Organisations in the arts and crafts

This essay written by Anne Else was first published in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 1993. An update is coming soon!

All-women arts and crafts groups have a long history in this country. In Māori society, where women and men for the most part undertook different branches of the arts and crafts, group work was the norm – though named individuals were often singled out for their particular gifts or skills. After the arrival of the Pākehā, writing, the 'fine arts' and the crafts formed three linked strands in New Zealand's cultural life. For several decades, the history of women acting together in these fields was mainly one of small, informal associations, often taking shape around a course or teacher. Some of these groups, notably in the crafts, eventually came together under the umbrella of a national federation. Others dispersed as members moved on to independent work, or their broader political aims appeared to have been largely achieved.

From the nineteenth century to the 1920s, groups of women interested in writing and literature arranged to meet regularly; probably painters and craftworkers did too, though less evidence of their meetings remains. Between the wars, one notable group – The Group – was formed by women painters, and women remained the majority of its most active members. Hundreds of women worked in informal art, craft and literary 'circles' within other organisations, for example the Women's Institutes and women's club networks; writers, readers and journalists joined larger organisations with widespread branches; and the first craft organisation to reach out nationally began. All these groups were innovative, in that they offered to a wide variety of women a space and context within which to pursue a chosen occupation beyond marriage and motherhood or the demands of a bread-and-butter job. The Group had the most acknowledged influence within its own field, overtly challenging the conservative art establishment. The craftswomen were eloquent advocates for the aesthetic as well as the practical value of their work. The writers' groups promoted women's books and nurtured women who would later become important figures.

After World War II, new growth came from increasing affluence, a more enlightened school curriculum and more contact with overseas developments, combined with married women's eagerness to move beyond the confines of suburban domesticity. Spinning and weaving, practised almost entirely by women, and pottery, pioneered by women, were particularly prominent. In the 1950s the foundations were laid in the crafts for effective national organisations. Their determined, patient work did much to broaden the scope and raise the status of those crafts most closely associated with women and domesticity.

But as yet, none of these groups sought publicly to question or overturn the basic tenets of 'the arts' in twentieth century European culture: that individuals produced bodies of work for experts to judge, using objective, universal, purely aesthetic criteria; and that though the hierarchy of merit might alter over time, characteristics such as gender, race or class were irrelevant.

By the late 1970s, feminist arts groups were profoundly challenging all these premises. They were also organising a huge variety of 'woman-centred' projects, events and publications, demonstrating 'the drastic shift in perspective which can only occur in the context of explicit feminism, after considerable open anger, and with the backing of feminist solidarity'. [1] Their work reached large numbers of women who might not have been to an art gallery or a poetry reading before, and brought a range of responses from dominant figures and institutions within the arts world.

Painting students at Elam School of Art, c. 1897

Painting students at Elam School of Art, c. 1897. Back from left: unknown, Louise Laurent, Margaret Woodward (later Jackson), Jane Eyre, Alice Falwell (later Whyte), unknown. Front: Edward Payton, Amy Rhodes (later Smythe), unknown. Ref: 0131_01_001A, Hocken Collections

Organising the arts

In the late nineteenth century, women-only organisations were a familiar feature of the European and colonial arts world beyond New Zealand. The Society of Female Artists was founded in England in 1857 (later changing its name several times); the Society of Women Writers and Journalists began in London in 1894. Many similar organisations formed in various European cities in the second half of the nineteenth century, as well as in the USA, Canada, and Australia. Their broad aim was to counter the 'restrictive practices imposed by professional bodies and … institutions' – including the extremely influential all-male clubs – which 'jealously guarded privilege and worked to the exclusion of women'. [2] They provided alternative networks and opportunities to bring women's work to public notice, seeking to enlarge women's place within the male-dominated arts world, rather than to challenge and change that world. New Zealand women studying and working abroad in the arts made good use of the existing women's organisations. Writers might contact the New Zealand Circle of the London Lyceum Club, warmly recommended by novelist Edith Searle Grossmann in 1904; painters might join the Society of Women Artists, or the Women's International Art Club, founded in London in 1900. [3]

