When most people think of Crown Lynn’s Māori designs, it will be safe to say that the ubiquitous turquoise and brown Air New Zealand range would come to mind.
Designed in 1965 for use on their DC8 jet airliners, they signified the start of a long relationship between Crown Lynn and Air New Zealand.
In more recent years examples of this collection re-entered the public consciousness with the sale of replicas, by renowned ceramicist Bob Steiner, in conjunction with the Air New Zealand 75th Anniversary exhibition in 2014.
However, there are many other pieces in the Crown Lynn back catalogue that reference te ao Māori, the most obvious being the Wharetana range.
Launched in the 1940s as a direct offering to the tourist market, this range featured a number of taonga Māori that had been reworked into ceramic objects with uses contrary to their intended use. Think: a tata remodelled as a vase, a wahaika pin tray, and, most shockingly, a range of ashtrays modelled on whare, wheku, and tiki.
Many of these items use a brown glaze similar to natural wood tones in traditional Māori carving, or a green glaze in a deliberate reference to the sheen of pounamu.
A copy of the Wharetana catalogue can be found at Auckland War Memorial Museum in which it is made explicit that the range is intended for overseas friends.
Though the catalogue has minor descriptions of each of the pieces, it also states that each piece would have had a sticker with further explanation.
The following quote, illustrates what inspired the production of the Wharetana range: 'a store of mythology and legend symbolised in beautiful and intricate Māori carving'.
The Wharetana range is an attempt to align what was understood as traditional Māori culture with the contemporary craft of Māori art pottery.
Other examples of Māori-cultured Crown Lynn can be found at many marae throughout Aotearoa, with catering for large groups a priority along with the ability to dress tables appropriately for a variety of occasions. Matching marae dining sets include: a dinner plate, a bread plate, a dessert bowl, a teacup, and saucer.
These sets were likely drawn from the hard wearing vitrified porcelain that Crown Lynn made available for commercial use with customers being able to apply their own logos.
The practice of marae utilising signature dining sets is symbolic of the evolution of marae catering tools, continuously striving to attain high standards of hospitality.
This is an ongoing collecting interest for the Mātauranga Māori curatorial team and one we plan to collect in the future.
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