After decades as the pre-eminent New Zealand craft, ceramics faced some serious challenges to remain relevant. The gradual erosion of ceramics education led to a diminishing number of new makers. In this climate two artists had significant impact: Paul Maseyk and Martin Poppelwell, both of whom bridged the gap between the local pottery tradition and contemporary art.
Hate turns to love
Paul Maseyk got into pottery at the suggestion of his mother when he was a landscaping student in the 1990s. He took a night class first before completing a diploma in ceramic design and production in 1997. Maseyk overcame his childhood dislike of pottery. In his own words, ‘this pottery popped into my head. Even though Mum had dragged me through every pottery shop in the 80s as a kid, I used to hate it.’1
Some potters still working in the domestic tradition remained relevant in contemporary ceramics, such as Ross Mitchell-Anyon and Katherine Smyth.
The medium of glass continued to grow and mature in the 2000s, with the technique of glass casting becoming increasingly prominent. Whanganui became firmly established as an important centre for glass education in New Zealand and was home to a number of prominent glass-makers. New Zealand's reputation for glass grew internationally, with glass artists travelling to international events, exhibitions and workshops, and international figures attracted to New Zealand to teach and exhibit.
Studio glass reached new heights in this decade as senior figures rose to iconic status and new artists, for example Emma Camden, David Murray, Christine Cathie and Lyndsay Patterson, established strong individual reputations. Glass-blowing studios remained a feature of New Zealand glass, including Nelson's Höglund Art Glass, Chronicle Glass in Whanganui, and Northland's Burning Issues.
Höglund Art Glass was commissioned to produce glassware for Team New Zealand America’s Cup campaigns in 2000 and 2003. The firm also produced merchandise for the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
Of all the crafts, jewellery was the most critically robust, with makers often highly educated and open to strong critical dialogue about the role and position of jewellery within New Zealand culture. Practitioners teaching in the tertiary sector, such as Pauline Bern and Peter Deckers, were influential on further generations of students. Jewellers including Octavia Cook and Lisa Walker carved out significant reputations that transcended the traditional boundaries of craft. The radical re-imagining of traditional media and form continued to dominate the direction of contemporary jewellery.
The contemporary jewellery community also forged strong international links. Germany, specifically Munich, became of particular importance in the later 2000s, with New Zealand jewellers’ inclusion in the Schmuck and Talente exhibitions as part of Munich's annual Internationale Handwerksmesse.
Talente, an international showcase of emerging craft and design, provided international exposure for New Zealand jewellers, glass artists, ceramicists and designers. Other international connections were forged, including the 'Handshake' programme, which matched emerging jewellers with mentors throughout the world.
Other areas of craft practice continued to ebb and flow, and individual artists emerged who rekindled interest in particular materials or ways of working.
Joe Sheehan brought a new voice to contemporary stone carving in New Zealand, building on the work of senior figures such as John Edgar. Textile crafts, such as weaving and fibre arts, were much lower in profile than in previous decades. Despite this, textile makers and designers experimented and innovated with new technologies and materials to find new territory in the 21st century.
Craft and object makers firmly identified themselves as living in the Pacific and were seen as part of the wider cultural activities of art, design, fashion and popular culture. Māori and Pacific subject matter abounded and there was diversity across practitioners.
Over the history of New Zealand craft, this tradition evolved from a necessity to an integral part of New Zealand’s cultural tradition. Craftspeople proved themselves to be adaptable and bold, embracing technology, celebrating tradition and maintaining critical perspective.