Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Te Paki-o-Matariki: heralding design

The royal arms of England from the title page of Journals of the House of Representatives of New Zealand (1941-42)
One of the omnipresent symbols of British colonialism during New Zealand’s initial European settlement period (1840-1906) was the coat of arms of the British monarch. A visual depiction of a couple of fantasy beasts, propping up an assemblage of even more obscure bits and pieces, it was an odd, if effective, visual metaphor for something that had no actual physical presence in the country, the monarch. Given that its current configuration had been created only in June 1837, following the death of William IV, it was a novel manifestation of royal absence. It was reproduced ubiquitously: on the uniforms of British soldiers; on post offices, courthouses and in the Parliament; and on official correspondence and other constitutional documents. Representing absent 'power and majesty' of British sovereignty, it is still used officially by the New Zealand government in lieu of its own coat of arms notwithstanding the 1947 adoption of the Statute of Westminster, the act of British Parliament that established New Zealand as an autonomous realm. 

Heraldry, the system by which coats of arms and other armorial bearings are devised, is a visual code that developed - in Europe at least - around the eleventh century. Deploying a finite set of tinctures (colours, metals and furs), ordinaries (geometrical charges including bars, barrys, bends, chevrons, chiefs, crosses, fesses, pales and saltires) and an incredible variety of devices, beasts and plants - both real and unreal, tools, weapons and fabricated objects on a variety of media (badges, crests, compartments, escutcheons, helmets, mantles, supporters and torses), heraldry enables a highly regulated, simple tool that provides an immediate visual identity for states, cities, universities, schools, corporations, families and individuals whilst simultaneously establishing a social narrative of allegiances and connections that, in many respects, has never been bettered. It is signally unfortunate, both for it and for us, that this sophisticated visual code has, over the years, become associated with reactionary snobbery, recondite elitism, pomposity and overweening self-entitlement. Because of the way it’s administered - in both England and Scotland, as part of the royal household - it tends to be regarded as a bit of a mediaeval hangover, an embarrassing reminder of unearned privilege and class distinction, a discomfiting relic rather akin to the recent ignominious reintroduction of chivalric titles by hubristic conservative governments in Australia and New Zealand.
William Grimmond (1884-1952), Cover of Anthony Wagner, Heraldry in England (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1946). 
Commissioned by Nikolaus Pevsner as part of the post-war King Penguin series, this 1953 printing 
came from the library of the modernist London design consultancy Design Research Unit
During the mid-twentieth century a number of designers, particularly those imbricated in the power formations of the state, interrogated the way that heraldry presented itself in the modern era. Reynolds Stone and Milner Gray (of Design Research Unit), for example, developed a number of versions of the royal arms of England that, while adhering to heraldic rules, communicated a pared, contemporary version of an old symbol. This was heraldry for a new, dynamic, post-war Britain, part of a deliberate political strategy to establish an image of Britain that while acknowledging and respecting aspects of the past projected an efficient, productive and modern state, a manifestation of what Michael Saler describes as mediaeval modernism which sought to 'spiritualise capitalism, infuse mass commodities with soul, and reshape an increasingly fragmented and secular culture into an organically integrated community of the faithful.' (M Saler, The avant-garde in interwar England: medieval modernism and the London Underground (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), viii). Moreover, these redesigned emblems reinforced a sense of British difference from the post-war economic and political hegemony of both the United States and the Soviet Union. They were also in marked contrast with the logo-like symbols of the former Nazi Reich.
Milner Gray (1899-1996), Cover of Design at work (London: HMSO, 1948) 
showing a modernised version of the English royal arms
There were a few, half-hearted, attempts in New Zealand to modernise the images of state during the mid-twentieth century. Aside from the near total absence of designers in the country, there was little perceptible design sensibility evident in any branch of government other than in the Public Works Department. 
Sparrow Industrial Pictures Ltd, [Government Building, Shortland Street, Auckland, c. 1945].
A stylised version of the royal arms of England can just be seen attached to the second floor balcony.
