Rolling with the wallpaper

In late November of 2013 upon arriving back at the museum after finishing another busy year at Victoria University, I was given my project for the summer. My mammoth task was to go through a large box full of pre-selected wallpaper, catalogue it and enter it into our ever expanding collection.

The box of wallpaper was gifted to us by Betty Weeber. In the correspondence which accompanied the wallpaper; Betty Weeber wrote of the collection, “They are a record of old wallpapers that my late husband Raymond and his father used in their wallpaper hanging and Master Painters business”. Originally our gracious gift was of numerous boxes of wallpaper, but after a rigorous selection process by the powers that be, these boxes were whittled down to just one box containing over seventy examples. 

My job was now set out in front of me, I knew what I had to do, it wasn’t going to be pretty (believe me when I say this, some of the patterns on the samples were pretty ugly).  I now had to painstakingly document and catalogue each individual wallpaper sample, measuring the lengths and the widths, taking detailed notes of maker’s marks and manufacturer’s logos, describing in detail what the patterns were, what colours were involved in the pattern, gently vacuuming the accumulated dust and dirt from some samples, taking detailed notes of rips, tears and damage and then entering all this information onto our collection database system.

Wallpaper Border Sample, c.1920s, gifted by Betty Weeber, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/63/25

Some samples were large, some samples were small, some were long (and I mean extremely long, like over nine metres long), and some were short.  Some were old and in bad condition, while others were, well, old but were still in extremely good condition, which is pretty impressive considering the majority of them date back to the time when Napier was being shaken to its foundations in the early thirties and some samples were even older. Some examples were hidden, rolled up inside other rolls of wallpaper, which added a surprising aspect to this particular task because, like a parcel in the game pass the parcel, you never quite knew what you were going to find once you started to unroll a roll.

What I found while cataloguing these wallpaper samples is they could be lumped into three different groups, the wallpaper frieze’s (for those reading this thinking “what’s a frieze?” Flash fact: a wallpaper frieze is the strip of wallpaper that goes around the top part of the wall where it meets the ceiling); wallpaper borders, which went around the bottom and the wallpaper drops, which are the samples used to cover the majority of the walls. The examples of the frieze’s were more often than not the examples in the worst condition as the perforations holding them together had come apart or were torn in places due to the continued unrolling and rolling of them over the years.

I also found that these samples and rolls came from all over the world, like Sunworthy and Canadian Wallpaper from, you guessed it, Canada; Crown Wallpaper and Shand Kydd Ltd from England; Griffen Wallpaper Manufacturers from America and even some examples from New Zealand’s very own Ashley Wallpapers.

After these steps the papers had to be photographed, which was done by our collection photographer. I then had to attach the photographs to their collection records and wrap them up and pack them into their packing units where they will stay until they are one day needed for research or exhibition.

2013.63.34bWallpaper Drop Samples, c.1920s, gifted by Betty Weeber, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/63/34b

To be honest at the beginning of this project I didn’t think I would enjoy it, just because it was wallpaper that I would be working with, but the more that I worked my way through this box of wallpaper samples, the more I started to look forward to the next sample. Not because I was one sample closer to the end, but because I wanted see what the next sample would be like, and there were some examples that stood out. One example from the 1930s had a continuing pattern of dense blue tree branches and leaves, through the gaps in the branches and leaves was a bright orange background and scattered randomly throughout the branches and leaves were small yellow star-like flowers. Why this particular example stood out for me was probably because it was visibly the brightest example amongst the lot.

To say the least this project was awesome and I enjoyed it a lot. I consider myself quite lucky to be able to come back to the Bay and to the museum every summer to work on different projects. Hopefully I can come back again at the end of this year to another interesting project.

Tom Mohi
Collection Assistant
January 2014

MTG Friends Enrich Collection Stories

To all our MTG Friends who have generously donated to the Hawke’s Bay Museum Trust Collection, we would like to say a huge thank you. Current Friend’s donations have allowed the recent acquisition of three pieces to add to the collection. These were selected as works important to highlight and expand on the stories of artists, art movements and designers already held within the collection, with significance to the Hawke’s Bay region, New Zealand and beyond.