No women artists' or writers' societies of similar scale and formality began in New Zealand until the 1930s, partly because they did not seem to be necessary. In the later nineteenth and early twentieth century, committed New Zealand painters and writers were mainly independent entrepreneurs, promoting their work and reputation as best they could in a difficult, albeit improving, market and environment. In fine arts, the additional obstacles facing women related mainly to overarching gender roles and prescriptions. In 1885, when Nelson artist Emily Cumming Harris went to a meeting for intending exhibitors at the forthcoming Indian and Colonial Exhibition in London, it was the first public meeting she had ever attended, and the first time women had been present at such an occasion – despite their strong showing at exhibitions. Married and single women alike found that domestic and family responsibilities left little time for the arts. Successfully combining a painting career with marriage and motherhood remained exceptional until at least the 1940s.

However, the structure of the arts world here was still uncomplicated and relatively free from institutional or ideological barriers based on gender. High culture in general, and the fine arts in particular, were seen as morally and spiritually elevating, and hence more closely associated with the feminine than with the masculine. The professional art training courses which began here in the 1870s, including life drawing, were fully open to women, who found like-minded colleagues and friends there. By the late 1880s, women comprised nearly half the working members of the influential art societies. Prominent women artists such as Margaret Stoddart, Mary Elizabeth Richardson Tripe, and Dorothy Kate Richmond were elected to art society councils (though not to the most senior positions) and served on selection committees. But for the most part, women played the familiar supportive role: they were 'usually responsible for social activities and helped with fundraising'. [4]

Women also joined the working artists' clubs which sprang up from the 1880s, for example Christchurch's Palette Club, begun in 1889 because of dissatisfaction with the Canterbury Society of Arts, or the first Wellington Art Club, founded in 1892. Its successor, formed in 1911, was less egalitarian: women paid half the male subscription rate, but could not be elected to the General Committee.

Writing attracted far more women than painting, partly because it required no specific training, outlay, space or equipment. But though some women did train alongside men in the journalism courses which began to be offered by university colleges from 1909, they were barred from many jobs in journalism. Women writers venturing beyond the safe categories of romance and children's stories were wise to use ambiguous pseudonyms, as Edith Lyttelton ('G.B. Lancaster') did.

Small local reading and writing groups formed early, some offering publication in their own magazines. Most seemed to have targeted mainly younger single women keen to occupy their minds and time with something more challenging than the usual domestic and social round. Members of the Rata Club, begun in Christchurch in 1897, adopted Māori pseudonyms and met for literary 'runanga'; the average attendance was five. Their magazine, Rata Leaves, had reached Volume 5 by 1900. Auckland's Atom Quarterly, the journal of the Atom Club, which held literary 'At Homes', was 'open to receive MSS from any girl contributor, providing she resides in New Zealand, is unmarried and a subscriber'. [5] It promoted fundraising for Queen Victoria Māori Girls' School, and its contributors included children's writer Isabel Maude Peacocke, and feminists Jessie Mackay and Wilhelmina Sherriff Bain.

For writing men, then as now, the common meeting ground was the pub; but for women, finding respectable places to meet outside private homes was a recurring problem well into the 1920s. In the more restricted environment of Britain, it had been one of the main factors spurring the formation of the London Lyceum Club, which provided 'a suitable meeting place for writers, artists and other freelance workers who needed to meet male colleagues and agents without compromising themselves'. [6] In New Zealand, Blanche Baughan, Jessie Mackay and Mary Colborne-Veel began the Canterbury Women's Club in 1913, to provide premises and occasions where women who were interested in literature and the arts could gather.

The number of women declaring themselves to be professional writers rose from less than 8 percent to just over 12 percent of the total numbers in this category between 1916 and 1936 (see Table 1). Women were slowly gaining ground in a growing but still very small field. In addition, large numbers were writing in their spare time. The number of women professionally identifying as some kind of artist (other than 'commercial artist') in 1936 was almost exactly the same as the number of women writers, but women artists formed a  clear majority (over 60 percent) of all those in their field.

