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Racine Art Museum Heads to the South Seas

'Pocket Guide to New Zealand Jewelry' makes for intriguing exhibit

Aug. 1, 2011
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This summer the Racine Art Museum (RAM) is focusing on themes of "place," as seen in the first-floor exhibition "Pocket Guide to New Zealand Jewelry." The exhibit draws inspiration from the 1943 Pocket Guide to New Zealand, a small educational guide published by the U.S. War and Navy departments to initiate World War II soldiers stationed in New Zealand.

The exhibit's jewelry conceptually intermingles historical references with New Zealand's modern culture through diminutive metalwork fashioned in a European tradition by 16 artists. European traditions emphasize modernism, or meaning and metaphor symbolized by innovative use of materials, when designing jewelry. Several pieces in this collection highlight New Zealand greenstone (a form of jade) to represent Hawaiki, a place that carries sacred connotations as the mythical homeland of New Zealand's Maori people.

Alan Preston's Navigation Aid Necklace marries natural materials from New Zealand—paua, vau and coconut—with silver. Preston's modest adornment, a repeated cross pattern hung on a string, could be worn as jewelry.

Peter Deckers' Stars and Stripes Brooch forms nickel silver, sterling silver and paua into a patriotic American pin that again exemplifies a cultural exchange. U.S. servicemen introduced to a country "deep in the heart of the south seas," along with Western craftsmen, found an opportunity to engage with the native Maoris and the Pakeha (Maoris of European descent). The merging of these diverse heritages helped New Zealand art jewelry to flourish in the second half of the 20th century.

Photographs of U.S. soldiers in New Zealand in 1943 are interspersed among the glass cases holding the jewelry. Displaying these pictures along with the vintage guide that the servicemen received authenticates the cross-cultural conversations.

This exhibition creates an intriguing aesthetic dialogue between the legacy of this eclectic art jewelry and the identity of New Zealand.

A pocket-sized catalog is available for purchase. Curated by New Zealand art historian Damian Skinner, "Pocket Guide to New Zealand Jewelry" continues through Oct. 23.


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