Whether you're a professional artist or passionate amateur, times of uncertainty and change can encourage us to get creative.

We make things to spread a message, to perform a function, to fundraise, or just for the joy in crafting. You may have even created something while New Zealand was in lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, to express how you were feeling or to learn a new skill.

Here are some objects in our collection that have been made during moments of significance, big and small, and their stories.

We’re looking for Covid-19 material. If you have an object you think might help tell the story of New Zealand’s lockdown, read more about our call for contributions here


Textile designer Adrienne Foote was at home in Remuera when she heard the explosion of the bombs planted on Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior in 1985. A pivotal event in New Zealand’s anti-nuclear history, the moment was also personally significant for Foote, then 22 and a burgeoning activist. Her fear of the nuclear threat and the “invisible harm it could cause” (1) was coupled with a sense of optimism about her ability to effect change in this corner of the world, where nuclear power was not yet established. It is through her textile designs that she was able to bring attention to the cause. This t-shirt is one in a series of Nuclear-Free New Zealand designs she produced once a year over four years. Foote developed a successful screen-printing business in the 1980s and 1990s, with her bold and colourful “Footeprints” textiles made in her studio on Karangahape Road, Auckland.

Image credit: T-shirt, Adrienne Foote, 1986. T1674.

Women of the Red Cross and St. Johns in Redcliffs, Christchurch, put their sewing skills to good use to raise funds during World War One. There are approximately 1200 embroidered signatures on this quilt, including that of Lieutenant Gilbert Archey (who would go on to become Director of the Auckland Institute and Museum in 1924). People paid a small sum to have their name or that of a loved one stitched onto the quilt. Many of the names were of servicemen from the New Zealand Field Artillery, New Zealand Infantry, New Zealand Mounted Rifles and New Zealand Engineers, whose badges are also embroidered in the centre. This quilt raised 53 pounds and was presented to the Walton-on-Thames Hospital in England. Signature quilts like this one show how a group of creative volunteers could help a community contribute to the war effort.

Image credit: Signature quilt made by Red Cross & St. Johns, Redcliffs, 1918. W3045, 1988.224.

This badge was made by Miles Fahey (then aged nine) through Miles and his brother Joe's badge-making enterprise, "Ballistic Badges". Miles and Joe sold hand-drawn badges at the Cross St Markets, a vintage and craft market held once a month behind Karangahape Road. This badge depicts a "Firebreathing Dragon of Awesomeness" and was created to protest the 2018 University of Auckland proposal to close the Elam Fine Arts library. The Elam School of Art and Design was established in 1889 and the library housed a nationally significant collection relating to New Zealand art and artists. The move to close the Elam library and merge the collection with that of the central library was widely criticised by the Auckland arts community, of which Miles and Joe's mother, gallerist Anna Miles, is a member. Miles made 30 dragon badges and Anna delivered them to champions of the library, many of whom wore the badges to the “Save Our Libraries” campus rally on 30 April, 2018.

Image credit: Protest badge, Miles Fahey, 2018. 2018.74.1.

This grappling hook may be less aesthetically pleasing than the other creative objects in this list, but it was made for a purpose. Hugh Grenfell used materials he had to hand and a vice, a big hammer and a file to make the hook in late August/early September 1981, for use in anti-Springbok tour protests. The 1981 Springbok rugby tour is remembered less for the All Blacks’ victory than it is for the widespread civil unrest it generated in New Zealand. Opinion over the tour was divided between those who saw it as condoning South Africa’s apartheid regime, and those who believed politics had no place in New Zealand’s most hallowed game. By the third test match at Eden Park in Auckland, protesters and police knew to expect violence. Grenfell took part in several of the anti-apartheid protests organised around the Springbok rugby tour, and for the Eden Park test was part of the Biko Squad (named for South African activist Steve Biko). According to Grenfell the hook was used to get over walls and fences if necessary, it was "Never used in anger though" (2). As a handmade object, it captures the "rough and ready" approach everyday citizens took when mobilising against the tour.

Image credit: Grappling hook, Hugh Grenfell, 1981. 2018.16.1

What do you wear on a day that you’re going to change history? By the third reading of the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act 2013 on 17 April 2013, Labour MP Louisa Wall (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Waikato) knew it had a strong chance of passing into law. Proposed as a private member’s bill by Wall, MP for Manurewa, the bill was an amendment to the Marriage Act 1955 which would allow adult couples of any gender to marry, including same-sex and different sex couples. Wall wore this jacket to Parliament on the evening of the third reading. In her address, she spoke of the role of takatāpui and LGBTQI communities in the history of New Zealand and the Pacific, and described the third reading as "our road towards healing and including all citizens in our State institution of marriage, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity"(3). Louisa purchased the material for the jacket and chose the design, and it was sewn by her friend Violet MacKenzie. The bright rainbow fabric projected a strong visual symbol at this significant moment in our country’s LGBTQI history, and reflected Wall’s role as an advocate for these communities.

Image credit: Jacket, Louisa Wall and Violet Mackenzie, 2013. 2018.43.1.

(1) Adrienne Foote in conversation with the author, 28 September 2019.

(2) Hugh Grenfell, email to the author, 28 March 2018.

(3) Wall, Louisa, “Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill — Third Reading”, 17 April 2013.


Blog Creativity in Momentous Times by Jane Groufsky. Published May 2020 

Jane Groufsky is Auckland Museum's Project Curator, History for the Tāmaki Herenga Waka: Stories of Auckland gallery.

Visitors can see the grappling hook, the protest badge and Louisa Wall’s rainbow jacket in Tāmaki Herenga Waka: Stories of Auckland when it opens later in 2020 at Auckland Museum.