Auckland Museum
Following the election of the first Labour administration in 1935, Modernist architects in the Public Works Department did manage to change the way the English royal arms were represented on a number of buildings, particularly those associated with the Post Office. The Government Building on Shortland Street (popularly known as the Jean Batten Place Post Office) in Auckland (John Mair architect, constructed 1937-42) had balconies garnished with rectangularly stylised versions of the royal arms, cast in bronze and in keeping with the modernist form of the building. In the recent refurbishment of the building's residual façades, these coats of arms - removed around 2000 - were ineptly substituted by painted cast metal versions of an earlier, nineteenth century, configuration of the symbol. 
Armorial bearings of the Dominion of New Zealand as granted in 1911
Notwithstanding this long, uncritical, adherence to British official symbolism, at the urging of the prime minister Joseph Ward, New Zealand was granted armorial bearings by royal warrant in 1911In the mid 1940s the historian John Cawte Beaglehole, employed part-time in the Department of Internal Affairs, tinkered with the 1911 grant, ostensibly to ensure that it 'fitted more naturally' with the new typefaces he had persuaded the Government Printer to acquire; it was not an inspired interpretation (F Corner, in An eye an ear and a voice, ed by M Templeton (Wellington: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 1993), 64-126, p. 77). More successfully he also collaborated with the artist Mervyn Taylor to design the mount and reverse of the elegant New Zealand War Service Medal. Both elements of the medal depicted, at the insistence of the Labour party cabinet, a silver fern leaf 'like on the All Blacks' jersey'; it was the first appearance in the assemblage of state icons of this now ubiquitous national symbol. (T Beaglehole, A life of J C Beaglehole (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2006), p. 300) Beaglehole was evidently more concerned about the quality of the state's typography than he was with its iconography. Beaglehole's design of the letterhead for Victoria University College (about 1950) that included a simplified version of the college's heraldic shield was a notably better design. 
John Cawte Beaglehole's 1944 version of the New Zealand armorial bearings. Rather than being designed to match new typefaces ordered by the Government Printer it was commissioned by the newly established Department of External Affairs to provide a less anachronistic symbol of the country.
Te Ara/The Encyclopedia of New Zealand
The awkwardly configured 1911 New Zealand armorial bearings were eventually modified by the National party government in 1956. In both their original and amended form they are an unappealing, if colourful, late nineteenth century confection celebrating Pākehā hegemony, trade, agriculture and mineral exploitation, suggesting the country’s location under a stylised arrangement of the ubiquitous stellar constellation of the Southern Cross and extolling a colonial economy of mining and primary production. 
Modified armorial bearings of the realm of New Zealand as granted in 1956
In the original design the escutcheon was surmounted by a gold coloured half lion bearing the British union jack or, in the arcane language of heralds, 'a demi-lion rampant guardant or supporting a flag staff erect proper thereon flying to the sinister the Union Flag.' In the 1956 version the lion was replaced by a fractionally more subtle symbol of hegemony, the British crown of St Edward. As well, the female Pākehā supporter was redrawn at the behest of the responsible minister, allegedly in the image of the American actress Grace Kelly.
Milner Gray (1899-1996), Design for a proposed one dollar coin, 1964.
Victoria & Albert Museum, Archive of Art & Design, 1999/8
Milner Gray essayed a revised version of what might be described as the lesser New Zealand coat of arms – that is without supporters, compartment and motto – in 1964 when he was involved in an invited competition to design new decimal coinage. Gray's more vigorously modelled, uncluttered, designs, in part based around elements of the coat of arms, were ultimately rejected by the New Zealand Treasury's Coinage Design Advisory Committee, who spurning the advice of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee in London, selected James Berry's more pedestrian proposals in which heraldry played no part.

Even if the former prime minister Geoffrey Palmer considers these revised armorial bearings 'somewhat dated [...] not central to New Zealand identity today', they constitute an image familiar to most New Zealanders, appearing in courtrooms as a symbol of the power of the state, on passports (since 1963), orders and medals, coins and stamps. Its original designer wasn’t someone versed in the heraldic arts but a draughtsman in the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts, James McDonald, a photographer and filmmaker. The design resulted from two competitions held in 1906 and 1908 and three winning entries, as selected by Augustus Hamilton - a biologist, ethnologist and director of the Dominion Museum, were despatched to the College of Arms in London for heraldic processing. McDonald’s design was the least awful; the others reflected not only the untutored state of design in New Zealand but also the widely held delusion that the country was merely a satellite of Britain. Perhaps the most telling aspect of the exercise was early evidence of the 'number eight wire' syndrome at work in the service of design, a local belief that make-do substitutes are not only cheaper but just as effective.

