Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The familiar unknown

by Jonty Valentine
David Bateman, 143 pp., August 2014, $60.00, 978 1 869 53869 9

Writing to a would-be British migrant to New Zealand in January 1961, Henry Holden, an economist at the Department of Industries and Commerce, observed that while 'New Zealand manufacturers are becoming increasingly aware of the merits of industrial design [...] it would seem that this interest has not yet developed to the point where full-time consultants have been established [...] Normal design services are rendered by Advertising Agencies and in some instances architects and publishers.' <Archives New Zealand, IC W1926 57/1/6 vol 1, letter from H C Holden to G King, 25 January 1961>. Holden was in a position to know about how design functioned and was perceived in New Zealand; he was a member of the industrial design study team established in May 1959 by Dr W B Sutch, permanent secretary of the Department of Industries and Commerce, to investigate the role of industrial design in New Zealand manufacturing with a view to establishing a design promotion body modelled on the British Council of Industrial Design (CoID).

In January 1961 Mark Cleverley was working as a draughtsman in the architectural department of the New Zealand Dairy Company Ltd in Hamilton; it was, as he recalls in the series of interviews with Jonty Valentine that form the core of this book, 'all a great buzz'. Like Sutch, Cleverley had ambitions for design in New Zealand and shortly after, as Sherry Blankenship recounts in her introductory biographical essay, moved with his wife and family to Christchurch where, as a recipient of one of the first Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council Scholarships, he enrolled as a student at the Ilam School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury.  Cleverley was precisely the sort of person Sutch saw as a lynchpin of his vision of an intelligence-led economy, one characterised by 'brains and skills' not the production of raw material for conversion elsewhere.

In many respects, Cleverley's choice of Ilam, rather than, say Elam or the Wellington School of Design – soon to be incorporated into Wellington Polytechnic – was serendipitous notwithstanding the fact that the competing institutions were in the process of establishing industrial design courses. When Cleverly started his studies, the design component of the Ilam diploma course was taught by Florence Akins (1906-2012), who, as he observes 'was quite old-fashioned [...] virtually just craft'; Akins, the first Ilam student to be awarded a Diploma in Fine Art had been appointed to the staff in 1936. Things changed the following year when the new head of school, the English silversmith John Simpson, recruited his fellow countryman the designer Maurice Askew (1921 - ) to teach graphic design. Askew's approach to the subject was rooted in interwar European modernism and marked an abrupt shift in the school's teaching of not only two dimensional design but also three dimensional form.
Unidentified photographer, Queen Street 18 June 1964. The design of Robert Kerridge's 246 Queen Street development (Rigby-Mullan, 1959) embodied an alternative, commercial American-inspired, modernism, to that practiced by Cleverley
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries (7-A918)
As Cleverley studied, so New Zealand attitudes toward design and its role in manufacturing underwent significant shifts. In Christchurch the recently founded Design Association of New Zealand (DANZ) attempted to establish a 'design centre', based on the CoID's eponymous London shopfront. There was a difference though, proposed Christchurch design centre was to be more shop and less front, more a sales outlet than an impartial design promotion agency, even if DANZ anticipated that it would be publicly funded. The Auckland cinema chain entrepreneur Robert Kerridge was more brazen, but equally unsuccessful, in seeking government support for the formation of a similar retail front as part of his 246 Queen Street retail development.

It's evident that the idea of a government-sponsored design promotion body was as misunderstood in New Zealand as it was elsewhere: designer practitioners argued these bodies should be all about their practice; retailers, importers and advertisers saw them as a profit-making opportunities; manufacturers and primary producer organisations identified them as a source of funding that could enable niche market penetration. At various times all three sectors expressed opposition to their formation and all three contributed to the demise of the New Zealand Industrial Design Council (NZIDC), the institutional outcome of Sutch's investigation, which was finally realised in November 1967 when an Order in Council brought into force the provisions of the Industrial Design Act 1966.

Confusion as to what design councils were conceived to do carries over in this book with Valentine thanking a practitioner body, the Designers Institute of New Zealand (DINZ) for permission to reproduce articles from Designscape, the influential magazine produced by the NZIDC from 1969 until 1984. In fact DINZ, which was formed in 1991, has no claim to ownership of the magazine. The NZIDC was  a government agency created by an Act of Parliament and the Act abolishing the council in 1988 transferred the Crown's residual ownership of the assets of the NZIDC, including copyright, to Telarc, a Crown Entity involved with quality control that had been established in 1972 by the dairy industry.

This sense of uncertainty about the ownership of design prompts a discussion of Cleverley's 1972 application to join the British design practitioner body, the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers. Now called the Chartered Society of Designers it formally coalesced in 1930 as the Society of Industrial Artists; a number of New Zealanders were early members including Len Lye, Eric Lee-Johnston and James Boswell. It had no formal connection with either the Council for Art and Industry, the first British design promotion body that operated from 1934 until 1939, or its successor body the CoID, established in 1944 and now called the Design Council. To the contrary, those responsible for appointing the first CoID deliberately sought industrialists and avoided practising designers. As the design writer John Gloag observed approvingly, it consisted 'almost entirely of specialists, moreover who know what they are talking about. There is not likely to be any "uplift" or "art blah" emitted from the deliberations of this body.' <National Archives BT/64/5173, letter from J Gloat to F Meynell, 21 December 1944>. By 'specialists' Gloag meant manufacturers; the 'art blah' came later.
Milner Gray (1899-1997) for the British Council of Industrial Design, Royal arms of England (c 1946).  Gray redesigned the arms for use as the council's logo. This version emphasised the council's role as a state body while conveying a somewhat whimsical sense of modernity
It's worth remembering that the CoID was established as a grant-aided body primarily 'to promote by all practicable means the improvement of design in the products of British industry'. Michael Farr, quoting from the Council's first annual report, defined the CoID's understanding of industrial design as 'not simply the plan of a particular product. It is a unity in the industrial process, a governing idea that owes something to creative design, something to the machine, something to the consumer, and links them all together.' <M Farr, Design in British industry: a mid-century survey (Cambridge: University Press, 1955), p. 209>. Design promotion bodies were primarily intended as policy tools for changing industrial mindsets, not for promoting the practice of design or protecting its practitioners.

The changing perception of design by New Zealand businesses is encapsulated in a letter sent by T E Clark, managing director of Crown Lynn Potteries Ltd, to Sutch in July 1960 inviting him to 'favour us with your presence, and with a short address, at the presentation of prizes in Our Crown Lynn Design Contest for 1960.' Asserting that the design competition was 'second only to the Kelliher Prize' for painting, Clark noted that 'In this way [...] we are taking the first steps towards making the New Zealand pottery industry a 100% New Zealand industry, and opening a new field or the creative abilities of New Zealand designers' <Alexander Turnbull Library, Sutch Papers, 2002-012-22/7, letter from T E Clark to W B Sutch, 19 July 1960>. That the Crown Lynn design competition was viewed as second only to the Kelliher says more about the poverty of artistic patronage in New Zealand than it does about Crown Lynn's competition, which had earlier been criticised as unethical by the Association of New Zealand Art Societies. The competition however, raised the company's public profile and partly expunged its reputation for producing shoddy, ill-designed and dubiously labelled wares.