Thomas McCormack OBE is one such artist. Renowned for his skill and application of watercolour, he is considered one of New Zealand’s most important twentieth century painters. Artist Roland Hipkins (1894 – 1951) noted that ‘His efforts…have a remarkable freshness, breadth and simplicity, with spontaneous brush work and a rare quality of colour’ Art in New Zealand 1936 (1)

Born in Napier in 1883, McCormack was largely self-taught and excelled at drawing from an early age. A severe illness at the age of 17 left him unable for many years to partake in his other passion, sports and it was around this time his focus turned solely to painting, consequently cementing his lifelong path as an artist. Thomas McCormackThomas Arthur McCormack in his studio, taken 3 May 1963 [2]

McCormack moved to Wellington in 1921 where he lived and worked for much of his life. In his own words:

  ‘An artist develops from his surroundings – the sea, rivers, plains, and mountains.   His friends and fellow artists, Wellington with its magnificent harbor, its art gallery, exhibitions and artists, a trip to Sydney of about nine months duration; these were factors in my development. A little wine, a sardine or two with their little eyes. A little bread to soften the road and help me on.’ (3)

TA McCormack painting

Untitled, c. 1906, T.A McCormack, b.1883, d.1973 Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/35 Purchased with funds from MTG Hawke’s Bay friend’s donations.

The Hawke’s Bay Museum Trust Collection includes many of McCormack’s works. Our recent acquisition being significant in that it is a very early piece, painted when the artist was just 23 years old. The untitled watercolour (c1906) depicts the Ahuriri foreshore, Douglas Lloyd Jenkins – Director MTG Hawke’s Bay notes ‘It is around this time that McCormack arrived at a recognisable, mature style. This work is a key example, in its own way, a big part of the overall story of the artist and the development of his career’.

Another of McCormack’s works ‘Tapestry’ can currently be viewed in our Architecture of the heart exhibition, on display until March 2nd 2014.

Our second purchase, a vase by English ceramic designer Dame Susie Cooper, adds another page in the collections story of a design period close to the heart of this region. Cooper was a prolific English ceramics designer with a career spanning more than seventy years. Beginning with a placement in the early 1920’s as a paintress at Grey & Co Pottery Company in Burslem, England Susie was quickly promoted to lead designer, allowing her the freedom to explore the geometrics and pattern associated with the Art Deco period.

By the late 1920’s Cooper had branched out on her own, forming ‘Susie Cooper Pottery’. Later merging with ‘Wood & Sons’, another local Burslem company who provided her with quality white ware, which she would transform with her vibrant hand painted designs.

Susie Cooper Cup & SaucerCup, saucer and side plate, Susie Cooper (OBE) (b.1902, d.1995), Designer, The Susie Cooper Pottery Limited (estab.1930, closed 1966) manufacturer, purchase, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 91/54ac

Susie’s company grew, eventually supplying Harrods, Selfridges and Waring & Gillow among others with her wares. In 1940 Cooper was presented with the Royal Society of Arts ‘Designer for Industry Award’, the first woman to ever receive this. Our latest addition of Cooper’s work is a vibrant hand painted, green earthenware vase, featuring a Sgraffito design of deer and foliage, a popular Art Deco motif.

The Hawke’s Bay Museum Trust Collection holds many Susie Cooper production pieces, however this vase is significant in that it is an example of her earlier one-off designs. This piece is currently featured in our decorative arts exhibition in the MTG Annex.

Susie Cooper VaseVase, glazed earthenware, C1930, Dame Susie Cooper b.1902 d.1995 Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/39/1 Purchased with funds from MTG Hawke’s Bay friend’s donations.

Another prolific English designer, Archibald Knox is the maker of our third acquisition. Much like Cooper, Knox mastered the balance of expressing an individual design voice while still remaining accessible to the masses. In 1899, with an impressive variety of talents, Knox began designing for London store Liberty & Co. Wallpaper, jewellery, ornaments, textiles, silverware and clocks were all part of his extensive range.

Archibald Knox

Archibald Knox, Art Nouveau artist and designer for Liberty & Co., London (1864-1933) Courtesy of Manx National Heritage (4)

The Liberty & Co store specialised in selling fabrics, ornaments and objects from Japan and the far-east, and is attributed with introducing this style to the west. This had a great influence on artists and designers of the time and by the 1890’s founder Arthur Liberty had tapped into the English Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau design communities.

With Liberty’s encouragement and business behind them, these designers and the Arts and Craft movement flourished. Liberty aimed for “the production of useful and beautiful objects at prices within the reach of all classes.” (5) This was achieved by keeping manufacturing costs low, meaning lower pricing for customers at the register. This was in contrast to other Art Nouveau Pieces at the time which were generally one-off and therefore priced to match.

Liberty & Co

Liberty & Co Store (undated) [6]

Pewter Vase

Pewter Vase, c1905. Archibald Knox, Liberty b. 1864 d.1933 Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/43 Purchased with funds from MTG Hawke’s Bay friend’s donations.

