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Crafts and applied arts

by Douglas Lloyd Jenkins and Lucy Hammonds

Craft work began in New Zealand as both a leisure activity and a necessity. In the late 20th century the boundaries between art and craft began to blur, with craft artists’ work being represented in galleries.

Maritime and settler craft

Sailors, sealers and whalers

Crafts and craft skills – the ability to make and decorate objects for domestic use – arrived in New Zealand with its very first European visitors: sailors. Sailor communities, and, later, those of sealers and whalers, were largely made up of men who were highly skilled craftspeople.

Scrimshaw (carved and engraved animal bones, teeth and tusks) and rudimentary pieces of furniture, including some made of whale vertebrae, are most commonly associated with these early craftsmen. However, they were equally skilled in the less permanent textile crafts of sewing, embroidery, knotting and knitting. These crafts formed part of their work and leisure time.


Similar textile skills were found amongst the missionaries, who taught craft skills to Māori and the first European settler families. Church Missionary Society samplers (pieces of embroidery) are among the earliest surviving examples of locally produced textile crafts.

Spoon mania

Immigrant painter Joseph Annabell recorded in his shipboard journal in 1852: ‘There is a wooden spoon mania. I can see a dozen at a time making wooden spoons, anyone with original ideas making anything for himself opens the eyes of others to their wants. When I made a filter, others were made similar. I also made some tin baking dishes, there have been scores made since. It is astonishing what can be converted to use when there is so little material. There seems to be a good share of talent aboard considering the number of passengers.’1


When European settlers began to arrive in greater numbers they were drawn in large part from the rural workers of Great Britain, who often possessed a high degree of non-professional craft skills. Even migrants from British cities often had craft knowledge that had survived the industrial revolution.

Adaptable craft skills proved highly useful in the new country. The ability to make, mend and decorate made hastily constructed homes considerably more pleasant.

Men’s and women’s work

Men typically made simple tools, furniture or household items. In some cases the appearance, as well as the basic function, was carefully considered.

Women were highly skilled in textile-related crafts such as sewing, embroidery, lacemaking, knitting and weaving. Clothing or household decoration was often made by hand or mended or reshaped out of necessity. Where time allowed, decorative work such as embroidery was used to transform ordinary garments or household objects into cherished and distinctive items.

Historic gown

One of the oldest surviving christening gowns in New Zealand is displayed at the Te Waimate Mission house in Waimate North. Thomas Holloway King, son of missionaries Hannah and John King, was baptised in the garment in February 1815.

Guidance came from pattern books and illustrated periodicals, but just as often from recalling remembered items from home. Christening gowns, cherished by families through generations, survive in large numbers and attest to the level of skill these women achieved.

Passing on skills

A commitment to passing on these essential craft skills to future generations meant that levels of craft skill grew through the 19th century. The needs of large rural communities, far from mercantile stores, made craft skills both relevant and desirable. This was in contrast to Britain, Europe and America, where urbanisation and industrialisation saw the beginning of a decline in the crafts.

    • Quoted in Lin Annabell, Joseph Annabell. Inglewood: Annabell Productions, 1982, p. 17. Back

Early craft education

Art and design schools

The establishment of art and design schools – the first in Dunedin in 1870, followed by Christchurch (1882), Wellington (1886), Auckland (1889) and Whanganui (1892) – saw the introduction of the South Kensington system of art and design education. This had been developed in England with the initial aim of bringing art and industry closer together and improving the quality of craftspeople and designers available to industry.

Employment problems

19th-century New Zealand lacked manufacturing on a large scale as it imported most manufactured goods from Britain. This left many enthusiastic and well-trained art students essentially unemployable. Some moved to Britain or Australia to pursue professional design careers, while others stayed and became self-supporting craftspeople.

Craft philosophy

These ‘art-workers’ generally followed the British arts and crafts movement led by William Morris and John Ruskin, who believed in the importance of handcrafts as a solution to the social problems of Victorian England. The arts and crafts movement provided New Zealand craft with a united philosophical underpinning for the first time and opened up the possibility of professional studio-based craft practice.


In 1900 the Otago Daily Times reported, ‘A very handsome example of relief carving is now to be seen on a sideboard in the shop window of Messrs Hitchcock Bros in Frederick Street. The work of a lady who desires that her name should not be stated publicly, the carving is exceedingly well done, and reflects much credit on the industry, patience, and ability of the worker.’1


Women were highly represented in art schools, and many became involved in crafts after graduation, after marriage or as single women. They produced carved furniture, embroidered cushions, firescreens, barometer cases, hanging cupboards, screens, trays, carved boxes, stencilled friezes, illuminated addresses, clothing and a host of other items for the home and church. However, an almost compulsory modesty meant that the items they produced went unattributed and the individual makers remain largely unidentified.

A rare exception to this is the work of Evelyn Vaile, whose carved wooden furniture was recorded by her brother, photographer Herbert Vaile. Evelyn Vaile was the daughter of a wealthy Auckland land developer and an active furniture carver working in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She produced a wide range of carved furniture, some of impressive scale, all highly individualised in their decoration.