Cleverley won the first of his Crown Lynn design awards in 1961, but being a prizewinner in such a competition didn't seem to auger a career in New Zealand's under-capitalised and erratically managed ceramics industry. After having subsidised his university study by working at for the architectural practice Warren & Mahoney, Cleverley found employment as a graphic designer in Christchurch, with an advertising agency in Auckland and then, between 1966 and 1968, with the entrepreneurial packaging firm UEB Packaging Ltd.
Unidentified designer/UEB Packaging Ltd, Detail of packaging for British Wax candles (c 1974) showing the UEB logo.
UEB was a New Zealand firm that embraced the concept of good design with an almost evangelical fervour. during the late 1960s and 70s UEB's squared scroll logo was ubiquitous on an extraordinary range of consumer products. UEB had been established in 1947 by James Doig (1913-1984), a former Glaswegian merchant marine officer to manufacture cartons and boxes by the mid 1960s, the company had become one of the largest companies in the country and had expanded into fields such as carpet manufacturing. Aside from his entrepreneurial drive, Doig had a strong interest in design, recognised by his appointment as deputy chairman of the inaugural governing body of the NZIDC in 1966; he retired in 1973.
Mark Cleverley (1934?-)/Crown Lynn Potteries Limited,  Palm Springs styled by Dorothy L Thorpe earthenware plate (1967-1972). One of Cleverley's early challenges at Crown Lynn was to develop the American decorator Dorothy Thorpe's sketches into feasible production designs.
Portage Ceramics Trust (2008.1.626)
Cleverley though is best-known as a designer of Crown Lynn ceramics and he was finally recruited by the company as a development designer in 1967. This is where the informal interview format that forms the heart of the book shines. Valentine introduces a text Cleverley wrote for the NZIDC's magazine that prompts the latter into an extended and informative account of his work for the company <M Cleverley, 'Stacks of crockery', Designscape, no 58 (May 1974), pp. 5-7>. This liberty of expression enables a sense of how design functions; its interactive process as the designer both as a form maker intimately involved in the mechanics of production and as a mediator between the institutional power formations of the enterprise.

Notwithstanding the fact that much of his output for Crown Lynn has hitherto been either ignored or misattributed in the literature, Cleverley's work at Crown Lynn was technically innovative, visually exploratory, intellectually informed and of a quality and sophistication rarely seen in New Zealand manufactured goods. Unfortunately he was sidelined when the company's board initiated a series of what might best be euphemistically described as corporate blunders: it changed its name, acquired unrelated manufacturing interests, restructured its ceramics production while failing to support these changes with associated investment, dropped the design competition and employed a Royal College of the Arts graduate and former technical college lecturer, Tom Arnold, as design director. Arnold stayed less than three years before lasting less than a year running down the NZIDC as its penultimate director. The 1980s were not good years either for design or its promotion.
Mark Cleverley (1934?-) for New Zealand Post Office / Harrison & Sons, 10 cent definitive stamp (1969) with unidentified designer for New Zealand Post Office, commemorative envelope (1970)
But notwithstanding his impressive – if largely unrecognised – career as a designer of ceramics, it was in the esoteric field of stamp design that Cleverly made his most distinctive mark, as one of a small group of designers commissioned by the Post Office to invent a new image for New Zealand stamps between 1969 and 1974. This decision produce some of the best-designed stamps to be found anywhere in the world. Presumably in order to mollify conservative critics, the Post Office continued its tradition of simultaneously producing some of the more conservatively designed stamps to be issued anywhere.
Mark Cleverley (1934?) for New Zealand Post Office/Japanese Government Printing Bureau, Expo'70 stamps (1969) with [Mark Cleverley (1934?-) for New Zealand Post Office] commemorative envelope (1970)
The Post Office's decision to respond to criticism of its low design standards by improving the quality of its definitive stamps prompted the establishment of a design advisory committee in 1968, which included John Simpson of Ilam and Gil Docking of the Auckland City Art Gallery (as it was), along with 'all the old guard from the Post Office'. The committee ultimately invited a number of designers to submit proposals that resulted in a series of commissions for a new definitive range; Cleverley designed the 10c, 15c, 25c, 30c $1 and $2 issues; Maurice Askew, one of his lecturers at Ilam, designed the 28c and 50c stamps.

The resulting designs were the subject of a short, critical, assessment in the NZIDC's Designscape (no. 8 (October 1969), probably written by its director, Geoff Nees, which is reproduced – in all its glorious Letraset layout – in the book. While noting that 'the general standard is far superior to most previously produced [...] the new stamps represent a landmark in the history of the New Zealand Post Office', Nees cautioned that all was not good and compromises had been made. The English-born artist and designer Eileen Mayo's six stamps were derided as 'stodgy and ill-considered', a view that considering her long career as a stamp designer, was both damning and provocative. Cleverley's modernist designs were, however, the 'best of the lot'.
New Zealand Post Office after Mark Cleverley (1934?-)/Harrison & Sons, 1974 Commonwealth Games commemorative issue with PD/Colin Simon (logo) commemorative envelope (1974). Cleverley disclaimed responsibility for the final stamp designs
These reductive, asymmetric designs challenged the Post Office's traditional approach to more than just the design of its stamps. For the 10 cent definitive he attempted to render the New Zealand armorial bearings in a more contemporary idiom, in much the way Milner Gray had updated the British arms for the CoID some two decades earlier. As Cleverley recounts, the proposal was rejected, as was his hopes of embossing the armorial. These designs perturbed the deeply conservative culture at the Post Office and Cleverley's last designs for it were for the 1974 Commonwealth Games.  However, as Blankenship recounts, his design requirements were too much for the then Postmaster General, the Labour party's Roger Douglas – who would later gain notoriety for his neoliberal reforms of the state apparatus, including the abolition of the NZIDC – and subsequent changes imposed by the Post Office prompted Cleverley to disavow his role as designer of the issue.

Blankenship fails to either identify Douglas as the obstructor or recognise that the Postmaster General was a political position – it was a Cabinet post – and thus that his intervention had a political dimension over and beyond the bureaucratic. This avoidance of social and political contexts denies an understanding of the impact Cleverley's designs for both Crown Lynn and the Post Office had on New Zealand in the 1970s. In an economically modest, conservative and homogenous society, suspicious of both the arts and innovation, modernist design – with the notable exception of motor vehicles – seems to have been regarded as a pathway to a sort of material perdition. In his modest way, Cleverley's designs of the nation's crockery and stamps made a significant if subtle contribution to the country's changing perception of the modern during the 1970s.

