Elly van de Wijdeven
If you grew up in New Zealand sometime between the 1930s and the present, you’ll have seen plenty of the items of jewellery this book is about. Usually, grandmothers and aunts wore them as brooches on lapels, though the occasional necklace or pendant was also seen.
No doubt there are still a good few of them languishing in jewellery boxes around the country. If so, it could be time to bring them out, polish the silver mounts, and wear them again.
It has taken an immigrant from the Netherlands, Elly van de Wijdeven, to produce this study of what has become a Kiwi cultural icon – perhaps because, as she explains, the nation has long had a mixed reaction to such items. Though generally liking paua shell itself, many residents have “publicly professed to hate paua shell jewellery” a reaction very likely due to the varying quality and artistry of the pieces over the decades.
This book, a handsome hardbacked volume of 192 pages, is subtitled Art Souvenir, Tourist Kitsch, Kiwi Icon. It arises from the Author’s PhD thesis.
Along with brief histories and backgrounds to the making, production, and distribution of the items, hundreds of colour photos illustrate examples from the 1930s to the 1970s. Most prevalent are kiwis and other native birds, butterflies, tikis, ferns, and fobs, with sailboats, gamefish and other designs that spoke to the generations of New Zealanders over the twentieth century.
The 1940s inspired brooches and pins with war emblems – even a Lee Enfield rifle and a bren gun. Sports have also inspired a range of lapel ornaments. It seems a buzzy bee is all that’s lacking in this catalogue of cultural motifs.
The text gives details of particular makers and producers, and the information is well-indexed. All together, this is an informative and very attractive book that should answer the questions of anyone with an interest in jewellery or New Zealand art more generally.
Author: Elly van de Wijdeven