As the 1990s began, works by high-profile New Zealand craftspeople were included in the Treasures of the Underworld exhibition at the 1992 Expo in Seville, which subsequently toured New Zealand and then became part of the permanent collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. This established makers including Len Castle, Barry Brickell, Richard Parker, Ann Verdcourt (ceramics) and Ann Robinson (glass) as capable of producing large-scale or highly iconic pieces that captured the imagination.
At the time, the Treasures of the Underworld exhibition attracted the biggest audience ever to an exhibition of New Zealand art. Ian Fraser, commissioner general of the New Zealand Expo Commission, said ‘the experience has convinced me that one of the wheels of the vehicle of this country’s export-led recovery could well be a potter’s wheel!’1
Other makers, such as Bronwynne Cornish and John Parker (ceramics), Warwick Freeman (jewellery) and Humphrey Ikin (furniture) were soon added to this list, in part due to highly successful exhibitions at City Gallery Wellington that brought their work to the attention of wide audiences. The galleries Avid in Wellington and Masterworks in Auckland promoted this type of craft to new buying audiences.
In the 1990s two influential schools of craft and design emerged, one at Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin, and another at Unitec School of Design in Auckland. Whereas craft teaching had all but disappeared from fine-arts schools such as Ilam and Elam, these newer schools encouraged an integrated approach to craft and design practices based on studio techniques, each with a strong theoretical underpinning.
Unitec School of Design in particular was able to draw on practitioners such as Ann Robinson, Bronwynne Cornish, Humphrey Ikin, Richard Parker and John Parker, who worked closely with students and guided an emerging generation of makers.
Furniture design flourished under Ikin with Katy Wallace, Bob McDonald and Tim Wigmore emerging and later sustaining careers as leading 21st-century makers.
Glass under Elizabeth McClure and Ann Robinson produced artists Emily Siddell and Layla Walter, who again innovated through coming decades. Auckland jeweller Pauline Bern proved particularly important to the development of New Zealand jewellery. Areta Wilkinson, Jane Dodd, Anna Wallis and Helen O’Connor, all students of Bern, went on to establish the influential Workshop 6.
In Dunedin the work of Kelly Thompson had particular impact on the shape and form of modern textile crafts. Wanganui Glass School, at UCOL polytechnic in Whanganui, took on a leading role in glass education.
As the 21st century approached craft and local design began to focus its attention on establishing a new presence in the mainstream media. The New Zealand Herald’s Viva magazine, under the editorship of Jane Phare and Barbara Rogers, became the first modern ‘lifestyle’ section of a national daily newspaper to embrace craft. New Zealand Home & Entertaining magazine, under Debra Millar and Claire McCall, introduced a new, 21st-century generation of makers. Through the lifestyle press craft became cool and seen as fit for modern life.