After leaving Crown Lynn in 1980, Cleverly took to teaching, initially at Ilam then at Wellington Polytechnic, retiring in 1996. Crown Lynn, by then a small part of the Ceramco Corporation Ltd, was shut down in 1989 by the asset-stripping, entrepreneurial businessmen who now controlled the company. The Post Office was split up and privatised and the NZIDC abolished. The society that over the 1970s had against its own inclinations developed a nascent manufacturing sector and a concurrent sense of design was now focussed on unbridled consumerism of products manufactured elsewhere and devoid of local design input.
Detail of the stamped mark on Crown Lynn Potteries Limited's Palm Springs wares. Mark Cleverley is acknowledged as the designer although his name is misspelt as 'Cleverly'
Valentine provides a reflective conclusion that acts as a terminal bookend to his interviews with Cleverley. In it he contextualises and critiques the forgoing conversation, locating it within the surprising normality of the designed product in 1970s New Zealand: the stamps, the Colin Simon logo, the Crown Lynn 'Apollo' dinner service along with the Lego building blocks and other international manifestations of the designed product that were available here. As he notes:
A lot of Mark's work will be familiar to many New Zealanders and will likely provoke similar personal memories and associations. But unlike literature or artworks that are viewed in galleries, hung on walls with labels to name the artist and explain what they are, most of these artefacts have not been attributed to an individual designer and certainly have not been explained, historicised or contextualised as such. The paradox of most designed objects is that while they are familiar and most likely encountered every day in our homes they cease to be consciously 'attended to' soon after purchase. And the result of this is that the makers of the objects, the designers, are completely forgotten. Actually, were most often never known by name.
This perceived need for identity is a problematic that teeters on the brink of a now discredited form of design history that has been identified by Tony Fry as a sort of canonisation: the 'great white men of modernist history' narrative. The suspicion that this text falls into the 'great white men' category of historical exegesis is somewhat reinforced by the series title 'Objectspace Masters of Craft', a designation that ultimately sits uncomfortably with the book's subject and content. A canonic history is one that 'is generative of design heroes and movements as the primary agents of the evolution of design; and a history which takes the canon as given knowledge and the foundation upon which to elaborate or criticise.' <T Fry, Design history Australia (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1988), p. 27>. Fry dismisses the validity of this premise, posing the fundamental query: 'what of all the other designed objects, the vast majority, which evolve and are used but are excluded from such a history?'.

Anonymous history – the phrase was coined by the architectural historian Sigfried Giedion in  his historical account of the industrialisation of commodities, Mechanization takes command: a contribution to anonymous history (1948) – raises another set of problematics. As Fry observes, much that Giedion discussed wasn't anonymous, 'all the objects which populate this history have the stamp of commodities; all have been named in the market-place.' Moreover, he effectively ignored the social relations of production by separating them into discrete economic and cultural spheres rather than seeing mechanisation as 'a function which acts on a specific society'. Fry asserts that 'while there were changes at the industrial point of production, which recast the social relations of production, these changes equally reconfigured the domestic, as re-ordered use and space.' <Fry, pp. 32-33.>. A similar prognosis might well be applied to Valentine's text, but in this case it would be redundant. His specificity is quite deliberate. Recognising the formal modernist demarcations, the 'need to differentiate between spheres of design', Valentine proffers the rationale
that when I play the role of a graphic-design writer I am conscious that my job is always to try to present an authentically design-based narrative, and part of doing that is to constantly question my own discipline's use of language and mythologies.
Imposing parameters on this history of design in New Zealand has not detracted from the power of the text nor the importance of its content. Unlike much of what passes for the written history of design in New Zealand, this is an intelligent, rigorous and perceptive recounting of a practice; a significant and important contribution to the archive. Rather than a 'revised New Zealand history from the perspective of a graphic designer', the entertaining anecdotes of a critic, or the well-rehearsed opinions of a practitioner, this is a key text in the nascent history of design in New Zealand.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Fortunes in odd places

Gordon Minhinnick (1902-1992), Cover drawing for Loan exhibition of antiques (1935)
Between 26 September and 10 October 1935, Auckland 'art lovers' were able to view what was described as 'a loan exhibition of antiques' on display in the – now demolished – L D Nathan buildings in High Street. There were over 1026 objects on show, drawn primarily from local private collections and embracing paintings, furniture, clocks, metalwork, ceramics, dress, books, prints and manuscripts, coins and medals, arms and 'Miscellaneous & exhibits received too late for classification'. Ostensibly modelled on the 1934 Antique Dealers' Fair held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London, the exhibition had been developed by a selection committee and was accompanied by a printed catalogue, with a cover designed by the New Zealand Herald staff cartoonist, G E Minhinnick. Selected objects were made available for sale, an entrance fee was charged and profits were directed towards the Plunket Society and the Girl Guides Association. The Auckland Star reported the only difficulty encountered by the organising committee concerned the lack of suitable glass showcases for the smaller exhibits.
The Auckland Star report of the opening of the exhibition was juxtaposed against an account of a protest meeting in the Auckland Town Hall against poverty and distress by a group of clergy, including the future dean of St Paul's cathedral in London (1967-77),  the Rev Martin Sullivan.
Auckland Star (25 September 1935), p. 5
Parading an ostentatious display of wealth during the Great Depression, even under the fig leaf of charitable works, could be perceived as a provocative act, but the loan exhibition provoked no rioting, seems to have elicited no negative comment in the media of the time although it opened the day after a major meeting at the Auckland Town Hall protesting against poverty and has been ignored in historical accounts of the slump. Nonetheless the exhibition represents a significant threshold moment in New Zealand's material history culture for a number of reasons. While not the first assemblage of 'antiques' to be held in the country – Christchurch had an exhibition in 1932, Wellington another in 1933 – it seems to have been the largest and, as the New Zealand Herald bragged, 'probably the finest collection of antiques ever assembled in New Zealand.'
John Cecil Hill (1889-1974), Comment cartoon in the Auckland Star (26 September 1935), p. 8. Hill notes the indifference of neglectful national and local governments to the loan exhibition of antiques while his clerical observer draws attention to the more pressing concerns of the Town Hall protest meeting

