Whether we think about studio craft as a set of media-based categories or an approach to making, at its heart is a close relationship between materials and maker. Anthropologist Tim Ingold suggests that the role of a skilled practitioner "is not to give effect to a preconceived idea, novel or not, but to join with and follow the forces and flows of material that bring the form of the work into being". As they engage with those forces and flows, craft practitioners celebrate the qualities and traditions of their chosen materials, but also challenge and reinterpret them.
by Rigel Sorzano
A fine romance
Woodworkers are drawn to the smell and feel of wood, its colour and grain, its natural warmth and beauty. "For the artist / craftsman using wood," wrote woodturner Noeline Brokenshire, "there is an undeniable romance in the demands wood makes … Wood … exerts a strange, potent, everlasting attraction." Along with bowls and platters, Brokenshire turned "small handpieces", which she made "simply to give their owners the sensual pleasure of touching and holding a piece of smooth, well-finished wood". The generous forms of Levi Borgstrom's carved wooden spoons also call out to be touched, each of them reflecting the unique characteristics of a particular piece of wood, and speaking to its homely, nurturing qualities.
For Arts and Crafts architect and furniture-maker James Walter Chapman-Taylor, the rippling surface of a hand-adzed finish gave a "woody character", emphasising the handmade nature of the work, and reflecting light in a way that added "interest and beauty" to the wood, with no need for further decoration or embellishment. Chapman-Taylor favoured dense, richly coloured jarrah, a timber he used so extensively in his houses and furniture that he was known as 'Jarrah-Taylor'. A chair made in 1910 shows his distinctive hand-adzed approach, with the Arts and Crafts principles of simplicity and honesty also evident in its joinery and overall design.
To the generation of studio furniture-makers who began working with wood in the 1970s and 1980s, such craft ideals were important, but so were creativity and self-expression. With new ideas about how furniture might look, and the role it might play, the aesthetic and formal possibilities of woodworking began to expand. This increased freedom is evident in designs such as David Haig's 'Signature' rocking chair, first made in 1990, and David Trubridge's Body Raft (2000). Humphrey Ikin took adze and chainsaw to unseasoned timber, creating large sculptural pieces Bench and V-Seat at the Whanganui Wood Symposium in January 1990, and continuing to explore this approach in works such as Black Squab and South Pacific Throne (both 1991).
Bone, stone, shell
New Zealand studio jewellery originated in European decorative traditions, with the use of fine metal and gemstones. During the 1970s, however, there was an international trend towards challenging jewellery's conventional association with wealth and status and "the idea that value arises from precious materials rather than artistic intention and concept". In Aotearoa, this meshed with a desire to create work that would assert a distinct New Zealand identity, and led to an interest in natural local materials such as stone, bone and shell.
Pāua shell had first appeared in New Zealand's European jewellery in 1908, when jeweller and metal craftsman Alfred Atkinson set it at the centre of his silver pendants, and the multi-talented Arts and Crafts practitioner Biddy Waymouth "entered some pāua shell and silver jewellery for sale in the CSA Annual Exhibition". The decorative combination of silver and pāua continued for some years afterwards, but by the 1960s, despite its use by modernist jeweller Ida Hudig, the iridescent shell was mainly seen as something for the tourist souvenir market. In the 1980s, however, contemporary jewellers began to celebrate pāua as an important material in its own right, exploring the potential of the shell's natural form, and honouring it as culturally precious.
This way of thinking about and working with local materials of shell, stone and bone is often referred to as the 'Bone Stone Shell' movement, after the 1988 exhibition of the same name. An important aspect was the bringing together of European and Polynesian jewellery and adornment traditions in a contemporary context. As John Edgar wrote in the exhibition catalogue, "A growing awareness of our place in the South Pacific has led a number of New Zealand carvers and jewellers to use traditional materials in a contemporary way that acknowledges our bicultural heritage and redefines our values in the twentieth century."
Good as gold
The rethinking of jewellery in the 1970s and 1980s opened it up, not just to bone, stone and shell, but to a vast range of non-traditional materials, including wood, paper, and plastic. Gold, silver and gemstones became part of an expanded material language, in which many voices could be heard; contemporary jewellery had become a site for dialogue and critique.
Jane Dodd has worked extensively with gold, silver and selected gemstones, but these currently play a supporting role to carvings in material such as cow bone, mother-of-pearl, and boxwood, ebony and lignum vitae – species of wood even denser than jarrah. Bringing these diverse materials together increases the scope for colour, texture and scale, and underwrites the narrative that runs through Dodd's recent work: the relationship between nature and artifice, and the moral questions that surround the interactions between human and beast.
Header image: Humphrey Ikin, Bench (1989). All Rights Reserved. Sarjeant Gallery