March 16, 1879 – April 21, 1968
Minna Carolina Mathilde Louise “Loja” Gesellius was the fifth daughter of Hermann Otto Gesellius, a food importer, and Emilie Karoline Auguste Struckmann. Loja’s parents emigrated from Germany to Finland, and she was born in the latter’s capital city, Helsinki. She attended preparatory school at the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki, where she studied sculpture and was introduced to the arts of weaving, textile and clothing design. From 1902 to 1903, she studied sculpture in Paris under Jean- Antoine Injalbert, winning a gold metal for one of her pieces. Returning from Paris in 1903, Loja established a studio at Hvittrask, where her brother was a partner.
The following year, she married Eliel Saarinen, and the couple shared their love and talents for design and art. Loja gave up sculpting and helped her husband with his architectural work, occasionally building models for him and developing designs for the interiors of Hvittrask. The family moved to the United States in 1923 and began work on Cranbrook Academy of Art for George Gough Booth in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
In 1929, Loja established a commercial studio, Studio Loja Saarinen, at Cranbrook. Studio Loja Saarinen created carpets, curtains and fabrics for special commissions, including those for Kingswood School, the Chrysler showroom in Detroit, Edgar Kaufman’s office in Kaufman’s Department Store and Richard Hudnut’s salon on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The studio also created purse and pillow designs for the public. Always a designer, Loja found the old looms at Cranbrook heavy and hard to work with and designed a lightweight loom, which she called the Cranbrook Loom. It is still in use today. In 1942, Loja closed the studio, just after she and Eliel finished their tapestry, “Sermon on the Mount,” for the First Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana.