Story: Crafts and applied arts

Page 3. Craft from the 1900s to 1920s

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British influence

Over the first decades of the 20th century New Zealand craft remained strongly connected to the British arts and crafts movement, and generally ignored the development of early modernism in Europe.

Stimulation came in the form of the New Zealand International Exhibition (1906–7) held in Christchurch, which exhibited items by leading British arts and crafts designers. These designers were largely from the second generation of British practitioners who, following on from William Morris, greatly simplified the arts and crafts aesthetic and freed it from a fascination with medievalism.

Designers of this generation, such as C. F. A. Voysey and M. H. Baillie Scott, influenced New Zealand craft practice, as seen in the furniture produced by Gerald Jones and James Chapman-Taylor.

Diversity

In 1912 the Auckland Arts and Crafts Club profiled a wide range of crafts drawn from around New Zealand. Its first and only catalogue showed an array of textiles, jewellery, metalwork and stencil work. Ceramic painting emerged as a new form of expression. Crafts such as pyrography (also known as pokerwork) and chip carving had strong but brief flowerings.

After the First World War craft was used as a method of rehabilitation for wounded soldiers, with particular emphasis on basketry and woodwork.

Soldier embroiderer

Carpenter Fred Hansen fought in the First World War and was invalided to England suffering from tuberculosis in 1917. He learned to embroider and worked aprons and tray cloths while he was recovering in England. Queen Mary wanted to buy the apron on display when she visited the hospital, but Fred had promised it to his mother.

In the first two decades of the 20th century, echoing strong nationalist tendencies emerging in design worldwide, an interest in Māori motifs and subject matter developed in New Zealand craft works, particularly carved furniture and metalwork. Through this period wooden furniture, carving and repoussé metalwork remained acceptable crafts for young women.

Jewellery

The popularity of handcrafted metalwork saw the emergence of a number of key jewellers through the 1920s, in particular Reuben Watts and Elsie Reeve. Reuben Watts was a Manchester-trained jeweller and silversmith who immigrated to New Zealand in 1899 and set up a studio in Auckland. He became a leading figure in the Quoin Club, an early collective of New Zealand graphic artists and craft printers, and produced a wide range of material, from teaspoons to trophy cups.

Elsie Reeve was born in Australia and trained in England before arriving in New Zealand in 1909. She promoted herself as an enamel artist and set up a studio on Lambton Quay in Wellington. Reeve produced distinctive jewellery through the 1920s, often incorporating complex wire-work tendrils, fine stones and embroidered panels.

How to cite this page:

Douglas Lloyd Jenkins and Lucy Hammonds, 'Crafts and applied arts - Craft from the 1900s to 1920s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/crafts-and-applied-arts/page-3 (accessed 17 July 2019)

Story by Douglas Lloyd Jenkins and Lucy Hammonds, published 22 Oct 2014