Story: Crafts and applied arts

Page 5. Craft in the 1950s and 1960s

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Venues and magazines

New retail spaces emerged that supported local craftspeople and designers. The Helen Hitchings Gallery in Wellington opened in 1949 and was followed by Art of the Potter, Brenner Associates and New Vision Gallery in Auckland. They pioneered an approach that placed craft next to fine art and design. These venues became showcases for local craft and design enterprises. From the late 1960s Brown’s Mill (later The Mill) in Auckland developed a more co-operative and inclusive craft-stall model.

The establishment of New Zealand Potter magazine (1958) under the editorship of Helen Mason provided not only the studio potters, but also the wider craft community, with a focal point in the discussion of philosophies.


German-born Ilse von Randow, who arrived in New Zealand in the early 1950s, did much to revive interest in weaving. Woven wall hangings completed with artists such as Colin McCahon and Jan Michels, and a large curtain designed for Auckland Art Gallery, were widely seen.

Zena Abbott, initially a student of von Randow’s, developed a distinctive and much-copied weaving style using naturally dyed unspun wool. Both weavers were able to draw on surviving craft-dyeing practices using natural materials. The demand for wool and thread from weavers, and later knitters, led a revival in craft spinning.

Taking the wool off people’s backs

Weavers perhaps struggled more than other craft practitioners to have the artistic value of their work recognised. Woven materials were long associated with clothes, blankets and other utilitarian items. A friend of arts commentator Peter Cape opined, ‘I feel deeply concerned when I see all that wool used [in artistic weaving] that could be keeping people warm.’1


Through the 1960s interest in craft from both would-be practitioners and consumers grew steadily. Visits by international figures such as Bernard Leach, whose The potter’s book (1940) was a much-read and highly influential guide, and Japanese potters Shoji Hamada and Takeichi Kawai, received widespread public attention.

High-profile English potters Harry and May Davis relocated to New Zealand in 1962, becoming a focus for a burgeoning craft movement in Nelson with their Crewenna Pottery. They joined Mirek Smisek, one of the country’s first full-time studio potters, who was originally from Czechoslovakia and who moved to Nelson in 1952. Barry Brickell, who established a pottery in Coromandel, took on a guru-like role both within the ceramics community and in the wider culture as the ultimate alternative lifestyler.


Studio-based woodturning re-emerged in the 1960s. Woodturning had become a male-dominated craft, a departure from the early 1900s when Pākehā wood-based crafts were popular amongst women.

  1. Quoted in Peter Cape, Please touch: a survey of the three-dimensional arts in New Zealand. Auckland: Collins, 1980, p. 122. Back
How to cite this page:

Douglas Lloyd Jenkins and Lucy Hammonds, 'Crafts and applied arts - Craft in the 1950s and 1960s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 July 2024)

Story by Douglas Lloyd Jenkins and Lucy Hammonds, published 22 Oct 2014