In 1927, a group of five ex-students of Canterbury University College School of Art – Evelyn Polson (later Page), Viola Macmillan Brown, Margaret Anderson (later Frankel), Ngaio Marsh, and Edith Wall – met to establish The Group. The usual explanation is that like its later counterparts – the Rutland Group in Auckland, the Independent in Dunedin – The Group 'began in response to perceived deficiencies in art institutions, especially art societies, which were regarded as bastions of conservatism'. [7] Janet Paul, who in 1980 published a detailed examination of how women artists had fared in New Zealand, notes that its founders also needed a means of getting away regularly from their home environments, which were not conducive to steady, serious work. They were at least second generation New Zealanders, had a little money and some education, and were conscious of a history of being in New Zealand. By the late 1920s they could envisage remaining here to pursue a career as an artist. At first they rented a tiny room near the School of Art; when they moved to a bigger studio, they invited, in Evelyn Page's words, 'the newest, the most modern of our contemporaries' – including men – to join them. [8] However, women predominated among the most regular and longstanding exhibitors. 

The Group's success and longevity were partly due to the fact that it 'functioned with the minimum of organisation and contact between members, its chief activity being the mounting of exhibitions'. [9] Contrary to art society practice, each member or invited artist was free to select his or her own works for exhibition, and each artist's work was hung together, so that it could be seen as a whole. The members shared the cost of exhibitions. This successful format remained unchanged till The Group's last show in 1977; the feminist groups which were beginning around that time used a very similar one.

Members of the Gore Girls' Literary Club, c. 1909

Members of the Gore Girls' Literary Club, c. 1909. Club members met to present papers on a variety of literary themes. Edith Howes, writer of children's books, is seated middle row, third from right. Ref: Gore Historical Museum

Women writers were differently situated. In a 1936 article for Woman To-Day, Robin Hyde (Iris Wilkinson) divided them into the hobbyists, who formed and joined clubs, and preferred talking about writing to doing it; the journalists, who were underpaid and not given enough scope; and the 'serious writers', driven to 'express some inward revelation of feeling so urgent that it counts for more than anything else in life'. [10] The 'clubs' by then included the literary circles of the Lyceum and similar women's clubs; the Penwomen's Club, founded in Auckland in 1925 as the League of New Zealand Penwomen (after the League of American Penwomen) by Texas-born Edna Graham Macky; and the New Zealand Women Writers' Society (NZWWS), which began in 1932 in Wellington.

In reality, women moved among all three of Hyde's categories, and joined or left the clubs, as their lives altered. Club programmes constituted a form of continuing education for 'bookish' women who would otherwise have had little or no access to it, and also promoted women's writing. Between 1928 and 1945, for example, the poetry section of the Otago Women's Club offered a full literary programme, including discussions of New Zealand women poets, an 'intensive study' of Elizabeth Barret Browning's feminist epic Aurora Leigh, and a 'brilliant resume of New Zealand literature' by the guest speaker – Robin Hyde. [11]

In the 1920s, as Dennis McEldowney points out, 'most of the influential figures on the literary scene were journalists. So were many of the practising writers … poetry, fiction, criticism and history were what journalists did in their spare time and their more reflective moments’. Many of the founding members of the NZWWS were or became working journalists, though not until World War II did more than a handful manage (at least temporarily) to break out of the confines of the women's and children's pages into general reporting and feature writing. But just as the society was forming in 1932, an important shift was taking place. 'Although the links between journalism and literature were never entirely broken, increasingly from the 1930s literary activities were in the hands of academics, or people with academic connections and inclinations.' [12] For decades, this group included very few women.

Those working beyond such circles, including most women writers, became increasingly marginalised from the body of work emerging as ‘New Zealand literature’. The records of the women writers' organisations suggest that from the 1940s to the late 1960s, the majority of members thought of 'New Zealand literature' as something being written elsewhere, principally by men – some of whom they invited to lecture to them – rather than something they themselves could take part in producing. Like some women painters, such as Flora Scales, many seem to have regarded themselves as perpetual students, never fully-fledged practitioners. However, a small number did not share this limiting view. They valued the societies as a sanctioned, safe, supportive way of exposing (or re-introducing) their writing to public scrutiny, or simply as the only available form of contact with other writers. They would later make their mark in the more receptive climate of the 1970s and 1980s.

