Wellington I wonder

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Damian Skinner and I continued our jewellery journey down to Wellington principally to see the objects that featured in the Bone, Stone and Shell exhibition that toured Australia in 1988. While Te Papa had collected this exhibition as a historic moment in New Zealand culture, we found it scattered across the museum in different displays, telling different stories. The same could be said of their jewellery collection as a whole, which is spread across different artistic, historic and cultural areas, something which seemed to concern Damian.

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Collection manager Anne Brooks with photography curator Athol McCredie and Damian Skinner inspecting one of Tania Patterson’s ingenious flower pendants.

Wellington seemed like Melbourne to Auckland’s Sydney – darker, more cerebral and fashion conscious, though if only Melbourne had Wellington’s rain! While there weren’t jewellery exhibitions in galleries like Auckland, Avid and Quoil profiled the medium strongly.

In step with the city’s more speculative culture, Peter Decker’s students had a playful little exhibition at Wellington museum which used jewellery to forge alternative histories.

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From a distance, I’m stuck by what a powerful role jewellery has played in New Zealand cultural life. Bone, Stone and Shell has probably more detractors now than champions.  Yet it continues to resonate as testimony of how jewellers can forge a place for themselves which both asserts a sense of belonging and makes space for individual imagination.

This story certainly raises expectations of the role that craft might play. So let’s see what’s emerging in a country where the idea of craft as an art form is still relatively young. Bookending the other end of the Pacific is another thin vertical country, with distinctive indigenous craft traditions, neighbour to more powerful nations. What’s emerging in Chile…

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