Craft had moved beyond studios and galleries and into the boardrooms by the 1980s. With this, the work of New Zealand craft artists rose in value and scale.
The influence of Anglo-oriental stoneware started to decline. Earthenware with colourful, decorative glazes reflected vibrant, multicultural, urban New Zealand and struck a chord with a new generation of craft enthusiasts. Key to this change was the work of Warren Tippett, whose brightly coloured, widely copied, graphic works reflected an emerging Pacific consciousness in art and design.
The work of ceramicists interested in non-functional, sculptural and experimental works were legitimised by attention from important art dealers and critics, and inclusion in exhibitions at major public art galleries. The Fletcher Brownbuilt Pottery Award (later the Fletcher Challenge Ceramics Award), which started in 1977, was influential, exposing New Zealand ceramicists to the work of international artists and providing a platform to showcase new ceramics. Nga Kaihanga Uku, a Māori claymakers’ collective, was formed in 1986 by a group of artists with a desire to make works in clay based on Māori culture.
Many studio potters, however, maintained the status quo and, as the decade wore on, were faced with significant challenges. Chief among these was a change in consumer fashion and attitude away from a rustic aesthetic and towards the sharper, industrial feel of the 1980s. This was exacerbated by the government's gradual removal of import tariffs on goods including tableware over the second half of the decade. As competition increased and consumer tastes changed, many potters retired or returned to former professions. Woodturners faced similar challenges.
The 1980s were a time of exciting growth for New Zealand studio glass and by the early 1980s there was a dynamic studio-glass community, though this was largely confined to glass-blowing. The Hot Glass Company and Sunbeam Glassworks, both in Auckland, became influential. These workshops were home to individual glass-blowers, each working to create their own unique art glass. Excellence in glass was recognised by the Philips Studio Glass Award, which brought international glass artists into contact with the local glass community.
The design and production of contemporary stained-glass works briefly flourished in the 1980s. The works of James Walker completed in association with architect Ian Athfield were particularly notable. However, the 1987 stock-market crash brought an end to many big-ticket architectural glass commissions, and this craft receded. Experiments with casting methods led one glass artist, Ann Robinson, into a process of lost-wax glass casting that became highly influential in subsequent years.
One ring to rule them all
Jens Hansen made the ‘one ring’ for the Lord of the rings and the Hobbit film trilogies. His firm made replicas so members of the public could have their own ring of power.
The 1980s was an important decade in the development of contemporary jewellery. Kobi Bosshard and Jens Hansen, both originally from Europe, had each brought a combination of avant-garde thinking and high-quality metalworking that proved influential.
However, it was the use of non-precious, locally sourced materials such as shell, stone and bone to create jewellery that spoke to the experience of being a New Zealander. Jewellers such as Warwick Freeman, Alan Preston and John Edgar became well-known proponents of this approach, which was highly influential in studio jewellery at this time. Public recognition came with the exhibition Bone Stone Shell in 1988, which became a focal point in the development of New Zealand studio jewellery.
Contemporary weaving and fibre art maintained a prominent position in the 1980s. Textile works were commissioned for public buildings and major collections nationwide. Despite this, many textile artists struggled to earn a living from what was becoming highly labour-intensive work. Textile-based crafts began to decline. Handcrafted clothing became another avenue for textile artists and designers, featuring in fashion shows and, later in the decade, wearable-art competitions.