Unofficial arms of the Selwyn District Council (1989).
Heraldry of the World
A similar situation applies to the coats of arms adopted by a majority of the towns and cities of New Zealand. In most instances these representations of civic virtues have been drawn up by persons unversed in either design or the codes of heraldry. More often than not, the results abound with images of plenty, agriculture, the odd animal, an impressive local feature, such as a mountain, and, occasionally, a badly drawn Māori-derived pattern. The difference between the New Zealand armorial bearings and the municipal inventions is that the former was submitted and approved by the country’s official heraldic authority, whereas the arms developed for, say, the Selwyn District Council in 1989 were not, they were just assumed.
Armorial bearings of the Auckland City Council as granted in 1911
In 2010 the seven former city and district councils of the Auckland region, along with its regional council, were merged to form a single governing entity, Auckland Council. The change was overseen by a managerial body known as the Auckland Transition Agency and one of the strategies it implemented to symbolise the unity of the new Council was to hold a design competition for a new logo. The Auckland region has, over the years, been represented by a wide variety of graphic symbols. These have ranged from those devised by the College of Arms in London to various corporate-style logos. Armorial bearings were granted to the Auckland City Council in 1911. Like the arms of New Zealand, granted that same year, they were a rather awkward confection of local attributes: a cornucopia, a pick and shovel and a sailing ship with Kiwi supporters and a crest comprising a mural crown acting as a sort of crenellated flower pot for a Harakeke (New Zealand flax) plant. Other former councils such as Manukau City and Waitakere City also had armorial bearings, granted in 1968 and 1955 respectively although, technically, they were being used illegally as they had been granted to predecessor bodies.
A 1990s rendering of the 1980s Auckland City Council logo
A 2000s rendering of the 1980s Auckland City Council logo.
It was originally accompanied by the catchphrase 'city of sails'
Auckland City Council may have had a properly authorised armorial bearing and, up to the 1970s, was sufficiently proud of this civic device to employ it widely, including, scaled up, on an external wall of its modernist Administration Building (Tibor Donner architect, 1966). However, by the mid-1980s, as New Zealand lurched into an orgy of neo-liberal deregulation, this was a 'brand' seemingly anathema to the council and its officers who commissioned the first in a series of corporate logos that supposedly more closely represented the city's self-image. The final iteration of an Auckland City Council logo, designed in collaboration with an advertising agency Ogilvy Metro, was launched in 2007 at a reputed cost of $1 million. The expenditure was justified on the grounds that the previous logo was 'tired', that market research had shown that 'people didn't know what the old brand referred to' and they 'didn't recognise that it represented the council'.
The 2007 Auckland City Council logo
The Transition Agency's design competition seems to have been undertaken in the spirit of the earlier logo-making essays with the added benefit that, by making it an open competition, the council would not be liable for the sort of fees charged by commercial brand identity makers. In an eerie mirroring of the 1906 and 1908 competitions for a national coat of arms, the competition attracted over one thousand entries. This time the submissions were judged by a group of local celebrities chaired by a former advertising executive. The winning entry, by a retired commercial artist Jim Dean was described by one of the judging panel, presumably without any sense of irony, as 'concise, elegant, compelling - not threatening or aggressively corporate.' In fact, its circular badge form and clean, stylised rendering has a distinctly heraldic quality, although the reference appears to be to Japanese mon (), rather than the badges of European heraldry.
Jim Dean (1941-), Initial design for an Auckland Council logo, 2010
While Dean's design may have earned the approbation of the judging panel, it does not seem to have found much support either from the Transition Agency's contracted designers or with a significant sector of the branding industry. The Agency's unidentified designers rejected Dean's mon-like roundel, opting instead for one of his alternative designs which placed the stylised pohutukawa flower over three stylised blue waves - or blazoned in heraldic terms, three engrailed barrys azure - and enclosed it within an escutcheon-like tri-lobed border as well as adding the words Auckland Council/Te Kaunihera o Tāmaki Makaurau, a move that detracted from the visual potential of the image while simultaneously trivialising Dean's design.