    • Quoted in Ann Calhoun, The arts & crafts movement in New Zealand, 1870–1940. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2000, pp. 86–87. Back

Craft from the 1900s to 1920s

British influence

Over the first decades of the 20th century New Zealand craft remained strongly connected to the British arts and crafts movement, and generally ignored the development of early modernism in Europe.

Stimulation came in the form of the New Zealand International Exhibition (1906–7) held in Christchurch, which exhibited items by leading British arts and crafts designers. These designers were largely from the second generation of British practitioners who, following on from William Morris, greatly simplified the arts and crafts aesthetic and freed it from a fascination with medievalism.

Designers of this generation, such as C. F. A. Voysey and M. H. Baillie Scott, influenced New Zealand craft practice, as seen in the furniture produced by Gerald Jones and James Chapman-Taylor.


In 1912 the Auckland Arts and Crafts Club profiled a wide range of crafts drawn from around New Zealand. Its first and only catalogue showed an array of textiles, jewellery, metalwork and stencil work. Ceramic painting emerged as a new form of expression. Crafts such as pyrography (also known as pokerwork) and chip carving had strong but brief flowerings.

After the First World War craft was used as a method of rehabilitation for wounded soldiers, with particular emphasis on basketry and woodwork.

Soldier embroiderer

Carpenter Fred Hansen fought in the First World War and was invalided to England suffering from tuberculosis in 1917. He learned to embroider and worked aprons and tray cloths while he was recovering in England. Queen Mary wanted to buy the apron on display when she visited the hospital, but Fred had promised it to his mother.

In the first two decades of the 20th century, echoing strong nationalist tendencies emerging in design worldwide, an interest in Māori motifs and subject matter developed in New Zealand craft works, particularly carved furniture and metalwork. Through this period wooden furniture, carving and repoussé metalwork remained acceptable crafts for young women.


The popularity of handcrafted metalwork saw the emergence of a number of key jewellers through the 1920s, in particular Reuben Watts and Elsie Reeve. Reuben Watts was a Manchester-trained jeweller and silversmith who immigrated to New Zealand in 1899 and set up a studio in Auckland. He became a leading figure in the Quoin Club, an early collective of New Zealand graphic artists and craft printers, and produced a wide range of material, from teaspoons to trophy cups.

Elsie Reeve was born in Australia and trained in England before arriving in New Zealand in 1909. She promoted herself as an enamel artist and set up a studio on Lambton Quay in Wellington. Reeve produced distinctive jewellery through the 1920s, often incorporating complex wire-work tendrils, fine stones and embroidered panels.

Old and new aesthetics, 1930s and 1940s


The economic depression of the 1930s brought a sudden end to arts-and-crafts-movement crafts in New Zealand as the audience for expensive handcrafted items evaporated.

At the same time, there was a revival of many earlier craft practices. Settler skills that had been passed from generation to generation resurfaced in the face of economic adversity. Focused in large part on textile crafts, and supported by skills taught in schools, this generation produced a wealth of tablecloths, aprons, tea cosies and the like. Many of these displayed a strong fantasy element in their decoration, suggesting that such items, while practical, could counteract the experience of hardship.

Bluebird of happiness

A small bluebird – the bluebird of happiness – was a very common motif in embroidery in the 1930s and 1940s. It symbolised perfect domestic happiness at a time when the lives of real women were often rather difficult.

Tentative modernism

Through the 1930s modernism was emerging in Europe and America, yet remained largely absent from New Zealand teaching institutions, and little evidence of pre-war modernist practice survives. Some crafts were able to adapt to a new modernist aesthetic, in particular weaving, textile printing, printmaking and ceramics. New Zealand artist May Smith produced early modernist textile designs while living in Britain. She continued to design and print textiles on her return in 1939, basing herself for a time in Gisborne.

Wartime shortages encouraged a growth of interest in hand-printed textiles and crafts. Auckland fashion designer Nancy Hudson produced rope jewellery designed to simulate pearls and fashionable clothing that drew on innovative craft practice.

New aesthetics and crafts

The period immediately before the Second World War ushered a more obviously 20th-century aesthetic into New Zealand crafts, with elements of homemade art deco and streamlined moderne styles emerging. The popularity of hand-beaten metalwork and woodcarving declined during the 1930s and 1940s. Simpler wood and metalwork projects emerged, increasingly influenced by patterns from periodicals sourced in America and Britain. Woodturning began to grow in popularity, exploiting the aesthetic value of the varied grains of native timbers.

Making do

Briar Gardner first became involved with pottery as a child, when she visited her uncles’ pottery firm, Amalgamated Brick and Pipe Company, in Auckland. As an adult she used the firm’s pottery wheel and kiln early in the mornings before the factory opened. She finally got her own kiln at home when she was 59.


