16 June 2021

A stool for meditation

Ett rum för tystnad – ”A room of quiet”. Dag Hammarskjöld lät som FN:s generalsekreterare inreda ett litet rum i FN-byggnaden i New York. Ett rum för begrundan, där man i lugn och ro kunde dra sig tillbaka. En muralmålning av hans gode vän, konstnären Bo Beskow beställdes till en fondvägg och förutom ett stort svart stenblock mitt i rummet möblerades det med endast med åtta pallar, ritade av Carl Malmsten 1956.

The stools are unassuming, almost ascetic, and fitted in perfectly with Dag Hammarsköld’s intentions for the room. He was deeply engaged in the design of the room, and his interest in art and interior design was well-known.

The room was finished in 1961, just a few months before the aeroplane which he had boarded crashed in the jungle in what is now Zambia.

After 60 years of wear and tear, the low meditation stools are due to be replaced this summer. Twelve new stools in oak are being made at Tre Sekel in Tibro, with seats of braided seagrass made by furniture restorer Maria Zachs, who has a company in the same locality. Braiding is a traditional craft, requiring both skills and strength. The envelope braid for the meditation stool takes half a day and uses around 150 metres of string. The old stools are also going to be renovated at Tre Sekel.

– The idea is that the new stools will be in place in time for the ceremony at the annual opening of the General Assembly in September, says Henrik Hammargren, executive director of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation. This year, it is also 60 years since Dag Hammarskjöld lost his life, and the ceremony always starts with the secretary-general spending  a moment in solitude in the meditation room.

Since 2017, the secretary-general is António Guterres.

The stools are also available for purchase. In 2013, in connection with the 125th anniversary of Carl Malmsten’s birth, 125 numbered copies were made.

– And they are nearly sold out, says Elisabeth Ahlgren at Tre Sekel furniture producers. We are planning to make more numbered copies, oiled or soaped with a seat of braided seagrass. Exactly according to Carl Malmsten’s blueprint.

This summer’s exhibition at Backåkra, the farm on Österlen where Dag Hammarskjöld intended to move after ending his time as secretary-general of the United Nations, is a testimony to his great interest in art, interior décor and design.

In The Slight Bending of the Line, high-quality textiles, exquisite works of art, well-made furniture and high-quality crafts will be on display.

– The UN building today, bears the stamp of Dag Hammarskjöld’s modern style, explains Kristina Erlandsson, curator at Backåkra. His apartment in New York was furnished with the aid of leading Scandinavian designers. He wanted it to be representative and functional, and at the same time a harmonious place for recovery and reflection.

Foto: Åke E:son Lindman

When the apartment was emptied after his death in 1961, much of the household furnishings were brought to Backåkra. Among others, several pieces of furniture by Carl Malmsten – including the three meditation stools Dag Hammarskjöld had ordered for himself for his private duplex apartment on 73rd Street.

Text: Dan Gordan