, the designs are turned down and put back on the shelf.

It would require a third effort, and the right context, for the world to appreciate Joy’s patterns and bring them to life.

Fast-forward again, to a Saturday afternoon in Gothenburg, Sweden approximately one year ago. The city centre is, as every Saturday, filled with shopping enthusiasts. It’s a busy day at Engelska Tapetmagasinet, a wallpaper shop, and there is a long queue curled around the shop.

Determined to have someone with an eye for design take a look at Joy’s patterns, Jessica stands in the long line of wallpaper shoppers, and when it’s her turn, she shows the patterns to the cashier. Instead of stressing over a woman wanting to show designs in the middle of the Saturday shopping rush, the woman behind the counter takes her time to browse through every design. Impressed by the beautiful and expressive patterns, she refers Jessica to Sandberg Wallpaper.

Many designers contact Sandberg Wallpaper and want to exhibit their designs, hoping for a final breakthrough and artistic affirmation. But the phone call from Jessica was different. She was persistent, and insisted on a meeting.

“I can’t explain why, but I had a feeling that this would be different, that there was a reason why Jessica was so eager to drive for several hours to our factory in Ulricehamn, in the middle of nowhere just to display her mother’s work. Today, I am very happy I trusted that gut feeling and arranged a meeting,” Sandberg’s Hanna Wendelbo tells the LINK.

Jessica arrived with a bundle of designs in the same brown mailing paper it had been wrapped in when Joy was turned down in New York. But this time when the rustling paper uncovered Joy’s designs, the reaction was different.

“A treasure appeared before my eyes as one breath-taking design after another was brought out from the package. It was a design treasure that had been hidden for 60 years and almost forgotten, hadn’t it been for the persistence of one daughter to give her mother vindication,” Wendelbo says.

Joy’s portfolio contained the authentic and untouched patterns from the visit to New York during the 50s, the golden age of Scandinavian design. At Sandberg, the experts had noted a trend among consumers to return to the 50s style but the company had yet to incorporate such designs in their offering. Joy’s patterns had exactly the history and post-war Scandinavian style they were looking for, and the encounter was the start of the search for a whole new wallpaper collection.

The collection is now complete and contains patterns and designs from four female designers; Joy Zandén, Dagmar Lodén, Ylva Källström-Eklund, and Lillo Wikstrand. They were all working within the field in one way or another during the golden age of Scandinavian design, and the patterns are collected from embroidery, children’s books, textile print and original paintings and sketches. Joy is the only designer still alive to experience the appreciation of the playful, imaginary and colourful wallpaper collection that was named Signatur.

“I am utterly overwhelmed. After all these years, trends have changed and the patterns are now appealing to people today,” she tells the LINK.

Joy grew up in a creative family in Paris. Her mother was a sculptress and her father a painter and composer, and with the closest family friends being renowned artists, her childhood was characterised by creativity, art and design. The summers were spent in Särö on the west coast of Sweden, an environment that further influenced her creative streak.

Born to be an artist, she was given a brush and just started to paint. It began with a small dot, or a leaf, and then it grew. The creativity was fl owing, and she never planned beforehand what to paint. Nature and fairy tales, figurative and non-figurative expressions from her childhood came to life on the paper.

“Seaweed flowing in the sea, flowers on a meadow swinging in in the wind and midsummer poles,” Joy adds.

Clearly her designs are the Swedish summer seen through the eyes of a child. Looking at her patterns, one can see that the Särö’s closeness to sea and forest have inspired her patterns. Birds, leaves and flowers appearing to grow wildly and freely characterise the three designs that are included in the collection Signatur and now printed as wallpaper.

Särö, the beloved place where Joy spent her childhood summers, came to name one of the wallpapers. Flowers and leaves, influenced by the flora on land and at sea decorates this pattern, which is Jessica’s favourite.

Hella, picturing a meadow of clovers, is named after Joy’s stepmother Helen Lyon. Just before marrying Joy’s father, Helen had found a four-leafed clover - the symbol of luck. It was a very happy marriage, and according to Joy, Hella wallpaper would suit in a bedroom. (The LINK did not ask why.)

Fredsfåglar, birds of peace, was originally designed to adorn the interior of Svenska Amerikalinien, a ferry going from Gothenburg to North America during the 20th century.

As amazing as it seems that the designs of these four women came to life more than 60 years after their initial creation, there are reasons why it took so long. Signatur contains colourful wallpaper. Back in the 1950s, technical challenges made it difficult to print more than a few colours, which might have implicated the expression of the patterns. Also, life has improved over the last decades. At the time when these women were active, childcare was the responsibility of the mother of the family. This left little time for designing and pursuing a career that demands a great belief in oneself and one’s designs.

When speaking to Joy, it becomes obvious that she lost her confidence with the disappointment in New York. Jessica wanted to give it back to her, which is the main reason she spent many years and considerable effort to make sure her mother’s prints came into being.

“Most of all I wanted my mother to have the recognition she deserves for her artistic talent. But I also wanted to give everyone the chance to see these designs. The imaginative patterns bring happiness to the observer, and now anyone can enjoy this as the patterns come to life in colourful wallpaper. Sandberg has done a fantastic job in colouring, which really give the patterns the expression they deserve,” she tells the LINK.

The success with Sandberg encouraged Jessica to continue spreading Joy’s designs. She has started the company Joy Zandén AB to share her mother’s designs on everyday-life products. The patterns are not only available as wallpaper, but also printed on serving trays and shopping bags. In one way, she is happy that her mother didn’t succeed in New York, because the response the Zandéns have received is beyond what they both could have dreamt of. When Jessica found her mother’s old designs in the basement, Joy wanted to throw them away as “they were not of any artistic or design value”. This taught them both an important lesson, and Jessica has an important message to send out to anyone with aspiring dreams.

"Never give up on your dreams, never. There is no such thing as failure. Change your mindset – this was not your time. It is never too late and you are never too old to do anything,” Jessica says.

It’s true as the saying goes, it’s better late than never. Joy’s designs and her fantastic road to fame have been featured in Swedish interior magazines Residence and Elle Decorations, and Vogue Australia appointed her wallpaper Särö as one of the best trends and products from the 2016 London Design Festival, where the wallpaper bringing Joy’s designs to life were launched by Jessica and Sandberg Wallpaper.

Finally, and at long last, Joy Zandén got her artistic vindication. She just had to wait 60 years for the world to be ready for it.

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