The 1980s was a decade of change for New Zealanders. Political upheavals and protests marked the beginning of the decade. At the same time, radical shifts in architecture and design philosophy under the guise of postmodernism provided the first new philosophical platform for the crafts since the 1940s.
Amateurs and professionals
A wide range of crafts were practised in New Zealand in the 1980s, with the act and art of making still appealing to many. Craft societies, night classes, guilds and other organisations supported this and the ranks of amateur craftspeople remained strong.
However, a clearer division between the amateur and the professional began to emerge. With this came a heightened tension. For professional craftspeople, the challenges of earning a living and remaining relevant to the culture remained significant. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, craft in the 1980s was dynamic and exciting.
The first ceramic piece bought by the Dowse Art Museum was Mirek Smisek’s ‘Salt glazed branch pot’ in 1972.
Shops, galleries and books
Social changes encouraged craftspeople to explore new ideas. New craft and design shops, including Modern Bomb, Design Design and Real Time in Auckland, alongside new, dedicated craft dealers, provided necessary support. Craft remained a significant presence in public galleries in the 1980s. In particular the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt, under the directorship of James Mack, became an institutional champion for New Zealand craft and remained so for the next two decades.
The 1980s opened with the publication of several major books dedicated to New Zealand craft, in particular Doreen Blumhardt and Brian Brake’s Craft New Zealand: the art of the craftsman (1981), a glossy, luxurious volume that celebrated local craft on a new level.