Few new studio-based crafts emerged through the 1930s, the exception being studio pottery. Briar Gardner, Olive Jones, Elizabeth Matheson, Elizabeth Lissaman, Robert Nettleton Field and Oswold Stevens all established themselves in ceramics during this period. Some had earlier arts-and-crafts-movement training in other fields, moving into ceramics as the decade progressed. Each sold works through art societies and department stores, and from their studios. The presence of Olive Jones and Elizabeth Matheson at the Centennial Exhibition of 1940 gave modern pottery a high profile and inspired others to take up the craft.

In 1945, at the end of the Second World War, studio pottery had developed sufficiently to take a leading position in a growing craft movement. This period saw the emergence of a new generation of potters who would dominate the second half of the 20th century, including Len Castle, Peter Stichbury, Patricia Perrin, Helen Mason and Doreen Blumhardt.

Craft in the 1950s and 1960s

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.

    • Quoted in Peter Cape, Please touch: a survey of the three-dimensional arts in New Zealand. Auckland: Collins, 1980, p. 122. Back

Craft becomes mainstream, 1970s

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.

Second career

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.

New directions

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.

New developments, 1980s

The 1980s was a decade of change for New Zealanders. Political upheavals and protests marked the beginning of the decade. At the same time, radical shifts in architecture and design philosophy under the guise of postmodernism provided the first new philosophical platform for the crafts since the 1940s.

Amateurs and professionals

A wide range of crafts were practised in New Zealand in the 1980s, with the act and art of making still appealing to many. Craft societies, night classes, guilds and other organisations supported this and the ranks of amateur craftspeople remained strong.

However, a clearer division between the amateur and the professional began to emerge. With this came a heightened tension. For professional craftspeople, the challenges of earning a living and remaining relevant to the culture remained significant. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, craft in the 1980s was dynamic and exciting.

First prize

The first ceramic piece bought by the Dowse Art Museum was Mirek Smisek’s ‘Salt glazed branch pot’ in 1972.

Shops, galleries and books

Social changes encouraged craftspeople to explore new ideas. New craft and design shops, including Modern Bomb, Design Design and Real Time in Auckland, alongside new, dedicated craft dealers, provided necessary support. Craft remained a significant presence in public galleries in the 1980s. In particular the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt, under the directorship of James Mack, became an institutional champion for New Zealand craft and remained so for the next two decades.

The 1980s opened with the publication of several major books dedicated to New Zealand craft, in particular Doreen Blumhardt and Brian Brake’s Craft New Zealand: the art of the craftsman (1981), a glossy, luxurious volume that celebrated local craft on a new level.

Ceramics, glass, jewellery and textiles, 1980s

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.

Craft in the 1990s


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.

Wheely successful

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.

Tertiary education

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.

    • Quoted in James Mack, Treasures of the underworld: the catalogue for the New Zealand tour of the exhibition, by 14 New Zealand ceramic and glass artists. Wellington: Museum of New Zealand, 1993, p. 3. Back

Craft as object, 2000s

By 2000 the rustic crafts of the 1970s had been vanquished from memory, and ‘handmade’ had developed new social cachet. In the first decades of the 21st century craft had found itself a secure position amongst local art forms. Unlike the boom-and-bust times of the 1970s and 1980s, craft was a regular presence in art galleries, exhibitions and publications in the 2000s.


New tertiary-trained craftspeople ensured that the professionalisation of craft continued. Graduates had professional expectations, and innovation characterised their attempts to establish their reputations. New collective studios, workshops and galleries appeared as young craft artists supported each other and introduced their ideas to the nation’s consumers.


Through the work of writers and historians such as Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, Damian Skinner and Ann Calhoun, a stronger sense of New Zealand's craft history was established. Senior craftspeople gained recognition and new generations of makers began to reflect on their position within a unique local craft tradition.

Object art

The 2000s saw the term 'object art' put forward as an alternative to 'craft' or 'craft art' as a way of describing contemporary craft practice. This can be seen as part of the continuing desire to delineate between amateur and hobby crafts, and the critically engaged contemporary craftsperson.

In 2004 the critical mass of contemporary craft culminated in the establishment in Auckland of Objectspace, New Zealand's first public gallery dedicated to craft and design. Under the direction of Philip Clarke, Objectspace set out to provide a programme that could support the work of craftspeople, designers, curators and other crafts professionals.


Since 2011 Objectspace has held an annual exhibition series called Masters of Craft. The exhibition celebrates craft and design practitioners who are leaders in their fields and whose work is distinctive, challenging and lasting. Ceramicist Richard Parker (2011), jeweller Kobi Bosshard (2012), interior designer Nanette Cameron (2013) and graphic designer Mark Cleverly (2014) have been profiled.

Amateur revival

In the 2000s craft became popular again with untrained amateurs who wanted alternatives to mass-produced consumer items. Textile crafts were sometimes used to make feminist statements about continuing gender inequality and to critique the low value placed upon crafts traditionally associated with women. Modern craft fairs such as Wellington’s Craft 2.0 were popular.

Individual crafts, 2000s


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.

Big commissions

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 crafts

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.

Looking back

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.


External links and sources

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Douglas Lloyd Jenkins and Lucy Hammonds, 'Crafts and applied arts', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 July 2024)

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