Jim Dean (1941-) and unidentified designers, Final design for the Auckland Council logo, 2010
The pohutukawa design has not found favour among the various agencies of the reformed council, possibly because its current elaborated form doesn't lend itself to ready identity. Moreover, a number of Auckland Council agencies have sought to commission brands that differentiate their identities from that of their sole shareholder. Auckland Transport, the Council-controlled body responsible for, among other things, public transport in Auckland decided, controversially, to adopt a new, more corporate, 'working' logo on the grounds that the pohutukawa design did not 'say anything about movement or transport in Auckland'.

While the design finally adopted by the Transition Agency reinforces the heraldic resonances of Dean's initial design the subsequent augmentations suggest that those responsible for generating the image of the city haven't learned much from their earlier forays in commissioning unmemorable corporate identities. While the 1911 grant of arms to the Auckland City Council was produced at a time when heraldic design was at a low aesthetic ebb there was no reason why when it was first replaced by a logo it could not have been simply redesigned for a new audience or why it could not have been augmented by the grant of badges and banners with a stronger visual presence. Dean's design has sufficient visual coherence to be the basis of a new grant of arms but it's unlikely that the reconfigured Council knows any better than to continue a dependence on the heraldically illiterate designers of corporate identities when it comes to expressing civic identity.

Kel Marsh, Semi-heraldic logo of the Auckland Institute of Technology (1989) and, following its change of status in 2000, 
the Auckland University of Technology until 2008
It isn’t just New Zealand municipalities that have indulged in this sort of heraldic illiteracy. AUT University, formerly the Auckland University of Technology - which prides itself on having a large school of art and design - had, until recently, a semi-heraldic logo that it ‘inherited’ from its former manifestation as the Auckland Institute of Technology. This travesty of a logo broke most heraldic - and for that matter aesthetic - rules in terms of its design and application. Uniquely among the eight New Zealand universities, AUT University has no official armorial bearing and, most recently, in what appears to be a fit of self-conceit, replaced its semi-armorial logo with a rebarbative corporate logo evocative of letterman sports apparel found in the high schools and colleges of the United States. It seems that the authorities at this redundantly titled university are of the opinion that the derivative sports jock logo they have adopted makes a cutting edge statement about what the modern, business-savvy university is all about: no unfortunate baggage from the past and, definitely, no regressive acknowledgement of history, cultural or otherwise.
Unidentified designer, Corporate logo of AUT University (2008 to date)
The right to bear a coat of arms is derived from the monarch in her role as fount of honour, a medieval concept that, surprisingly, remains a part of the New Zealand constitution. In respect of the crown in right of New Zealand, this authority is administered by the College of Arms in London. In this respect alone coats of arms differ from corporate logos in that they have legal status over and above copyright on a design. Few New Zealanders are aware of the way coats of arms and other heraldic appurtenances are granted and fewer would be aware that there is a specific heraldic authority for New Zealand located within the Cabinet Office of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The post of New Zealand Herald of Arms Extraordinary was created by royal warrant in 1978. The occupant of this post is responsible, among other things, for providing advice to ‘the crown in right of New Zealand, the government, government departments and New Zealand Defence Force on heraldic and certain allied matters; to liaise with the College of Arms in respect of the granting and confirmation of coats of arms, both personal and corporate, and to advise on technical aspects of distinctive New Zealand motifs which it is desired be incorporated in any grant.' While the position exists, it's widely ignored, even by government departments, who, aspiring to corporate status, have commissioned corporate brand identities from commercial graphic design consultancies. Unlike heraldic arms, badges and crests, these emblems tend to be determined by fashion, fleetingly controversial, expensive and, invariably, short-lived.
Unidentified designer, Corporate logo of the Ministry for the Environment
Māori response to heraldry and its associated system of vexillology - the study of flags - was immediate and positive, recognising the utility provided by clearly delineated, codified, images that articulated the mana and authority of its bearers. While He Whakaputanga or the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand is widely recognised, little attention has been paid to Māori heraldry, the most notable example being Te Paki-o-Matariki (the fine weather of Matariki, [the winter solstice and/or the Pleiades constellation]), the armorial bearings devised about 1890 for the Kīngitanga movement by Tīwai Parāone of Hauraki and Te Aokatoa of Waikato and Ngāti Raukawa. It was a very specific visual response to the iconography of the English royal arms and all the more powerful for its recognition of the mana invested by Pākehā in this symbol of ultimate absence. In formal heraldic terms, these indigenous armorial bearings adhere to the codes of European heraldry: they encompass what appear to be an escutcheon (or shield); a helmet; a crest - an eight pointed star and the six five-pointed stars of the eponymous constellation; two supporters; and the whole rests on a compartment embellished by native flora.