Reporting on preparations, the New Zealand Herald observed such exhibitions 'had met with marked success from the artistic, educational and financial points of view.' Aside from its avowed charitable aim – and the making of a profit – the purpose of the exhibition seems to have been an attempt to address the city's cultural deficiencies by demonstrating the breadth and depth of its private collections. And, in the face of economic instability, it provided a tangible level of reassurance and historical continuity to a nervous bourgeois class. Its failure to acquire cultural or political visibility may have been deliberatively protective but it also reflects a prevalent sense of public ignorance and disinterest in portable material culture.
Unidentified maker, inkstand of painted and gilded earthenware, [England, (c. 1850)]. From the collection of the Rt Rev E A Anderson, bishop of the Riverina, NSW. Anderson sold this piece at auction in Sydney where it was described in the catalogue as 'an exquisitely pretty soft-paste Sèvres [porcelain]
inkstand [...] one of the gems of the collection'.
Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Sydney (A509)
Lenders to the exhibition encompassed what passed for Auckland society in 1935. Not only did Lady Galway, the wife of the governor general, George Vere Arundel Monckton-Arundell, viscount Galway, open the exhibition but the gubernatorial couple also lent material including a trove of silver (236), a collection of miniatures (726) and a 'Pewter communion cup, once the property of Captain James Cook, whom it accompanied on his voyages of discovery. About 1760.' (403). The Rt Rev Ernest Augustus Anderson, former Anglican bishop of the Riverina in New South Wales, lent a collection of Worcester porcelain (518-519), seventeen pieces of 'miscellaneous' English eighteenth century porcelain (530), 'two coloured Bartolozzi prints and one needlework picture. 1780' (687) and three enamel patch boxes (868). Unfortunately for the art lovers of Auckland, peculation of the funds of the diocese of Riverina by its solicitor led to the greater part of Anderson's collection of ceramics being sold by the Sydney auction house Lawson's in 1906. A number of pieces were acquired by the Sydney Technological Museum although, sadly for the museum, most of the pieces it purchased were not what they were claimed to be. In the absence of comparative examples, attributions tended to be aspirational rather than actual.
Day & Son after Frederick Rice Stack (1822-1873), View of Auckland Harbour, New Zealand, taken during the regatta of January 1862 (the race of the Maori war canoes), from F R Stack, Views in the province of Auckland, New Zealand (London: Day & Son, 1863), plate 1.
Six prints from the series were lent to the exhibition by the Northern Club.
Grey Collection, Auckland Libraries (GNZ 993.2 S78)
The president and members of the Northern Club lent 'six lithographs of early Auckland, from the drawing of Major F R Slack (sic)'. Club members or their wives were equally generous: Sir George Wilson, first president of the New Zealand National party, lent a collection of English watercolours. His fellow Kelly Gang member, Edward Russell, éminence grise of his father's law firm Russell McVeagh, loaned 'a Korean cabinet bound and ornamented in brass' (199) while his sisters lent a variety of things: Ada (Mrs R Anthony Carr) a 'Chinese work box in gold and black lacquer (913); Agnes (Miss Agnes Russell) a 'Engraved Egyptian copper tray. Probably 14th century.' (392) and a 'Spode fruit dish 1805' (486); and Grace (Dr de Courcy) a 'Pair of tall brass candlesticks, used in Palestine' (371), 'An oviform copper urn of Adam design. 1780' (377) and an 'Oak spinning wheel from Donegal. Early 18th century' (991). Russell's nieces were equally generous: Mrs Austin Carr (née Barbara Greig) lent a 'Child's high chair in two pieces 1800' (100) and a 'Copper tray engraved in Arabic "To the Glory of Allah: made by Solomon the gardener". About 1700' (374); and Mrs Paul Cropper (née Airini Carr) made available a 'Prie Dieu chair in walnut, upholstered in cross stitch. 1700' (74) and a 'Tea caddy in walnut, with claw feet. 1800' (901). The Islamic copper pieces had probably been collected by Grace de Courcy while working for the International Quarantine Commission in the Suez and the Egyptian Public Health Service during the second decade of the century.
Unidentified photographer, Includes no. 59 ['Five panelled screen, Chippendale, Chinese style with glass panels'] and part of no. 111 (sic) ['suite of Louis XVI furniture'] (1935). The photograph appears to have been taken at the Charles Nathan residence, 'St Ann's' in Arney Road, Remuera, prior to the exhibition.
Loan exhibition of antiques (Auckland: [s.n.], 1935), p. 17
Pre-exhibition publicity emphasised the exhibition was drawing on the collections of the city's wealthier residents, notably that of Mrs Charles Nathan (née Gladys Cohen of Sydney); her husband's cousin's firm, L D Nathan & Co, provided the exhibition venue and she seems to have been an active member of the committee, evidently cajoling members of Auckland's Jewish community into supporting the exhibition, including Kenneth Myers and Dr [Augusta] Klippel (née Manoy) who lent a plethora of smaller objects ranging from a 'Medallion in bronze of Charles XII of Sweden. 1705' (399) to a 'Beleek (sic) bowl. Early 19th century' (439). Mrs Nathan's loans included a 'Five-panelled screen, Chippendale, Chinese style, with glass panels. 1753' (59), a 'Three-panelled folding screen, Louis XVI. 1780' (61), a 'Suite of Louis XVI furniture with Aubusson tapestry, six upright chairs, two stools, one settee. 1780' (114), 'Eleven Dutch silver birds and bear. 1800' (303), a 'Complete Rockingham teaset. 1825' (481) and a 'Waterford glass goblet. 1800' (614). Other members of the extended Nathan family were equally generous with loans: Mrs Sidney Nolan (incidentally a Wellington resident) showed a 'Monk's chair in oak with straight legs and wooden seat. 17th century' (69). Mr David L Nathan, chairman of L D Nathan & Co, exhibited a pair of Louis XIII chairs. 1601-1643 (112), 'Two Louis XV chairs with original tapestry. 1710-1774' (113), a 'Pair of hand-tooled leather Portuguese chairs. 16th century' (108) and a 'Pair of hand-painted Cordova leather chairs. 17th century (109). The Nathans seemed keen to demonstrate that, authentic or not, the Rothschild taste for French furniture had spread as far as Auckland.
Unidentified photographer, Viscountess Galway opens antique exhibition: Her Excellency with Captain G Humphreys-Davies, of Clevedon, a noted collector of antiques, after performing the opening ceremony yesterday.
New Zealand Herald (27 September 1935)
The most significant material both in terms of scope and quality was that lent by Captain George Arthur Wenham Humphreys-Davies (1880-1948), a sheep farmer from Kawakawa Bay, near Clevedon. Now largely forgotten, despite his generosity to his adopted land, he was without doubt the most sophisticated collector lending to the exhibition. Humphrey-Davies was a Welsh-born, Oxford-educated, former officer in the Household Guards – hence the military title – who had fought in the Boer War and World War I. More importantly he was a discerning and knowledgeable collector of Asian arts, notably Chinese ceramics and Japanese ukiyo-e. He also lectured regularly on the subject and had been involved in a number of exhibitions, notably in July 1933, when he exhibited 75 early Chinese ceramics from his collection at the Auckland War Memorial Museum and in September 1934 when he exhibited a selection of his ukiyo-e at the Auckland Art Gallery; the museum later appointed him honorary curator of its oriental collections.
Andō Hiroshige (1797-1858), Kameido Tenjin keidai (Inside Kameido Tenjin Shrine) (1856). One of a number of ukiyo-e from Humphreys-Davies' collection shown at the loan exhibition (722). The print was acquired by the Mackelvie Trust in 1946.
Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki (M77)
Humphreys-Davies's loans to the exhibition were not only extensive in scope but also numerous. The most prominent was his 'Collection of Chinese ceramics, illustrating the development in porcelain from 20BC to the early nineteenth century.' (421) but he also lent a 'Small collection of European earthenware' (591), a 'Small collection of Japanese colour prints, showing examples of the work of the most famous artists from about 1630 to 1830.' (722), a 'Prayer carpet of silk pile on linen warp, made in Asia Minor. Early 18th century' (750), a 'Prayer carpet of silk pile on cotton warp, made in North Eastern Persia. Early 18th century' (751), a 'Khira Bokhara rug of wool pile on woollen warp. Early 19th century' (753), a 'Prayer carpet of silk pile on cotton warp, woven in North East Persia in early 19th century' (754) a small group of eighteenth and early nineteenth century European porcelain (1017-1022), a 'Pair of Japanese dower chests. About 1650' and, finally, but not least, a 'Tiara said to have belonged to the Empress Josephine' (1024). Humpheys-Davies' collecting anecdotes, with his chatty accounts of treasures won against the odds, were a highlight of the exhibition's publicity push: as he blithely informed the Auckland Star, 'the history of nearly all the most valuable objects d'art in the world has been one of robbery, cheating and violence.' It was all good copy.
Unidentified photographer, Nos 155 and 634 (1935). Mrs Bruce Mackenzie's Sheraton (sic) writing table and her 'Bristol decanters'.
Loan exhibition of antiques (Auckland: [s.n.], 1935), p. 21
On the basis of pieces with a Humphreys-Davies provenance in contemporary public and private collections it's reasonable to conclude that, with the possible exception of the tiara – which has disappeared – most of his attributions were fairly accurate. The few pieces photographed for the catalogue suggest this was not the case with many of the other loans. Mrs Charles Nathan's 'Five-panelled screen, Chippendale, Chinese style, with glass panels' (59) with the absolute date of 1753 was neither designed by Thomas Chippendale, nor was it made in a 'Chinese style' in 1753; it was probably French and made in a Louis XV revival style around 1900. Dr Klippel's 'Early 19th century' Beleek (sic) bowl also defied chronology, the Belleek factory being established in 1857. Similarly Mrs Bruce Mackenzie's 'Sheraton writing table. About 1760' (155) had no connection with either Thomas Sheraton or his influential publication Cabinet maker's and upholsterer's drawing book, published in parts in London between 1791 and 1793. Writing tables do not feature in the pattern book and the photograph suggests this piece was most likely made about 140 years after the date attributed to it in the catalogue. Moreover, it would have been a remarkable juvenile survival if Sheraton, born in 1751, had anything to do with its manufacture. Likewise, Mrs Mackenzie's 'Bristol decanters. About 1800' (634) were, on the basis of the photograph, neither of Bristol origin nor were they decanters. In part these ambitious attributions, with their extraordinarily precise dating, reflect the absence of public collections of decorative arts collections and, with the notable exception of Humphreys-Davies, any accurate and informed knowledge of the material under scrutiny. The New Zealand Herald's assertion that 'Not one of the exhibits is less than a century old' was a delusion.
Loan exhibition of antiques (Auckland: [s.n.], 1935), p. 64
The presence of a number of objects marked for sale suggests not only that there were a number of antique dealers trading in Auckland but also, more poignantly, that a number of exhibitors were hoping the sale of their pieces might relieve pressing financial burdens. Only one dealer advertised in the catalogue: Mrs J [Winifred Lilian?] Cowley who had premises on two levels at numbers 17 and 116 Queen's Arcade. Mrs Cowley seeded the exhibition with a number of items including a 'Boulle cabinet. 1780' (187), a 'Corner washstand in mahogany with jug and basin. Late Georgian' (201) (inexplicably not marked for sale), a 'Silver pomander. 17th century' (241), along with a number of ceramic pieces including Derby figures (453), other Derby wares (460), and a 'Wedgewood (sic) cup. Late 18th century' (468), also not for sale.

