In 2014 Tairāwhiti Museum opened the Jack C Richards Decorative Arts Gallery. This exhibition space is devoted to displaying Professor Jack Richards’ magnificent collection of historic and contemporary decorative arts from Aotearoa New Zealand and around the world.
As a regional museum our primary aim is to be a gateway to culture, heritage and the arts for our communities here in Tairāwhiti. By working together with Jack Richards, we have the ability as a museum to look not only inward – to ourselves and our stories – but outward, in a way that would not be possible within the limitations of the museum’s own collections. An accessible collection of decorative arts – as objects of beauty and use – can be a powerful lens through which to explore stories, people, histories and experiences different to our own.
The Jack C Richards Gallery is one of the exhibitions that continues to surprise (we ‘weren’t expecting that in a regional museum!‘) and delight visitors from outside our region. However, it is still something of a well-kept ‘local secret’, so I hope to use our blog to profile some of the objects to a wider audience as they take their turn in the gallery.
Like many personal collections, the Jack C Richards Collection was developed with no particular philosophy of acquisition but rather reflects opportunities that arose for collecting as well as personal taste. It started with a single object, a Qing dynasty blue and white vase, which was purchased in the 1960s when Jack was a student. At that time Professor Richards was sharing a flat with Walter Cook who introduced him to decorative arts, particularly Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts movement.
From this single object the collection grew and the gallery now draws on hundreds of pieces to showcase a remarkably diverse range of decorative arts; including the largest collection of René Lalique glassware in the Southern Hemisphere.
New to the exhibition this month we have an eclectic range of objects: Chinese-style glass vessels by Alexander Lamont Workshops, based in Thailand; Japanese-influenced ceramics by New Zealand potter Aaron Scythe; decorative paintings by British and New Zealand artist Melanie Mills and three, early twentieth-century Japanese wedding robes.
Aaron Scythe AO AKA GIN vessels
New Zealand painter and ceramist Aaron Scythe lives in Whanganui. From 1997 to 2011 he was based in Mashiko, Japan and his work has been heavily influenced by both his passion for Japanese ceramics and his New Zealand and Māori background.
These works shows the interplay between the traditional Japanese style of Oribe, which embraces the beauty found in imperfections; and Māori culture, through the text, pattern and symbolic designs painted on the vessels.
Scythe states that his work is represented by the phrase ‘Tui tui tuia – sew sew sew together’ as it reflects his attempt to sew all his current influences and inspirations together with his past.
Alexander Lamont Workshops, Peking glass vases
‘Peking Glass’ refers to a method of glass manufacturing originating in imperial workshops in Peking (now Beijing), China, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). Alexander Lamont, based in Thailand, works with kilns in Bangkok to create modern forms of these vases in amber, burnt-orange, yellow and white-jade.
Paintings by Melanie Mills
Melanie Mills was born in Britain and emigrated to New Zealand as a child. Self-taught and practicing in Wellington, Melanie has developed a bold technique, influenced by British and New Zealand modernist artists, and is known for her naive, colour-filled, still-life paintings. With their strong decorative qualities, her two recent works – Paisley Cloth and Two White Vases, are a perfect fit for a decorative arts gallery.
Objects appeal to me. I have a lot of pots and vases and other objects in my studio. I collect flowers and branches of leaves on walks. I have a collection of textiles for backgrounds. I arrange selections of objects loosely in the studio with or without a cloth and begin to paint using them as a reference. The arrangement becomes a composition with paint, colour, form, relationships and movement.
Check out FHE Galleries for more information about Melanie and her work.
Japanese Taisho period (1912 – 1926) kimono
Garments from Jack’s textiles collection form the centrepiece of the gallery. The three new pieces to the display this month are Japanese wedding kimono dating from the Taisho period (1912 – 1926).
Traditional Japanese weddings can include up to five changes of robe for a bride. On display are two uchikake – formal wedding robes designed to be left open and trailing and worn outside the actual kimono (of which we have one on display). These robes are adorned with symbolic designs and colours aimed at bestowing good fortune and happiness on the couple. The makers of these garments are unknown.
Our thanks to Professor Jack Richards for sharing his extensive, and growing decorative arts collection with Tairāwhiti Museum visitors, and for the ongoing support of Jane Putnam, curator of the Jack Richards Collection. You can find out more about Jack Richards, his work and arts patronage on his website.
Eloise Wallace, Director