While women painters formed no such formally structured, women-only organisations, in the 1950s small groups of women, often art school graduates, began meeting regularly in order to continue painting and drawing while primarily occupied with families, homes and other employment. In particular they sought life drawing. In Auckland, a group held in Nan McGregor's home included Louise Henderson; in Hamilton, from 1947 to 1965, Margot Philip, Jean Fairburn, Heather Lomas, Janet Paul and others met; in Wellington, from the late 1940s, Helen Crabb ('Barc') encouraged married mothers to continue their work at the daytime life drawing classes she held in her old house in Hobson Street. Some of these painters would later support the feminist arts groups of the 1970s and 1980s, welcoming their outspoken, public expression of what the older women had long privately believed about the obstacles facing women artists.

Craft organising

As Germaine Greer pointed out in 1979, by far the greater proportion of female creative power in the visual arts 'was never expressed in painting but in the so-called minor arts'. [13] At least twenty Art and Industry exhibitions were held in New Zealand before 1900, modelled on similar exhibitions overseas. Apart from painting, women's work was, with few exceptions, confined to the 'Ladies' Work' and 'Home Industries' sections. It included painted furniture, fans, embroidery, knitting, lace, crochet, ribbonwork, tapestry, small woven items, shellwork, fernwork, and pressed flower work. A similar range was sold at charity bazaars. These 'feminine' crafts were not considered to be in the same category as the fine arts. Mostly home-taught, they required very little space or financial outlay; however, they consumed huge amounts of women's time (and were therefore not a viable way to earn money). They were essentially seen as appropriately genteel (but innately trivial) leisure occupations for affluent middle class ladies.

Stall at a Wesleyan church bazaar, Nelson, 1884

Stall at a Wesleyan church bazaar, Nelson, 1884. Women made a wide variety of handcrafted items for fundraising purposes, often incorporating commercial laces and trimmings. Ref: Nelson Provincial Museum

In the 1900s, the growth of the technical schools, the advent of the free place system, and the arrival of new teachers fresh from Arts and Crafts instruction in England rapidly extended the craft training available in New Zealand, notably at the technical institutes and art schools in the main centres. The courses on offer included metalwork, enamelling, jewellery making, leatherwork, woodcarving, bookbinding, 'art embroidery' and weaving. Women flocked to enrol, both for their own interest and as a possible means of earning a living. Such crafts became part of the art society exhibiting circuit. Casual classes were popular too: by 1918, for example, Otago Women's Club members were 'assiduous in practice and experiment with the new ideas'. [14] The central paradox of the Arts and Crafts revival was evident here, as elsewhere: though the overall intention might be to bring good design and handwork to the masses, it was only the relatively well-to-do who could afford to buy such items, or to make them.

Bessie Spencer, c. 1930

Elizabeth (Bessie) Jerome Spencer gives a spinning demonstration at a Women’s Institute gathering during the 1930s. Ref: EP-0237-1/2-G, Alexander Turnbull Library. 

Nevertheless, some craftswomen did make a commercial success of selling and teaching. In 1927, sisters Josephine and Sybil Mulvany enrolled at the London School of Weaving. Returning to Auckland with a spinning wheel, looms, and 'quantities of weaving materials', they opened a shop, Taniko Weavers, and a workroom. [15] Their pupils included Florence Akins, who later became an influential teacher. They made fabrics and table linen, working mainly in silk, linen and cotton. Other enthusiasts helped to spread interest and skill. Bessie Jerome Spencer, who founded the Women's Institutes  here in 1921, was a keen advocate of handcrafts, particularly spinning and weaving. Her closest friend was the important pioneer of plant dyes, Amy Hutchinson. [16]

By 1933 the Arts and Crafts Circle of the Auckland Lyceum Club could invite fifteen professional craftswomen, including self-taught studio potter Briar Gardner and weaver Sybil Mulvany, to mount an exhibition of work at the clubrooms. The next year, potter Olive Jones returned from training in England and was soon earning a modest living. In 1935 what seems to have been the first national women's craft organisation here, the New Zealand Guild of Spinners, Weavers, and Dyers, was proposed by Dr Mary Barkas of Thames (also a Women's Institute member), Miss Lewis of Titirangi and Miss Buchanan of Christchurch; by 1937 it had 52 members, and was holding summer schools and displays as well as running courses. That year the Dominion ran an article misleadingly headed 'Arts and Crafts At Home – What Some City Women Do With Their Spare Time'. Several of the women it described were professional craftworkers, including jeweller Edith Morris, weaver Erica Admore, and Brenda Doyes, who worked in pewter and brass and was 'enthusiastic about Māori designs'. [17]