Our recent addition to the collection is the above Arts and Crafts pewter vase, an interesting example of the Liberty & Co ‘Tudic’ range, blending Celtic with Oriental style c1905. During the period this vase was produced, Liberty & Co products were also sold in Hastings, Georgina White – Curator Social History at MTG explains;

From 1908 Hastings businessmen Reginald Gardiner and John A Fraser acted as agents for Liberty and Co, selling fabrics and ‘artistic wares’ first from their offices in the Dominion Buildings on Queen Street and soon after from the Arts and Crafts Depot on Station Street. The Depot showed paintings, metalwork and leatherwork by international and local artists alongside Liberty fabrics. The Depot marked the beginning of Gardiner’s push to generate and promote local arts and crafts in Hawke’s Bay’

Again, we would like to thank everyone who has generously contributed and made the acquisition of these works possible. To become part of the MTG Hawke’s Bay legacy, donate to the Hawke’s Bay Museum Trust or join as a Friend and enjoy the extensive benefits our friends membership offers. We are currently offering our membership package at a reduced rate (membership re-news 1st July 2014) you can find further information on our friend’s package and how to join HERE

Vanessa Arthur
Friends & Volunteers Coordinator
January 2014

[1] Janet Paul. ‘McCormack, Thomas Arthur’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13-Nov-2013 URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/4m4/mccormack-thomas-arthur

[2] Thomas Arthur McCormack. Further negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1963/1513-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22433154

[3] ‘T.A. McCormack’, The New Zealand Academy of fine arts, Catalogue of painting exhibition, December 1971, 2. Collection of the Hawke’s Bay Museum Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi W (62341)

[4] Manx National heritage site, archives. http://www.gov.im/mnh/collectionsonline/People/View.mth?entryid=2536156#

[5] The Archibald Knox Society, Liberty & Co. to ‘Liberty Style’ http://www.archibaldknoxsociety.com/page_112141.html

[6] Liberty London, Our heritage. http://www.liberty.co.uk/fcp/content/about-liberty/newsarchive

Walking among the headstones

Image

Napier Hill Cemetery 5

During January, February and March, 2014 MTG Hawke’s Bay will again host three guided tours in the Napier Cemetery. These highly successful tours were launched in November 2008 in association with the exhibition Somebody’s Darling, Stories from the Napier Cemetery, curated by Peter Wells and Gail Pope and have run every summer since.

Row upon row of hand crafted headstones contrast vividly against the startling blue of the sky, shadows cast by the varying hues and patterns of the trees and leaves produce constant movement and dance over headstones and the air is punctuated with birdsong. Spectacular views looking out towards Cape Kidnappers and Te Mata Peak can be glimpsed between trees contorted by age and weather. The beautifully crafted headstones identify well-known local and national identities as well as the ‘everyday’ men, women and children who also have extraordinary stories associated with their lives, and their deaths.

In conjunction with the exhibition a group of keen volunteer gardeners, Jenny Horne, Jenny Baker, Heather Carter, Sue Langford, Peter Wells and Gail Pope formed the Greening the Graveyard Group. Their aim, with the support of the Napier City Council, was and is, to turn a stark grey environment into one of colour, fragrance and life.

Napier Cemetery 4

The income received from the cemetery tours each year has been used to support the museum redevelopment project and for the Greening the Graveyard Group to purchase plants to enhance the beauty of the cemetery. For the last three years the Greening the Graveyard Group have also used the funds to purchase new works for the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust collection.

Napier Cemetery 2

Napier Cemetery 1

The first item purchased by the Greening the Graveyard Group was A Study of Two Figures by George Wood (1898-1963). Wood was a New Zealand draughtsman, illustrator and artist. He is best known for his graphic stylized images which capture form and light through simple line with the use of unbroken colour.

His work reflects the concerns and style of the Art Deco movement, which fed into the modernist Avant-garde and also shows the influence of Māori culture and the Pacific Islands. Such works as this are extremely rare and particularly resonant within the context of the Hawke’s Bay Museum’s Trust collection.

George Wood (1898-1963) A Study of Two Figures Printed in ink on paper Collection of Hawke's Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2012/29

George Wood (1898-1963), A Study of Two Figures
Printed in ink on paper
Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2012/29

The second piece purchased by the group was a repoussé tray made by Cedric Storey. Storey was an artist, panelbeater, sculptor and jeweller. He designed the Auckland City Council official coat of arms and created the much-loved dragon at the Auckland Zoo in the late 1950s. This tray is rare example of a New Zealand made piece of Arts & Crafts metalwork, rectangular in design with raised decoration at either end in the form of grapes and vine leaves.

