By 1970 craft had moved from being an alternative practice to part of mainstream culture. Although pottery dominated, weaving, spinning, craft knitting, leatherwork and candle making were also embraced.
New Zealanders’ appetite for handcrafted goods increased steadily over the decade. Art education in schools, which included crafts such as pottery and weaving, helped make crafts acceptable and desirable. By the late 1970s there were an unprecedented number of professional craftspeople working in New Zealand.
Craft shops, co-operative studios, galleries and markets sprang up across New Zealand, in metropolitan centres and the smallest country towns. Through these outlets artists and craftspeople could often connect directly with customers, whose numbers had now become sufficient that craftspeople were able to support themselves through the sale of work.
Infrastructure began to build around craft. By the early 1970s the Crafts Council of New Zealand, a branch of the World Crafts Council, was in operation. Smaller committees, groups, guilds and societies that focused on individual crafts also thrived. These helped to organise activities such as exhibitions and tours by prominent international craftspeople.
Contemporary Māori craft
While many Māori continued to work in traditional crafts, some Māori craftspeople and Māori subject matter had a wider impact on mainstream contemporary craft practice. A small number of Māori craftspeople, such as Baye Riddell and, later, Manos Nathan, began working with non-traditional materials such as ceramics. They also began adapting traditional forms and patterns as part of their own contemporary expression.
Wood carving became an area of strong innovation, with contemporary carving of the period striking out into new and challenging territory.
Weaving remained an area of expertise, with the leading figures of Māori weaving tending towards the preservation of traditional forms and techniques.
Textile-based crafts, such as weaving and fibre work, grew in importance in the 1970s. Weaving enjoyed a central position within major exhibitions of New Zealand craft, with sculptural fibre artworks gradually rising in prominence. Large-scale hangings appeared regularly in corporate foyers and public buildings. Hand-crafted textiles and garments, such as those in dyed and painted silks, woollens or tooled leather, were found in markets and studios. Textile artists such as Susan Holmes, who sat between the worlds of art and fashion, enjoyed strong support from the public.
The 1970s saw the beginnings of a new studio-glass movement. Art glass was at that time a fringe activity in New Zealand, largely centred on glass-blowing.
Two workshops that provided facilities and knowledge of glass-art techniques were important to the development of studio glass. Glass facilities at Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland were established by US-trained glass-blower Mel Simpson in the late 1970s, as was a workshop in Inglewood, Taranaki, by American Tony Kuepfer in 1974. Keith Mahy was another early adopter, moving from Christchurch manufacturer Crown Crystal Glass to an experimental glass studio in Northland in 1975.
Many of the founding members of Fingers gallery became jewellers after working in other professions. These included psychology, science, journalism and librarianship.
Early signs of what would become a thriving and robust contemporary jewellery community emerged in the 1970s. Fingers – a contemporary jewellery gallery established in 1974 by a group of young Auckland jewellers including Alan Preston, Ruth Baird, Roy Mason, Michael Ayling and Margaret Phillips – was crucial in highlighting innovation in New Zealand jewellery through the 1970s. Fingers was followed by other co-operative workshops and galleries, such as Fluxus in Dunedin, which opened in 1983.
By the end of the 1970s craft was in a very strong position and closely identified with New Zealand culture. However, signs of restlessness began to emerge. A new generation of ceramicists, including Bronwynne Cornish, Peter Hawkesby, Denis O’Connor and John Parker, opened up new territory with their radical approaches to ceramics. They were interested in decorative and sculptural ceramics rather than functional items.
Lots of pots
In the late 1970s it was estimated that there were 5,000 potters working in New Zealand, 2,000 of them full-time.
Other established crafts were about to be challenged and reinvigorated by a new generation of makers. The previously strict boundaries and divisions between different crafts started to waver.