Classified advertising by Karoly Antiques in the Auckland Star (1933-1940)
The only other dealer who can be identified as associated with the exhibition is the laconically described and studiously ignored Karoly. During the 1930s a series of wanted and for sale notices were placed in Auckland newspapers by Karoly Antiques located, initially, in Wellesley Street, 'opposite the Public Library' and later at 418 Queen Street. The shop survived until November 1940 when a public notice in the New Zealand Herald announced its imminent closure, advising clients to collect their goods. It is possible Karoly was, or may have been associated with, the Hungarian-born musician Charles Moor-Károly (18?-1948) who arrived in New Zealand in 1922. Karoly placed a number of items for sale in the exhibition, including an 'Oval table in mahogany. 1740' (4), which may have been acquired through a wanted advertisement for 'Old mahogany and walnut furniture condition immaterial' placed in the Auckland Star on 22 May 1933. Other pieces offered for sale through the exhibition included a 'Sheffield plate tankard. 1800' (327) and a 'Pair of plaques painted on porcelain. About 1830 (framed)' (596).
William James Harding (1826-1899), H F Turner Major 65th Regt Severely wounded Mahoetahi Nov 1860 ([c. 1860]). Henry Ferdinand Turner (1823-1902) sold his commission in 1862 and returned to New Zealand in 1867. After serving as resident magistrate in Patea he farmed at Whenuakura.
His son exhibited a silver racing cup he had won in 1854.
Te Papa Tongarewa (O.013569/01)
The reasons that prompted Alfred Turner and his sisters Helen and Margaret to identify their loans as for sale are unclear, but given that the pieces appear to have been family heirlooms suggests an air of genteel desperation. Turner, a retired farmer, and his sisters, all now living in Remuera, exhibited a number of pieces, notably, from Alfred, a 'Silver cup won by "Nainai", owned by Major [Henry Ferdinand] Turner of the 65th Regiment, at what is believed to be the first race meeting held in Wellington. 1854' (297). The Misses Turner lent six groups of material, five of which were for sale: a 'Pair of Wedgewood (sic) plates. Early 19th century' (514), a 'Set of five Royal (sic)* Worcester vases. 1800' (520), a 'Blue Royal (sic) Worcester bowl. About 1820' (524), a French 'Spill vase. 18th century' (558), a 'Lace veil and two lace scarves (limerick), also three pieces of black lace. Early 19th century' (800) and an 'Indian scarf. 18th century' (830). It is impossible to tell if there were any buyers but it does not appear that the silver racing cup survived. Its probable fate was to be consigned to pawnbrokers, such as the Meltzer Brothers who had premises in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, where it was likely melted for its metal value.

