According to Dame Doreen Blumhardt, founder and namesake of the Blumhardt Foundation, ensuring that ‘New Zealand’s rich tradition of applied arts is celebrated, cherished and nourished’ was the reason the foundation was established.
Blumhardt’s enduring legacy is not just the foundation, but also the myriad of publications she authored and supported throughout her career, that aimed to meticulously document the state of craft in Aotearoa.
An important starting point within my research, then, was reading Craft New Zealand: The art of the craftsman, which was published in 1981 by Doreen Blumhardt with photographer Brian Brake. The book became my reference point; a weighty treatise that offered a glimpse of what was considered important in contemporary New Zealand craft in the 1970s and 1980s. Craft New Zealand looked at over 130 artists who were categorised based on the materials they practiced with: fibre, paper and plastics, stone and bone, metal, wood, clay and glass. When we look back, the richness and diversity of the craft scene was bursting at the seams. A strand stitching these diverse craft practices together was both a love of making, and a desire to share techniques and knowledge, in an effort to contribute to their wider craft community.
Looking at Craft New Zealand nearly forty years after it was first published has afforded me the benefit of hindsight to look at some of the salient points about craft that the publication raised in 1981, and consider how those issues have shifted or remained the same. The exhibition that I am curating for the Blumhardt Creative New Zealand internship, Making Conversation, was borne out of this research.
The lofty ambitions that craft artists have to share, teach and disseminate knowledge kept arising throughout my research. Long running publications like New Zealand Potter, which was published biannually for over forty years, between 1958 and 1998, is one example of this. Its manifesto, to create ‘room for everyone’ within the clay community, was ushered in by the co-founder and then-editor (and potter) Helen Mason in the first editorial in 1958. The publication provided me with a written record of pottery over a large period of time. Tips for glazes were discussed, kiln designs were shared and various guest columnists were brought in to offer an interdisciplinary perspective. All great information for a curator or practitioner to use in their practice.
During the research period of my internship I chanced across Touch Wood: a New Zealand journal for woodworkers - a short-lived, but extraordinary, journal running from the 1983 to 1988. Founded by woodworker Noeline Brokenshire, the journal was established as a site of dialogue for fellow wood craft artists. ‘The Anatomy of a Chair’ was discussed at length, so too was the ecological destruction caused by the early colonists in their unfettered desire to harvest native timbers. Considered and critical discussions about the direction of wood craft ensued over the fourteen issues that Touch Wood was published for.
Likewise, The Web, another important craft journal, provided a space for fibre artists to explore and document experimentations with spinning, weaving and woolcrafts in New Zealand between 1970 and 1993 during its publication. The first issue from 1970 was limited to just a few hundred copies. The Web opened its first editorial with: ‘It seems as though we are on the threshold of an exciting era in our craft world. The 70s should see some important developments.’ A sentiment I can unreservedly confirm the veracity of with the benefit of forty years of distance. Delightfully, some of the earlier issues of The Web included woven fabric swatches stapled lovingly between the pages. Staples of wool were sellotaped into each issue, comparing the wool from different breeds of sheep side by side.
In publications like New Zealand Potter, The Web and Touch Wood, the desire to share and foster the craft communities became a recurring theme. When we look back, the richness and diversity of the craft scene was bursting at the seams.
The salience of these publications is recognised by institutions like the Christchurch Art Gallery who have digitised the entirety of New Zealand Potter, which you can read and download here. The CAG are working on digitising other publications like Craft New Zealand (the magazine) as time allows. Whanganui-based publishers Small Bore Books have taken key articles from the first ten years of New Zealand Potter and published them as New Zealand Potter: a partial archive, highlighting many of the relevant articles from 1958 through to 1968 that are relevant today.
I am delighted to be working in the craft-sector to produce my exhibition, Making Conversation, which opens on 2 March 2019. It features many of the craft artists featured or responsible for the production of those publications.
Blog written by Milly Mitchell-Anyon, the 2018 Blumhardt Foundation Creative New Zealand Intern.