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Tangimoe Clay and Richard Stratton 2008

Tangimoe Clay and Richard Stratton 2008

Maker: Tangimoe Clay

Nga Kete Hukahuka (2008)

Sold Out (Kete Hukahuka in Black and in Brown, editions of 6)

Tangimoe Clay (Ngati Ngahere of Whakatohea) is a renown basket maker based in Opotiki whose work is widely acknowledged as meeting the very highest standards of traditional practice as well as embracing innovation and experimentation in terms of form and material. Tangimoe Clay is a successful and well known Maori businesswoman within the arts sector however her own production is very rarely offered for sale as she primarily makes work at the request of her iwi for presentation or for direct commissions. Her work has been exhibited at public galleries in New Zealand and overseas and her work is held in leading private collections with holdings of contemporary raranga (basketry). New Zealand’s foremost authority on raranga (basketry) Mick Pendergrast has written (2008) of Tangimoe Clay:

Tangimoe first became interested in flax work around 1998 when their marae at Terere, near Opotiki, was undergoing restoration. Among the work Tangimoe was involved in was the cleaning and reparation of the old harakeke plantation. It was during this time that she learned to love the plant itself and became interested in the differences between the varieties in the collection. She wondered about the traditional techniques used to make kete. She asked kuia Maggie Tai to teach her how it is done and was shown how to make a small food container known locally as tipoti. By the next day she had made six. She brought them to Maggie for assessment whose brief comment was, ‘You’ll be good’. Tangimoe began experimenting with other forms and soon found that her interest lay in raranga, the plaiting technique used for making kete and whariki mats. It came to her easily, naturally, as if it had always existed within her. Before long she was producing pieces that she happily gave to friends and associates who admired them.

Tangimoe’s skill with harakeke was always obvious to those around her, but she felt that she was untrained and needed to acquire more skills. Seeing old pieces in private hands and museum collections moved her strongly and she determined to master some of the elements observed. This led to intense observation and then practical experimentation. Sometimes a skill was mastered quickly. At other times many weeks were spent working with intense concentration, until a breakthrough was made. Perhaps a return to a museum to view the piece again was deemed necessary. These explorations resulted not only in the acquisition of old skills, but also the discovery of unexpected understandings, experiencing and discovering the importance of shape and form, the flow and rhythm of the raranga technique, and many details and intricacies.

Using traditional materials awakened a love for the plants themselves, and then fear for their continued existence. Tangimoe enthusiastically joined communal replanting of sand dunes with pingao, took over the maintenance of the old harakeke planting at the marae, and now keeps a kaitiaki eye on important kiekie groves in her rohe.

Her work now includes contemporary forms; baskets often become abstract objects, and sculptures. Her much loved harakeke, pingao and kiekie have been joined by an exotic mixture of wire, sheet metal, plastics and introduced plant species including invasive plants and vines that she is happy to eradicate. As her range of methods and materials continues to expand, there still remains in her work a strong infusion of old methods, natural materials and a Māori interpretation and respect for this ancient art form.

The flax kete could be considered one of the most iconic New Zealand objects. Many of us have owned them and most of us have seen them in use, on the street, at the beach filled with kaimoana or on the ground filled with produce. Kete are deeply evocative objects for most New Zealanders that transcend cultural differences. The two Kete Hukahuka (Tasseled kete) created by Tangimoe Clay for Objectspace Limited Editions are examples of fine raranga made principally of untreated flax with some dyed flax fibre. The size of these editions – three only – is an indication of Tangimoe’s her reluctance to repeat successful designs. Like most artists she is constantly exploring and looking to make new discoveries. The use of tassels on the kete is a visual reference to Korowai, finely woven cloaks that are distinguished by the use of black tassels (or feathers). The Kete Hukahuka are rarely available examples of work by one of this country’s foremost raranga practitioners. They are objects of Aotearoa New Zealand and its unique making traditions.

Tangimoe Clay (Ngati Ngahere of Whakatohea) was born in 1960 and is based in Opotiki. Her work has been exhibited at public galleries in New Zealand and overseas and her work is held in a number of private collections with holdings of contemporary raranga (basketry).

Maker: Richard Stratton

Snakes and Ladders Steeple Cup (2008)

$1800 (Edition of 10)

In response to Objectspace’s invitation to create a future heirloom, Richard Stratton’s Snakes and Ladders Steeple Cup is an extravagant contemporary ceramic object work that engages with the idea of inheritance in its conception, decoration and form. Maker Richard Stratton writes;

When I was first approached regarding Objectspace’s Limited Editions I basically thought, ‘hell I can’t make ten works, all the same’. So I set forth to design a form that was different, unusual and tied to my current way of production- that of assemblage. So after many visits to ‘form libraries’ – my name for Op shops – I came back to the studio and subverted my small purchases and re-invented them into a conglomeration that resembled a version of a 16th century steeple cup. An interesting thing that occurred to me when I was designing the prototype was the sense of second treasure, or heirloom, in all the elements that made up this work. Some of the elements were passed onto me by my parents. The finial is a cast of a half doll that belonged to my Great Aunt Tui that was passed to me from my mother in 1990. The finial base is a cast of a late eighteenth century brass coat hook that I inherited from my father. And the ‘bowl’ and foot is based on three different objects acquired at ‘form libraries’. The bowl or body is based upon a cast of a glass lampshade, the upper section of the base is cast from a ceramic candelabra while the lower base section is a reverse casting of a nineteenth silver bonbon dish.

The elements that I purchased from ‘form libraries’ may have been ‘heirlooms’ cleaned out after a death by some distant relative or stranger and then passed on to the Op shop. Therefore all the elements have their own stories to tell: that of status, personal values and taste. So with this theory based upon status, personal values, taste, and heirloom festering away in the back of mind I gave the decoration a great deal of thought. Another heirloom presented itself on a trip to my parents’ home in Auckland, my grandmother’s Snakes and Ladders board game. On my return to Wellington and during one of our frequent outings to the Op shops with my daughter Sabine, I found a Snakes and Ladders game. To my amazement it was the same make that my sister and I played with years ago. The historical idea behind the ancient board game snakes and ladders – which dates from 16th century India – is that it teaches children about the effects of good and bad deeds, values, cause and effect: the moral codes behind these lessons are another personal and social inheritance themselves.

The Snakes and Ladders Steeple Cup is a complex work inspired by the unique English Steeple Cups of the late Elizabethan and early Stuart periods and its gold lustre decoration is inspired by Jackfield wares of the early eighteenth century. Stratton says that the success rate for this work is 25%: for every work that is successfully fired there are likely to be three failures.

The ceramic, object, personal and social pedigree of the Snakes and Ladders Steeple Cup connects us across time and space with other makers, the ideas that animated their productions and other collectors. The Snakes and Ladders decoration – with its glorious Johnsonian quality – reminds us that that the knowledge concentrated in the creations of our own generation is the precious inheritance for the next generation of makers and collectors.

Richard Stratton is a Wellington based ceramics maker who graduated in 1993 from the Otago School of Art with Honours in Ceramics. He has exhibited widely in New Zealand and is the winner of a number of awards. His work is held in numerous leading public and private collections including that of Te Papa Tongarewa.