Aside from the governor general's putative Cook relic, the Northern Club's prints and the Turner racing cup, few of the exhibits had local connections, real or imagined. Mrs R N Moody exhibited a 'New Zealand inlaid wood  table, by [Anton] Seuffert. About 1845' (46), Mrs W J Coutts a 'Hall chair used in Government House, Auckland, in Captain Hobson's time. About 1841' (107) and Mrs Ball a 'Soup tureen and two plates. Part of a Coalport dinner service once the property of Bishop John Selwyn' (449). Artefacts with a colonial provenance seem to have had little currency with a selection committee more concerned to exhibit its worldliness; colonial relics, unless they could be invested with an aura of social superiority – a governor, the monarch (Queen Victoria allegedly patronised Seuffert), a bishop – were of no significance. But what passed for cosmopolitan taste in Auckland was realised in the exhibition as a sort of dreary provincialism; as Keith Sinclair archly observed some thirty years later, ‘a pleasant dream of taking tea at Lyons Corner House—or Buckingham Palace—has shaped society in Remuera and St Heliers.’<Keith Sinclair, ‘The historian as prophet: equality, inequality and civilization’, in The future of New Zealand: the University of Auckland winter lectures 1963, ed. by M F Pritchard, (Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs for the University of Auckland, 1964), 124-142, p. 126>. No matter its displays of exotica – Humphreys-Davies carefully curated Asian material and the Russell familys' dubiously identified Islamic metalwork – the prevailing appearance of the exhibition would have been its provincial Britishness; conformity, no matter how banal, was all.

Despite its avowed aim, the Loan exhibition of antiques was more than just an exercise in charitable philanthropy, the avoidance of economic reality and a foray into social frivolity. Its primary – if unspoken – purpose was to reassert the economic and social values of Auckland's urban elite. Using a language of untutored connoisseurship, the exhibition drew on an often false lexicon of objects in an attempt to sidestep the city's provincial condition. But by investing the city with a concocted veneer of metropolitan sophistication, the organisers of the exhibition unwittingly highlighted the disastrous impact unfettered capitalism had recently made on New Zealand's colonial economy and on its society.

* The Worcester Royal Porcelain Co Ltd was established in 1862.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Real and fake

Unidentified painter after Mikhail M Adamovich (1884-1947) M S Kuznetsov Partnership Factory, 'борьбд родинг героев РСФСР V 1918-1923
Heroes of the battle of the Motherland RSFSR V 1918-1923', porcelain and enamel painting [c 1910 - c. 1995?].
The design commemorates the fifth anniversary of the founding of the Red Army
Located on the outer fringes of the western civilisation it predominantly identifies with, New Zealand's non-indigenous material culture is characterised more by what is absent than what is present. This state of absence is one of the many tangible manifestations of colonial economies. While the colony supplies unprocessed material to the colonial power and acts as a market for manufactured commodities, it has few of the skills and resources necessary to undertake domestic conversion of the unprocessed produce.

When it comes to manufactured commodities such as ceramics, this skills deficit is accompanied by by the unavailability of what might be best described as the presence of comparative material. This deficiency ensures consumer choice is limited to what consumers are aware of, with the consequence being that market is defined not so much by competitive forces but rather by what manufacturers and their agents choose to supply. In New Zealand, for example, for much of the second half of the nineteenth century, this curtailed supply chain had little cultural significance as many European settlers brought not only their material culture with them to the colony but also memories of what they had seen in the metropolis; emporia of the mind.

