The retailing of New Zealand studio craft in the twentieth century achieved its peak in the 1970s, the era of the craft market.
Generally open Friday and Saturday, taking advantage of the weekend trading limits, various markets all with their own flavour could be found in cities around the country throughout the era.
By Cerys Dallaway Davidson
One of the first craft markets in New Zealand, opening in 1968, was The Mill, a craft co-operative commonly referred to as Brown’s Mill after the building's original function as Brown's flour mill. Located in Durham Lane in the centre of Auckland city, The Mill was set up by a group of 10 craftspeople who had taken note of the rise in popularity of their wares and were looking for a way to connect with their customers.
Clearly the undertaking was successful; just two years later The Mill was described as ‘the most exciting place in New Zealand’ where locals and tourists could ‘roam the fabric bazaars of Auckland, [and] sophisticated craftsmen, wise in ancient skills, ply their wares’. Soon the original members became 20, making up a collective of many of New Zealand’s top craft practitioners.
This co-operative retail model was also taken up by several jewelers, in a gallery/shop style. Notably Fingers Gallery in Auckland, in 1974; Fluxus in Dunedin in 1983, Workshop 6 in Auckland in 1993 and Klustre in Nelson in 2000.
Two years later, Cook street markets opened, the first of a series of markets to pop up in Auckland after the success of the Mill. Pegged as offering ‘all the thrills and fun of Petticoat Lane’ it was set up in 1970 by Eric Brown and Brian Jones from Britain who both had market experience from their time in Petticoat Lane and Roman Road markets back home and were wanting to recreate something similar in New Zealand. Cook Street had a different vibe to The Mill: The Mill being compared to upmarket department store Smith and Caughey’s while Cook Street was more like Farmers.
The next significant market to open in Auckland was Victoria Street Market, which had a ‘homegrown kiwi’ aesthetic and was more commercial compared to Cook Street, which was described as having ‘nuances of Asia and the west coast of America’. Then in 1985 three weeks before Cook Street’s closure Albert Street Market opened, with the intention ‘to create a market half-way between that offered by the Cook Street and Victoria Street Market’s. It will be more upmarket than Cook Street but will retain a craft/art identity.’
Other craft markets around the country included Victoria Market in Wellington, Christchurch Art Centre Market, Atlantis and Mollett Street Markets also Christchurch. All were in their height around the same time, then all declined in popularity in the mid-late 1980s following the removal of import restrictions which allowed cheap objects to flood the market.
Cheap imported goods coupled with the share-market crash at the end of the 1980s, which dried up the disposable income of New Zealanders, meant many craftspeople had to reinvent or turn to other endeavours to earn a living.
The challenge around earning a living meant that for many the need to have work on the side, continually reinvent their oeuvre to align with shifting trends, or simply produce multiple lines of work was essential. After the 1980s, many craftspeople sought employment in related fields, the rise of the film industry in New Zealand supported this by utilising the expertise of various craftspeople.
Some practitioners found tangential avenues to explore; fabric artist Susan Holmes turned to the burgeoning field of wearable art when she left The Mill where she had begun selling in 1972. Along with many others Susan also made a ‘bread and butter’ or ‘domestic’ line of work which could be created quickly and sold to produce a steady income to fund their more creative pursuits.
Alongside the market scene were craft retail shops and galleries which were in place before the markets, and would later contribute to the revival of the model. One of the earliest shops - New Vision - was set up in the late 1950s in His Majesty’s Arcade in Auckland by Dutch couple Kees and Tina Hos, retailing a range of art and craft wares. While New Vision didn’t provide the practitioner-customer connection of a market, it was one of the first stores to encourage craftspeople to consider the presentation of their work.
Just around the corner from The Mill was Durham Arts a gallery style store, and over in Auckland suburb Avondale, Country Road, opened as an emporia style craft outlet.
Many more retail stores featured across the country and many artisans also sold directly from shops attached to their studios, particularly potters. A number of studio-shops became tourist destinations in their own rights, where the artisan in action could be experienced.
The turn of the millennium saw a rise in the interest in craft stores which became more design focused, art gallery or boutique style. Alongside this, an interest in learning various crafts arose in the younger generation and as a result craft markets of a different style began popping up again across the country.
Scene at Brown's Mill craft market Durham Lane, Auckland, in 1971. All Rights Reserved © Ans Westra, National Library AW-0517