Most of this varied craft activity seems to have died away before World War II, leaving the field to pottery and fibrecrafts. This is partly explained by a shift in fashion away from the curved lines and rounded forms of Art Nouveau to the precise geometry of Art Deco, strongly associated with commercial manufacture, followed by the austerity and shortages of wartime; but it also reflected a loss of prestige for the crafts in general. By 1947, Canterbury's School of Art had shifted most of its craft courses to the technical school – except for Florence Akins' weaving course, which started that year with one student, and grew steadily more popular.

Though large numbers of women learnt to spin in World War II, by 1945 many never wanted to see a wheel again, and only a dedicated few continued. But other forces were at work promoting experience of, and eventually markets for, fine arts and crafts. When Dr Clarence Beeby became Director of Education in 1940, he found art and craft teaching in schools in a 'distressing state'. The shortage of materials and hidebound approach had led to what he called 'the making of rubbish out of rubbish'. [18] With inspiration going back to the New Education Fellowship Conference of 1937, notably the work of English educator Susan Isaacs, and with Peter Fraser's support, he set about ensuring that virtually all school children were introduced to weaving and pottery, as well as to a much more creative art curriculum. In 1942 Doreen Blumhardt was employed as National Adviser in Art and Craft; over the next six years she inspired primary teachers by her energy and flair, found innovative ways to provide suitable art materials, and saw to it that 'wool and clay rapidly became the dominant craft materials'. [19]

From 1951 Blumhardt had a major influence as head of the art department at Wellington Teachers' College, and also as a regular tutor of evening classes in weaving and pottery, attended mainly by women at home determined to expand their horizons. Some of her students, like those from similar classes elsewhere, went on to become distinguished craftswomen themselves. Others helped to swell the appreciative market for handcrafts fostered by the new school curriculum, increasing affluence, and the growth of an intellectual elite which invested weaving and pottery in particular with moral as well as aesthetic value. Meanwhile other women were eagerly seeking out the embroidery classes run by English immigrants with strong connections to the London Embroiderers' Guild.

Organising from the 1960s

Once the groundwork was laid for the major craft revival of the 1960s, the craft organisations began to find their feet. Women were heavily involved in this process. They were prominent in the developmental post-war years of pottery, co-operating closely with the men on a thoroughly equal basis across all aspects of their craft, including technology. From the outset they held key positions, notably in organising and selecting for exhibitions, on the magazine The New Zealand Potter (edited by Helen Mason, 1958–68), and in the New Zealand Society of Potters (founded in 1965). As a local tradition developed, the influence of women such as Blumhardt, Mason, Yvonne Rust and Beryl Jowett was acknowledged, and on the whole they retained their place in the historical record (even if they were repeatedly referred to as 'accepted international craftsmen'). So it is not surprising that no women potters' groups formed.

Pottery had no strong associations here with either gender. Committed, highly skilled women using the traditional techniques of fibrecraft (including quilting, knitting, and embroidery) to produce innovative, attractive work found it harder to win recognition. The significance of gender was highlighted by the amount and type of attention paid to the few men using these techniques; for example, an ignorant critic wrote of a male quiltmaker in 1983: 'There can be no doubt that his skill and inventiveness have raised a pastime which was formerly regarded as one step up from occupational therapy to the level of an important art form.' [20]

As national organisations formed, they started working to reform these attitudes, aided by women such as Nan Berkeley, the dynamic founder of the New Zealand Chapter of the World Crafts Council (1964); she arranged for embroidery and weaving – including taniko work – to be shown with pottery, jewellery, ironwork and enamelling at a major craft exhibition in Stuttgart in 1966, four years before weaving was officially accepted here as an art form. But the most profound challenge to the lower status of 'women's crafts' was to come from what became known as the women's art movement.

Far-reaching changes had taken place in the arts environment by the mid 1960s. Painters had less need of art societies or other groups: dealer galleries had become an established feature since Helen Hitchings opened the first in Wellington in 1948. There was greater general awareness, and growing approval, of what New Zealand artists were doing, and even the public art galleries were less conservative than they had been in the 1940s, when Christchurch had refused Frances Hodgkins' 'The Pleasure Garden'. However, women artists’ work remained considerably less likely than men’s to be shown and collected.