But this situation changed dramatically as the population became more settled. By the early twentieth century, the ceramics market in New Zealand was dominated, exclusively, by English manufacturers. On the basis of information relayed to them by their New Zealand-based agents, the potteries of Stoke-on-Trent teamed up with import/export houses, based primarily in London, to determine what ceramics would be selected and distributed in New Zealand. It was a small, unsophisticated but lucrative market. The wares sent out were generally conservative in their design, repeating the shapes and patterns of familiar wares. When New Zealand manufacturers began producing tablewares during the import substitute phases that followed the institution of import licensing in 1938, they simply reproduced the familiar products of Stoke-on-Trent. External influences on the design of ceramics produced industrially in New Zealand were limited: the studio wares of the Anglo Japanese potting tradition (Temuka's stoneware lines); mid-20th century simple hand painted wares from the Netherlands, Sweden and Italy (Crown Lynn's brief foray into art ware in the mid 1950s); and American industrial ceramics (notably the rimless plates and the Dorothy Thorpe inspired wares produced at Crown Lynn). There was no reference to the larger European ceramic tradition or to those of Islam and China; to all intent and purpose they had no bearing on local practice.
Unidentified painter/Royal Saxon Porcelain Manufactory, Meissen, Tea bowl and saucer, porcelain, enamel painting and gilt, [c. 1730]. The extensive gilding and its baroque design suggests an early date of production.
Mackelvie Trust Board collection, Auckland Museum (1932.233)
These empirical limitations were recognised by some of the more pre-eminent early settlers including, in Auckland, George Grey and James Tannock Mackelvie. While Grey's primary focus as a collector of things was on books and manuscripts he also made significant acquisitions of Chinese decorative arts, apparently with the view of gifting them to a public institution. The non-resident Mackelvie – he lived in Auckland for only six years – acquired a significant collection of paintings but, as Mary Kisler observes, his 'real preference was for a range of decorative arts'<M Kisler, Angels & aristocrats: early European art in New Zealand public collections (Auckland: Godwit, 2010), p. 20>. A watercolour portrait of Mackelvie by George Halkett depicts him with a blue and white tin-glazed Delftware double gourd-shaped tin-glazed vase that is missing its lip. Unlike Grey, and no matter his proximity to the British Museum's extraordinary Augustus Wollaston Franks – they were neighbours in Victoria Street, Westminster – Mackelvie seems to have collected without the advice of experts; many of the pieces he acquired have been subsequently identified as being not what they were originally thought to be, a not uncommon problem in antipodean collections prior to the age of near instantaneous, high-quality visual digital communication.
Ceramics Study Gallery at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. This publicly accessible display storage gallery, which stretches for over half a kilometre, displays a representative portion of the museums collection of ceramics
While the collections of New Zealand museums are, compared to those of Europe, minuscule in size and restricted in scope, the situation is exacerbated by the reality that, even when correctly identified, most of the material forming those collections remains in storage, disregarded by its curators and inaccessible to the public. Museum managements have long advocated using digital resources to compensate for the absence of display space but such a solution has considerable limitations and is, ultimately, reliant on the quality and knowledge of the cataloguer.
Screenshot of the Auckland Museum's entry for a tea bowl and saucer in the Mackelvie Trust Board collection (September 2015)
The Auckland Museum's collection database is a case in point. Take the tea bowl and saucer from the Mackelvie collection, which is housed by the museum. The entry correctly identifies the form and the ceramic body and also suggests, without any supporting evidence, a date of manufacture within an imprecise twenty year span. However, the data is deficient in a number of respects. The organisation producing the piece is referred to as the Meissen porcelain factory, rather than, as Anglicised, the Royal Saxon Porcelain Manufactory, a title that not only provides a clue as to the country of origin, Saxony but also resonates with the autocratic nature of the factory's formation by Augustus II, the Saxon elector. Any connection to the Prussian monarch Frederick II is spurious. The entry does not indicate how the crossed swords mark is applied, it was painted; it states the gilded mark '35c' is a manufacturers (sic) mark although there is a possibility that the gilding may have been undertaken outside the factory. There is no description of the ground colour or the painted vignettes. No reference material is cited. The entry appears to comply with an internal museum cataloguing standard (record richness) of ⅔ yet it is evident that the object has been catalogued by a person both without any specific knowledge of the work of the manufactory and a minimal understanding of ceramics. There is no dialogue between the object and its cataloguer, leading to an absence of dialogue with the viewer of the entry.
Screenshot of a part of the British Museum's entry for a plate produced at the Imperial Porcelain Factory, Lomonosov, Russia (September 2015)
By way of contrast the British Museum's  on-line collection data-base provides information based on the expert assessment of curatorial staff. There are hiatuses in the information which appear to relate to the limitations of the software. For example, while the porcelain blank was produced at the factory when it was designated the Imperial Porcelain Factory, St Petersburg, by 1922, when the blank was decorated, it was the State Porcelain Factory, Petrograd, and by 1925 the Lomonosov Porcelain Factory, Leningrad.
Detail of the obverse of Unidentified painter after Mikhail M Adamovich/M S Kuznetsov Partnership Factory, 'борьбд родинг героев РСФСР V 1918-1923 Heroes of the battle of the Motherland RSFSR V 1918-1923', porcelain and enamel painting [c 1910 - c. 1995?]
The 'Heroes of the Battle for the Motherland' plate heading this post encapsulates some of the problems encountered in using digital technologies to verify an object's origins and dates. The plate's appearance and size suggests it is an example of the revolutionary porcelains decorated at the Lomonosov factory between 1917 and 1927. The painting is crisp and confident, albeit a little pallid and the gilding somewhat scant; the painted marks on the obverse of the plate are not too dissimilar to those found on the British Museum's examples. The lower inscription correctly attributes the design of the Red Army soldier to Mikhail Mikhailovich Adamovich (1884-1947) and the painter's 'АГц' cypher is similar to those on other examples, although, like many of them, it remains unidentified <N Lobanov-Rostovsky, Revolutionary ceramics: Soviet porcelain 1917-1927 (London: John Calman and King, 1990), pp. 154-155>. The design appears, rather more confidently executed, on a plate formerly in the Nicholas Lynn collection dated 1925, published in 1990 by Nina Lobanov-Rostovsky (Fig. 3).
Mikhail M Adamovich/Imperial Porcelain Factory. 'V РСФСР V 1918-1923/V RSFSR V 1918-1923', porcelain, enamel painted and gilded plate (1925).
N Lobanov-Rostovsky, Revolutionary ceramics: Soviet porcelain 1917-1927 (London: John Calman and King, 1990, fig. 3
There is an obvious problem though with 'Heroes of the Battle for the Motherland' plate. Rather than bearing the underglaze stamp of the Imperial Porcelain Factory at Lomonosov – an imperial cypher – it bears a blue transfer-printed underglaze factory mark with the post-1900 version of the M S Kuznetsov Partnership Factory – '[a double-headed imperial eagle] / т в2 / мс кузнецова / дф' – at Dulevo, outside Moscow. This might not be so much of a problematic given that it's known that Adamovich worked at the Dulevo factory between 1927 and 1933 and it is not without the realms of possibility he may have provided a painter at the Kuznetsov factory with the design; the painted date on the obverse might relate to the date of the original design, rather than the decoration of the blank.
Rudolf Vilde (1868-1941) / State Porcelain Factory, 'Sieg der Werktätigen 25 Oktober/Victory to the workers 25 October', enamelled porcelain plate (1921). The plate commemorates, in German, Labour Day celebrations
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (78.1288)
This is where digital information would leave a researcher; the information available suggests a possibility that the 'Heroes of the Battle for the Motherland' plate is what it claims to be. It's not. Examination reveals the decoration has been painted on a used, clear-glazed, plate which has been re-fired subsequently at a temperature somewhat lower than the original: abrasions consistent with quotidian use are visible under the painted decoration. While it may well have been decorated by a competent painter in Russia, possibly based on an unidentified prototype, it seems to have been produced within the last two decades of the twentieth century in order to satisfy a growing demand for Soviet revolutionary ceramics, which nowadays sell at auction for tens of thousands of pounds. Ironically, one of the first 'western' cultural institutions to acquire these graphic ceramics was an Antipodean museum, the Australian National Gallery in Canberra (now the National Gallery of Australia), which purchased a significant group of this material in 1978. The appearance of 'alien' ceramics in the gallery's collection represented a cultural shift from a provincial mindset to a sophisticated and knowledgeable one, comfortable with its place in the world.

Recognised for what it is rather than what it was intended to be seen as, the 'Heroes of the Battle for the Motherland' plate was acquired for a modest sum at Portobello Market in London in 1995.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Vogel furniture

William Henry Mudge (1831-1920), Kauri chest of drawers, 1891.
Even today, chests-of-drawers make regular appearances at Auckland auctions. Among the earliest pieces of furniture imported into New Zealand by Pākehā settlers, chests-of-drawers were also the earliest furniture types produced in the colony, after chairs and tables. A key feature of the domestic landscape, particularly in the bedroom, chests-of-drawers feature regularly in the auction columns of the local press in the first years of settlement. In January 1841, Frank Losack advertised in the New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator the sale – from a tent – of a mahogany chest-of-drawers amongst a variety of other furnishings and impedimenta. Second-hand chests-of-drawers were a regular feature of the auction columns in the press well into the latter part of the century when expanded domestic production and the growing weight of fashionability displaced second hand furnishings, quite literally, to the back of the shop.

A recent auction in Auckland listed a plain Kauri chest-of-drawers of nineteenth century date. Unlike much of the furniture that turns up in auctions, this piece retained its original shellac finish. It was exceptionally well made and its design exhibited a sophisticated understanding of geometric proportion, from the square ratio of the whole to the reductive proportions of the five drawers. There were other subtle refinements, including the stepped vertical corners, the raised plinth and the cock-beading of the drawers. It was a handsome example of functional furniture and its timber and location attested a New Zealand origin.
Detail of inscription on the fielded dust slip of the upper left hand drawer. 
Dating such a piece seemed problematic. Its chaste lines, squared proportions, turned drawer pulls and an absence of ornament suggested both a maker with a provincial background and a date close to the middle of the century. Such speculation became moot when the drawers were removed from the chest revealing a pencilled inscription on the fielded dust slip of the upper left hand section. Written in an expansive long hand it read: 'Made at Christmas / 1891 W Mudge'. It's not common to find a signed and dated example of furniture from the nineteenth century anywhere, which suggests that this simple piece may have had a particular significance for its maker.

