When I first moved to Wellington I used to walk around the bays of the Mirimar Peninsula. My favourite bay was Worser Bay. I liked its name (worser than what?) but primarily I liked it because of a modest, single story house. The house was ordinary in everyway except for the procession of Crown Lynn swans that circumnavigated its window sills.
The Worser Bay swans are now gone. I always imagined that the house was inhabited by an elderly couple who loved their swans, big, medium and small. Perhaps it was a collection that had its beginnings in a wedding gift – the swan being a bird of romance and the goddess Venus – and grew over time into an enjoyable game of collection and display. There never appeared to be anything nostalgic or ironic about the procession – it just seemed to be honest delight.
Although the Crown Lynn Swan is not an original design – the shape was copied by David Jenkin from an overseas model back in the ‘50s when imitation was one of the best forms of flattery, copying was a skill, and copyright wasn’t a concern – New Zealander’s quickly took the bird shaped vase to heart. After a fall from fashion in the 1970s, the Swan’s elegant and instantly recognisable silhouette has returned to popularity and today can be found replicated on cushions, tea towels, furnishing fabrics and t-shirts as we revel in nostalgia and kiwiana.
As well as five Crown Lynn swans – from the plain white to trickled glaze variety –another flock of swans of a wholly different nature has amassed in Te Papa’s collection. They are by ceramist Martin Poppelwell and form part of his large-scale installation Study for Strip, which will be on display in exhibition Collecting Contemporary, opening June 2011. In comparison to the commercial uniformity of Crown Lynn’s moulded swans, Poppelwell’s flock bears the signs of the potter’s swift and agile fingers – having been squashed, pinched and stretched into life. They began one day on the verandah in the company of another couple of artists.
Study for Strip is an installation comprising of 104 pieces – a large dinner service, with a few errant eyeballs thrown in for good measure, which reins out of control far beyond the bounds of any dinner table etiquette. The work hasn’t been photographed in its entirety yet. As such here is a gaggle of Poppelwell swans from another exhibition – imagine them swimming amongst a table literally toppling with Poppelwell’s distinctive and highly graphic ceramics and you’ll begin to get the picture.
If you are interested in viewing other artistic interpretations of the Crown Lynn Swan check out Rayner Brothers Gallery exhibition Wild Swans online – the show features 40 takes on the Crown Lynn swan, and John Parker‘s mural for the New Lynn railway station in Auckland (Crown Lynn was based in New Lynn. Tom Clark added the ‘Crown’ for a touch of prestige).
Claire Regnault – Senior Curator History