Shells II is one of a series of four shell weavings created by Finnish textile designer Dora Jung (1906-1980). It features four tan shells against a dark grey background. As journalist Charles Talley observed in a 1985 article in FiberArts, the series epitomizes Dora Jung’s ability to “sketch” at the loom, working out and refining a design through successive woven drafts. Indeed, Shells I took a single day to weave; Shells II took two; Shells III, four; and Shells IV, the last and most complex in the series, eight.
Dora Jung opened her weaving atelier in Helsinki in 1932, shortly after graduating from Finland’s Central School of Arts and Crafts. In the lean years leading up to World War II, she wove draperies and lampshades out of spun paper and linen. She abandoned spun paper after the war, but continued using linen throughout her career. Indeed, most of her work is done in linen using a damask technique. Damask combines multiple weave structures to produce a subtle pattern, sometimes only visible in raking light. It is most commonly used in table linens and upholstery. Jung used the technique to these ends in her utilitarian designs, but also found ways to incorporate damask elements in her artistic work. In Shells II, for example, she variegates the tan shell pattern by alternating a weft-faced twill weave and a warp-faced satin weave.
Jung is a venerated figure in Finnish textile design, recognized for her mastery of the damask technique and innovative use of abstract natural motifs. The museum acquired Shells II in the late spring of 1959, shortly after then-curator Alice Beer met Jung during her two-month tour of the United States. It was acquired with a second piece, Pigeons, a linen damask panel with brocaded accents. Beer’s idea was that together, these two examples would demonstrate the breadth of Jung’s work. Reflecting on her trip to the United States in 1959, Jung signs off a letter to Beer, “My trip round your enormous country was most interesting. I saw beautiful collections…and the nature was marvelous.”
Mae Colburn is a master’s student in the Parsons-Cooper Hewitt History of Decorative Arts and Design program. Her focus is textiles.
 Dora Jung, letter to Alice Beer, January 1959.