New Zealand electoral rolls for 1890 list three W Mudges in the country: one, a tailor, in Port Chalmers; another Otago resident, a carter, in Mount Ida; and the last and most likely identity, a carpenter residing at Marjoribanks Street, Wellington. William Mudge appears as a freeholder on the Wellington electoral rolls from 1878-79, initially at number 27, and remains on them until 1919, when he is still listed as a carpenter living at 41a Marjoribanks Street in Wellington East.
Excerpt from City of Wellington electoral roll 1890
William Mudge is not mentioned in New Zealand furniture histories; his identity as a carpenter, rather than a cabinetmaker or even a joiner would seem to suggest that he was more involved in the construction of buildings than the making of furniture. Newspaper reports provide a little more information as about his career and death, notably the fact that in 1890 he was president of the Wellington branch of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners, constituted in 1860 which, as part of the Building Trades Union, is now the oldest surviving union in the country. In 1878 the Wellington branch of this British-based union is recorded as comprising 32 members. Bert Roth in his history of the trade union movement in New Zealand notes that 'the carpenters too were the first union to combine on a countrywide basis: a New Zealand Council of their union still subordinate to headquarters in Britain was formed in 1876.' <H Roth, Trade unions in New Zealand: past and present (Wellington: Reed, 1973), p. 5>. The Evening Post of 16 July 1890 reported a meeting chaired by Mudge – for which he received a vote of thanks – where members received a 'short but pithy' explanation of the benefits of unionism. An item from 20 August reported the union 'arranging matters relative to Demonstration Day', now known as Labour Day, suggesting that, notwithstanding his status as freeholder of the property in Marjoribanks Street, Mudge was a key player in the first celebrations – held on 28 October 1890 – of the eight-hour day, an achievement won in Wellington in 1840 by the carpenter Samuel Parnell.
[Unidentified photographer, The eight-hour day committee, Wellington, (1890), re-photographed by Winifred Gladys Rainbow (1890-1960). Samuel Parnell is seated in the centre of the front row. It is possible that William Mudge, as president of the Wellington branch of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners was a member of the committee.
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington (PAColl-2324)
Further information on Mudge's life is provided by a brief report noting the death of his wife, Sarah, published in the Evening Post in November 1919. It records that they arrived in New Zealand on the SS Avalanche in 1875 and, somewhat inaccurately, observes they 'had resided ever since at 41a Marjoribanks Street.' William Mudge died in September 1920 'at the residence of his daughter, Mrs Gilchrist, in Island Bay'. A brief obituary in the Dominion noted he was born in Devonshire in 1831 and, most significantly, 'was a very old member of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners.'

The Mudge's move to New Zealand was made possible by the provisions of Julius Vogel's Immigration and Public Works Act, a piece of legislation designed not only the bolster settler presence in New Zealand but also to diversify its political economy. In reporting the arrival of the Avalanche in Wellington, the Evening Post noted that it carried 225 immigrants comprising 180 adults and 45 children. Beyond increasing settler numbers, Vogel's immigration programme sought to expand and diversify the colony's skills base. Mudge's skills as a carpenter and joiner were highly sought after by New Zealand immigration agents in Europe: migrants required housing and houses in New Zealand were, more often than not, constructed of timber.
Excerpt from the 1841 census return for the Borough of Devonport
William Henry Mudge was born in Christow, a small village in the western part of Devon, in 1831. By the time of the 1841 Census, the Mudge family was recorded as living at Newport Street, East Stonehouse, Plymouth, where William's father John was employed as a screw cutter, possibly in the Royal Navy's Devonport Dockyard which was massively expanded during the 1840s. By 1851 William had moved across the Tamar to Gunnislake in Cornwall, approximately 16 kilometres north of Plymouth, where he was apprenticed to a James Mudge, a carpenter employing five men. Like William, the 32 year old James Mudge had been born in Christow, so most likely was closely related.
Except for the 1851 census return for the village of Gunnislake
Between 1851 and 1856, when he married Sarah House Jackson (1830-1919), at St Mary's church, Bryanston Square in Marylebone, William Mudge, like many of his fellow countrymen, made his first significant migration from Cornwall to London. The 1861 census shows Mudge – now described as William H Mudge – listed as a joiner and, with his wife and three children, sharing a house on Southampton Street in Camden Town, an overcrowded London district best known for its sooty proximity to the mainline stations of Euston, St Pancras and King's Cross. By 1871 the Mudge family which now comprised six children had moved to 42 Mornington Crescent, still in Camden Town, which they shared with a lodger, another family and their lodger.
Excerpt of the 1871 census return for the Civil Parish of Pancras
42 Mornington Crescent, Camden Town, London in 2012.
Google Maps
It is difficult to discern from the scant official records what persuaded William Mudge to apply for assisted passage to New Zealand. While unemployment doubled in Britain between 1870 and 1880, a skilled and experienced manual worker such as Mudge should not have had difficulty finding employment, particularly in London. Skilled joiners were in constant demand as the city expanded at an unprecedented rate and Mudge's New Zealand chest-of-drawers attests to the quality of his work. It's possible that Mudge's activities as a unionist – and the Evening Post comment suggests that he was probably an active member prior to his removal to New Zealand – may have led him to believe that his life and that of his family would be better spent working in what James Belich describes as 'the progress industries' of  'Better Britain' than the smutty purlieus of the metropolis.
41a Marjoribanks Street, Wellington in 2015.
Google Maps
Official records don't indicate how or by whom William Mudge was employed from the time he arrived in Wellington up to the time he died, but, as an active unionist, it's unlikely that he was self-employed. Notwithstanding the admonition in his death notice that there be 'no mourning (by request)' his eldest daughter Priscilla inserted an in memoriam notice on the anniversary of his death. The Mudge name survives in Wellington in a small cul-de-sac, Mudges Terrace in Newtown, developed in the early 20th century by William's youngest son Alfred John (1869-1947), also a carpenter by trade.

William Mudge made his chest-of-drawers in his sixtieth year, at the end of what appears to have been a highly successful presidency of his union. While it's a design he could have made as an apprentice in Cornwall forty years earlier, its construction demonstrates that he was a craftsman of considerable talent and skill. But more than anything, the chest-of-drawers is a physical manifestation of Julius Vogel's attempts to bolster settler society by providing opportunities for 'decent working people' to enhance and improve their life in the Britain of the South.