New Zealand literature was starting to be taught in the schools and universities, local publishing firms were expanding, and reprints of earlier works were appearing. Both government and private patronage of the arts had been increasing since 1946, when the State Literary Fund began; in 1963 the Arts Advisory Council became the Queen Elizabeth II (QEII) Arts Council. By the 1970s several prestigious writing and painting fellowships and competitions were being sponsored by businesses. But the more complex the arts world became, and the more it relied on professional gatekeepers, the more difficult women found it to gain and keep a footing there.

In 1973 the first United Women's Convention featured a multi-media exhibition of contemporary women's work, organised by the Auckland branch of Zonta. By the mid 1970s, news of the 'women's art movement' and the work of theorists such as Lucy Lippard was arriving here. Women began to document the dearth of women's work in major shows and public purchases, publishers' lists and dealer galleries, courses and historical surveys, and to analyse what kind of attention it received when it did appear. Feminist arts-related groups were soon burgeoning.

The groups' immediate, practical aims were to encourage women to produce work, especially feminist work (though there was extensive debate over what that comprised); to offer alternatives to the established structures; and to lobby for a more equitable share of establishment attention and funding. As the accounts here and in publications such as A Women's Picture Book (1988) show, activists tended to work across several fields. In 1974, the Christchurch Women's Art Group first brought together several women who would later be prime movers in organising the women's art environment at the 1977 Christchurch United Women's Convention, and in starting Spiral, Kidsarus and The Women's Gallery. Anna Keir was one: 'We met weekly to discuss our work and problems. This was the first time ... I consciously realised that some of the problems encountered at art school could be placed in a social context.' [21]

Women writers had similar experiences. In International Women's Year, 1975, nine had their first volumes of poetry accepted by publishers who had suddenly noticed the scarcity of women in their lists. One was Rachel McAlpine, who started to write after joining a local women's group and hearing Sam Hunt's views on women poets. 'Feminism had been in the air, and around 1973 or '74 it all started to make sense ... I suddenly learned how few women poets were being published ... I wanted other women to have one more role model, one more poet to identify with.' [22] Feminism provided the audience; the feminist (and often collectively run) journals, presses, publishers and bookshops, beginning with Broadsheet (1972), Herstory Press (1974), Spiral (1975), the first Kidsarus (1976), and Dunedin's Daybreak Bookshop (1977), supplied the means to reach it, and to convince commercial publishers that a viable market existed for new work by and about women.

By the end of the 1970s the focus had shifted, paralleling a similar shift in the women's movement generally, from finding and putting back the 'missing' women artists and writers, past and present, to examining how and why they had become lost or marginalised. The broad conclusion was that 'the way in which women artists [and other 'outsiders' such as indigenous artists] are recorded and described is crucial to the definition of art and the artist in our society'. [23] It was this excluding definition which had to be changed.

Breaking down the longstanding divisions between the fine arts and crafts, especially the fibrecrafts (both Pākehā and Māori) traditionally associated with women, was one effective strategy. Groups such as the Association of Women Artists and The Women's Gallery (both effectively starting in 1980) organised innovative group shows which celebrated 'women's work'. They encouraged craftswomen to use fine art skills and media, and women artists to turn to fabrics, fibres and their associated techniques, as well as to photography, film, video and performance art. They fostered collaborative projects, throwing standard concepts of 'individual talent' and 'originality' into question. All these strands were combined in 1984, when the Fabric Art Company, a group of seven Wellington women who met at WEA fabric art classes in 1981, took up Wellington City Art Gallery director Ann Philbin's invitation to create the 'Stuffed Stuff Show'. A highly complex exhibition, at once original and accessible, strongly political and serious yet extremely witty, it toured for two years, and was seen by 15,000 people in Wellington alone, including many who had never been to an art gallery before.

The existence of writing or fine arts groups which specifically excluded men was understood and supported by some men, but the dominant reactions were dismissal, ridicule, and hostility – particularly toward explicitly feminist groups. Some women artists, too, disapproved of all-women groups, publications or exhibitions. Yet the many fibrecraft groups whose membership consisted entirely or almost entirely of women were not viewed in the same light.