Tīwai Parāone of Hauraki and Te Aokatoa of Waikato and Ngāti Raukawa, Te Paki-o-Matariki, about 1890,
taken from the first masthead of Te Paki-o-Matariki (1892-1935)
According to Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal in his Te Ara entry 'Waikato tribes - the King movement', the 'central double helix represents the creation of the world. On the left is the figure of Aitua (misfortune) and on the right Te Atuatanga (spirituality). The stars above are the Pleiades, and a Christian cross can also be seen.' The compartment suggests Te Whenua (the land). The narrative encapsulated in the image is precise, resonating with the aims and intentions of the Kīngitanga movement and conveying both its whakapapa and mana. From a European heraldic perspective this achievement is both nuanced and exemplary and contrasts favourably with the near contemporaneous 1911 armorial bearings of New Zealand in terms of the clarity of its message and visual sophistication. Te Paki-o-Matariki was conceived of as a strategic visual response to Pākehā deployment of the royal arms of England and used by the Kīngitanga movement in much the same way, notably in the masthead of its eponymous newspaper published between 1892 and 1935.
Te Rata Mahuta Potatau Te Wherowhero (18?-1933), Te Paki o Matariki, Ngaruawahia, Waikato, Pepuere 1929. He Niu ka torona ki ngaiwi o Aotearoa, o Te Waipounamu, ki ona topito e wha. ... Nga kaupapa. 1. He kawanga whare whakairo, ko to koutou tupuna ko Mahinarangi; ka tomokia i te ata o te mane, te 18 o nga ra o Maehe,1929. ... Heoi, Na Te Rata Mahuta Tamaki makaurau, Mokau Kohunui, Pare Hauraki, Te Hauauru [1929]. 
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, Eph-D-MAORI-1929-01
That Māori had grasped the essentials of heraldry so immediately is hardly surprising. Nineteenth century Māori placed high value on appropriating those aspects of Pākehā culture they deemed to be of utility in their dealings with the incomers. Wharehuia Hemara, noting the rapid and widespread acquisition of literacy by Māori, observes that 'Either Māori or a blend of native and exotic teaching and learning styles enabled a pre-literate society to capture literacy within one generation and then reconfigure it to suit themselves.' (W Hemara, Māori pedagogies (Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research, 2000), p. 9.) The same capacity for absorbing and adapting seems to have been prevalent when it came to visual literacy. Roger Neich observes a similar phenomenon occurring in the decoration of meeting houses, particularly in respect of 'the remarkable development of figurative painting' from the 1870s up until the 1920s when this innovation was 'downgraded in a revival of the "traditional" arts'. (R Neich, Painted histories (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1994), p. 1). Te Paki-o-Matariki was another innovation that while expressing Māori cosmology employed the codes of European heraldry to create a new emblem at a critical moment in history.
Canadian Heraldic Authority and Andrew Qappik (1964-), Coat of arms of the territory of Nunavut, 1999. Like Te-Paki-o-Matariki, the escutcheon depicts the Pleiades, albeit from a northern hemisphere perspective 
A number of former British colonies around the world have, following independence, established their own heraldic bodies. The first was Ireland, which as part of its de-Anglicising process established the office of Chief Herald in 1943 in place of the authority previously exercised by the British Ulster King of Arms, an officer of the College of Arms. Canada established an Heraldic Authority by royal letters patent in 1988  and South Africa a Bureau of Heraldry by Act of Parliament in 1962. Both Canada and South Africa have instituted remarkable changes in the the presentation of their official, civic and personal heraldry and are increasingly drawing upon indigenous iconography in their designs rather than the redundant medievalism that permeates much of the heraldry of the British isles. Perhaps it is time that New Zealand too established its own heraldic authority, one drawing on the country's rich cultural and visual diversity rather than being dependent for its official symbolism either on the rulings of a mediaeval relic in London or, less impressively, the heraldically illiterate and culturally banal whims of corporate fashion.