Cedric Storey Repoussé tray Brasswashed copper Collection of Hawke's Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/25

Cedric Storey, Repoussé tray, Brasswashed copper
Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/25

Cedric Storey Repoussé tray Brasswashed copper Collection of Hawke's Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/25

Cedric Storey, Repoussé tray, Brasswashed copper
Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/25

This top, a sample garment from the Laurie Foon label, a designer and founder member of the Starfish clothing range was purchased for the collection in 2013. One of the many attributes of Starfish clothing was the understated detailing and relaxed lines that allowed the wearer to integrate the garment into their own unique style. The label was also known for a commitment and focus on environmental sustainability.

Laurie Foon Sample garment Silk and cotton Collection of Hawke's Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/34

Laurie Foon, Sample garment, Silk and cotton
Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/34

The most recent purchase, in late 2013 was the painting titled, In the Bath by New Zealand artist Murray Grimsdale. Grimsdale’s recurring concerns as an artist are the events and the people which surround him. His works are often domestic in scale and familial in subject.

Murray Grimsdale In the Bath Pastel on paper Collection of Hawke's Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/49

Murray Grimsdale, In the Bath, Pastel on paper
Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/49

The money raised over the summer 2014 tours will continue to be used to develop the collection and we look forward to sharing new acquisitions purchased by the Greening the Graveyard group over the coming year.

The guided walks are being held on the following dates at 2.00 pm:
Sunday January 26th
Sunday February 16th
Sunday March 23rd

Cost: $12 per adult, children free
Payment to be taken on the day.

Please wear sturdy footwear, a sunhat and take a bottle of water.
The tour meeting point is at the gates of the Cemetery, situated on Napier Terrace, next to the Botanical Gardens.

Tours do book out, so please book early to secure a place by calling MTG Hawke’s Bay, 06 833 9795 or email events@mtghawkesbay.com

Gail Pope
Curator of Archives
January 2014

The photographs of the cemetery used in this post were taken by David Frost, Graphic Designer & Photographer, MTG Hawke’s Bay

An Art Deco portrait

When we imagine the Art Deco period our mind travels towards images that dazzle – a world of youth, excess and abandon; of glamorous men and women dancing to jazz and exuding Hollywood glamour.  Art Deco style – from its furniture to its fashions – is a glittering, instantly recognisable, backdrop to life.

We know too, that the 1920s and 30s were a period of enormous change.  Collective post-war grief and years of plenty gave way to the grinding poverty of the Great Depression.  A shift in energy, from the old world to the new, accompanied rising nationalism, consumerism and industrialisation.  It can be hard to understand the Art Deco images we conjure as a product, and driver, of the forces at work on the western world.

In 2012 the Friends of the Hawke’s Bay Cultural Trust purchased an arresting portrait of a woman, painted in New Zealand in 1931 by British artist Christopher Perkins. 

2012.37.aa

Portrait of Annette Stiver, 1931, Christopher Perkins (b. 1891, d. 1968), purchased by Friends of the Hawke’s Bay Cultural Trust, gifted by the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust Foundation, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2012/37

The year – 1931 – is of course the year of the Hawke’s Bay earthquake, an event to which we owe our interest as a city in all things Art Deco. As an institution seeking evidence for the development of the style within its own time and wanting to untangle its impact on lives lived in the period, the portrait is a particularly resonant gift.  

For a long time the world knew the sitter only as Mrs Michael Stiver, and the official name of the work remains Portrait of Mrs Michael Stiver. Like so many women of the period, the subject of portrait somewhat unknowable through the use of her husband’s name. However on acquiring the portrait we began to piece together her story and what we found of her charmed us. 

In the woman we know now as Annette (though always Andy to her friends) we have found someone to conjure with. In her modernity, her glamour and impetuosity and the twists and turns of her life we had a true tale with all the makings of a Hollywood film.

As a portrait of a young woman living in New Zealand in 1931, Andy’s portrait is a rare for its directness, uneasy intimacy, womanliness. Andy is not conventionally beautiful, her features are almost too strong, but we are drawn to her face – her upturned nose, sculpted brow and red lips.  Our gaze is drawn to her hands as she plays with them uneasily in her lap.  She wears no jewels; her hair is pushed simply away from her face, she sits informally, looking away but leaning toward the viewer in a loose, dark-red gown.  The simple backdrop of Calla lilies behind Andy and reflected toward the viewer intrude on us with their starkly sexual allusions.  Hints of an intriguing personality breathe life into the fragments of her story. 

Annette was born as Julia Anderson (she changed her name after leaving school) in upstate New York into a wealthy small-town family in 1901.  She was a bright and clever student.  In 1923 she married for the first time. When the marriage soured within a few years Andy began working for F L Carlisle, a rather unsound Wall Street investment company of the type that precipitated the stock market crash. 