Linking gender and the arts in feminist analysis at first provoked much the same outraged reaction from the arts establishment as overtly linking politics and sport did from the rugby establishment. Such attitudes remained in the early 1990s, and continued to find platforms (including on social media). But over time, the second-wave arts groups and the work they fostered succeeded in substantially altering the broad context in which women's work was received.

Otaki Spinners 'Spin In', 1984

Two spinning enthusiasts – Mrs B Williams, of the Hutt Art Society spinning and weaving group (left), and Mrs Iris Drew, of Eastbourne Spinners – enjoy a chat during Otaki’s 'Spin-In'. The Spin-In brought more than 200 spinners from the lower North Island, organised by Otaki Spinners. Ref: PAColl-7327-1-034-5226, Dominion Post Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library

The fibrecraft groups continued to flourish and to promote the work of their members. In 1981 a group of textile artists started the Craft Dyers' Guild, whose members work in silk painting, batik, embroidery, patchwork, weaving, leatherwork, paper-making and felt-making; and in 1982 the New Zealand Lace Society was formed. Quilting groups rapidly expanded, with approximately 750 women attending the 1993 National Symposium. In the 1980s Māori women began to form their own arts and crafts associations, such as Aotearoa Moana Nui A Kiwa Weavers in 1983 [later Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa] and Haeata in 1986, often with strong support from existing groups.

Like many groups inspired by the women's movement of the 1970s, most of the early feminist arts groups were no longer active by the mid-1990s; much of their agenda and energy had been safely absorbed by the system without fundamentally changing it. Yet their collective endeavours, building on those of their predecessors, had resulted in a much more extensive range of work by and about women being created on women's terms, becoming accessible to a broad audience, and in some cases winning recognition both at home and abroad.

Anne Else


[1] Joanna Russ, How To Suppress Women's Writing, The Women's Press, London, 1984, p. 107.

[2] Julie King, 'Art Collecting by the Canterbury Society of Arts: The First Fifty Years', Bulletin of New Zealand Art History, Vol.11, 1990, p.42.

[3] Between 1917 and 1920, for example, Frances Hodgkins and Wanganui-born Edith Collier exhibited in London with both, and in 1921 Collier stood for the committee of the Women's International Art Club. See Germaine Greer, The Obstacle Race, Secker and Warburg, London, 1979, pp. 321–23, on nineteenth century women artists' societies.

[4] Calhoun, 1990, p. 18.

[5] The Atom Quarterly: A Magazine Written and Illustrated by the Girls of New Zealand, Vol. 3 No. 1, March 1901, p.4.

[6] Martha Vicinus, Independent Women, Virago, London, 1985, p.298.

[7] Catchpole, 1984, p. 113. Until the 1940s, most members of the independent groups also maintained working membership of their local arts society.

[8] Evelyn Page, interviewed by Prisciila Pitts, Wellington, May 1982; quoted in Catchpole, 1984, p. 3.

[9] Catchpole, 1984, p. 12.

[10] Robin Hyde, 'The New Zealand Woman in Letters', in Boddy and Matthews (eds), 1991, p. 189.

[11] Harding, 1990, p. 41.

[12] Dennis McEldowney, 'Publishing, Patronage and Literary Magazines', in Sturm (ed.), 1991, p. 563.

[13] Greer, 1979, p. 7.

[14] Harding, 1990, p. 24.

[15] Iris Hughes-Sparrow, 'The Taniko Weavers – Sybil and Josephine Mulvany', The Web, June 1984, p. 22. See also Janet de Boer, 'The Mulvany Sisters', Textile Fibre Forum, Vol. 6 Issue 1, No. 18, 1987, p.44.

[16] Other early enthusiasts included Mrs Carling, a skilled weaver who emigrated to Nelson from England in 1918, and taught Perrine Moncrieff; and Mary Noble, who had studied at the Royal School of Needlework and London School of Weaving. When Hamilton Technical High School opened in 1920 with 27 pupils, she began 25 years of teaching handcrafts, including weaving, spinning, dressmaking and needlework, 'on the girls' side of the institution' (Weekly News, 23 May 1945, p. 10).

[17] Dominion, 4 November 1937.

[18] C. E. Beeby, The Biography of an Idea, New Zealand Council For Educational Research, Wellington, 1992,p. 141.

[19] Beeby, 1992, p. 141.

[20] New Zealand Crafts, No. 6, July 1983, p. 25.

[21] Anna Keir to Women's Art Archive, 8 April 1979.

[22] 'Rachel McAlpine', in Mediawomen, Celebrating Women: New Zealand Women and Their Stories, Cape Catley, Whatamongo Bay, 1984, pp.181-82.

[23] Roszika Parker and Griselda Pollock, Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology, Pantheon Books, New York, 1981, p. 3.

Unpublished sources

Barrie, Lita, Women's Art Archive Interview Project, 1982–1984, E. H. McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

Catchpole, Julie Anne, 'The Group', MA thesis, University of Canterbury, 1984

Crabb, Helen ('Barc'), MS papers, ATL

Curnow, Betty, MS papers, ATL

Duffy, Mary Jane, 'The Christchurch Artists' Collective', MA thesis, University of Canterbury, 1989

Evans, Marian, 'The Women's Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand, Overview of Operations', typescript [n.d.], QEII Arts Council

Eyley, Claudia Pond, MS papers, ATL

Janet Paul and Kate Coolahan, interviewed by Anne Else, Wellington, 1992

McKergow, Fiona, interview with Betty Curnow, Auckland, 1991

Nicholson, Heather Halcrow, 'History of Knitting in New Zealand', work in progress

Stirling, Heather, 'A History of the Development of the New Zealand Studio Potters' Movement, As Reflected in the New Zealand Potter Magazine', special-study, Brighton Polytechnic, 1979, AIM

Women's Art Archive collection, 1979–1980, Te Papa, Wellington

Woodall, Kate, 'Canterbury Women and the Arts and Crafts Movement 1906-1930s', BA (hons) research paper. University of Canterbury, 1991

Published sources

Batten, Juliet, 'Emerging From Underground: The Women's Art Movement in New Zealand', Women's Studies Conference Papers '8I, 1982, pp. 67–74

Boddy, Gillian and Jacqueline Matthews (eds), Disputed Ground: The Journalism of Robin Hyde, Victoria University Press, Wellington, 1991

Calhoun, Ann, 'This, That and the Other: Donors, Women and Art Education', in Bequest to the Nation, New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Wellington, 1990, pp. 17–19

Calhoun, Ann, ‘New Zealand Women Artists Before and After 1893', Women's Studies Journal, Vol. 4 No. 1, September 1988, pp. 54–67

Calhoun, Ann, The Arts & Crafts Movement in New Zealand 1870–1940: Women make their mark, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2000

Else, Anne, '"Not More Than Man Nor Less": The Treatment of Women Poets in Landfall, 1947–61', Landfall 156, 1985, pp. 431–64

Else, Anne, ‘The Daffodil Doyley’, Women's Studies Association Conference Papers, Dunedin, August 1987, 1988, pp. 47–52

Evans, Marian, Bridie Lonie, and Tilly Lloyd (eds), A Women's Picture Book: 25 Women Artists of Aotearoa (New Zealand), GP Books, Wellington, 1988

Ewington, Julie, 'Past the Post: Postmodernism and Postfeminism', Antic One, 1986, pp. 5–21

Graham, Jeanine, 'Emily Harris: The Artist as Social Commentator', Historical News, No. 39, October 1979, pp. 6–10

Grattan, Kathleen, Sixty Lively Years, Penwomen's Club, Auckland, 1985

Harding, Brenda J., Women in their Time: Seventy-five Years of the Otago Women's Club 1914-1989, Otago Women's Club, Dunedin, 1990

Kirker, Anne, New Zealand Women Artists, Reed Methuen, Wellington, 1986

Lewis, Margaret, Ngaio Marsh: A Life, Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 1991

Oliver, W.H., 'The Awakening Imagination', in W. H. Oliver and B. R. Williams (eds), The Oxford History of New Zealand, Oxford University Press, Wellington, 1981, pp. 430–62

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Webby, Elizabeth and Lydia Wevers (eds), 'Introduction', Happy Endings: Stories by Australian and New Zealand Women, 1850s–1930s, Allen & Unwin/Port Nicholson Press, Wellington, 1987