New York in the mid-twenties would have been an exciting place for a young woman, heady times too – she was likely in the thick of the action as the chaos of Black Tuesday unfolded.   

Then, on 2 April 1930 Andy appeared in the press in an article titled ‘Given divorce Carthage woman weds next day.’ In a bold move, equal to a modern Hollywood heroine, Andy had indeed divorced her first husband and secretly married advertising executive Michael Stiver of the firm J Walter Thompson the following day.  The couple stole away to Canada and sailed immediately for Wellington.   

Michael was charged with opening a New Zealand branch of J Walter Thompson to manage the promotion of products of the new General Motors assembly plant in Petone.  It was particularly bad timing for such a venture. The shockwaves of the stock market crash followed in the wake of the Stivers as they sailed to New Zealand and sales of luxury consumer goods such as cars soon plummeted. 

1920s Wellington must have come as rather a shock to the couple, used to the extravagance of New York City.  However they soon became friends with a small circle of Wellington based artists, writers and academics.  While all relatively well-off it was a group that had little in common with the middle class conservatism of many of their peers. Christopher Perkins and his wife Berry were part of this circle. 

Perkins had been recruited in Britain under the La Trobe Scheme, a programme to import teachers from England with the intent of improving the quality of art education in New Zealand.  He had come to Wellington with his family in 1929 to teach art at Wellington Technical College.

The Perkins’ daughter Jane remembered Andy as a ‘fine boned intense little woman with a swathe of dark hair’, who, half in love with Perkins, held ‘a profound and touching adoration for himself as well as for his work.’ We might speculate that this amour is the reason for the palpable intimacy and unease evident in the painting; it suggests at the very least an unconsummated emotional entanglement between artist and sitter.   We know at least it is a work that captures something of a kindred spirit at the start of what would be an enduring relationship. Andy was a determined and admiring friend, patron and promoter of Christopher for the rest of her life.

Andy sat for the portrait over a number of days in the converted studio basement of Perkins’ rented home in Kelburn.  We see her in a home-made dress, upon a rattan chair brought down from the kitchen above, and posed amongst calla lilies picked from the garden.  After the morning sittings she would stay on for lunch with the family, bringing along her sewing machine so she could teach dress-making to Berry, and their two young daughters. 

One wonders what Michael made of the work he commissioned? Andy treasured the portrait – it only entered the open-market after her death – and years later still signed off her letters to Christopher with a lipstick saturated kiss.

Back home in America, Andy’s family lost all their money in the stock market crash.  Then, just months after the portrait was painted, the Wellington branch of JWT closed its doors due to unprofitability. The couple, ever resiliant, moved on to Australia and Michael took up the management of the Sydney branch of J Walter Thompson.

Andy and Michael soon became part of Sydney’s ‘smart set.’ Andy started writing a regular column on fashion and shopping for Sydney Ure Smith’s The Home magazine – a periodical that embodied the aspirations of ‘Modern Sydney’.  What we now recognise as the quintessential Art Deco look was emblazoned across its pages.  Its readers were not avant-garde or revolutionary; they didn’t disdain commerce but admired taste, refinement, intelligence and style. In these pages we hear Andy’s voice for the first time – witty, enticing and elegant, cajoling middle-class women into the latest fashions.  The Sydney lifestyle was a perfect fit for Andy; she had just the look and the voice for promoting an achievable local ideal and encouraging the spending that would entrance advertisers.  

After a few years the Stivers moved on to the UK (reconnecting with the Perkins who had since moved back home).  By 1940 she and Michael had divorced, Michael moving to Buenos Aires and marrying a local woman, Andy moving back to her native New York. By the mid-1940s Andy has established a career working for one of New York’s biggest advertising firms as a copywriter, eventaully heading up the department.  She married again, but divorced just a few years later in 1959.   Andy died in New York in 1996 and is buried in the family cemetery of her first home.

While we can now only catch glimpses of Andy’s life her enigmatic portrait commands attention and captures the imagination.  Her life and look is instantly recognisable as that of a twentieth century woman, and it is through stories like hers, sparked through the acquisition of such a striking portrait, that we can rediscover and reinterpret the Art Deco decades with renewed vigour.

Portrait of Annette Stiver by Christopher Perkins was purchased by the Friends of the Hawke’s Bay Cultural Trust.  The portrait will be on display when MTG Hawke’s Bay opens this spring.  This article was first published in the Newest City News, May 2013 and is kindly reproduced with the permission of the Art Deco Trust.

Eloise Wallace
Public Programmes Team Leader
June 2013