Inspiring disabled designs

Pokerwork, or ‘pyrography’ if you want to be fancy, was one of the craft activities encouraged by doctors who supervised the recuperation of soldiers wounded during World War One.

Generally, medical experts recognised the benefits of gentle, repetitive actions for damaged muscles. Squeezing the bulb of a pokerwork machine – that created the heat required to burn a design into a piece of wood – provided this sort of exercise.

Ashtray, 1930s, New Zealand, by Disabled Soldiers Products. Gift of Leslie and Shirley Megget, on behalf of Joyce Megget, 2010. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH020666)

Ashtray, 1930s, New Zealand, by Disabled Soldiers Products. Gift of Leslie and Shirley Megget, on behalf of Joyce Megget, 2010. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH020666)

When you start looking around, you will discover myriad examples of small wooden objects that convalescing or permanently disabled soldiers decorated in this way during after the Great War. You can see some on display at Te Papa in Road to Recovery: Disabled Soldiers of World War Ian exhibition on level 4.

Many of these items were produced under the auspices of the Disabled Soldiers Shops, which were set up in the 1930s to sell goods on behalf of makers, like the ashtray above and trinket box below.

Frequently, the designs on them are variations on a theme, patterns in autumnal tones featuring oak leaf-like foliage, fruits and clusters of berries.

 Trinket box, 1930s, New Zealand, by Disabled Servicemen's Products. Purchased 2013. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH024220)

Trinket box, 1930s, New Zealand, by Disabled Servicemen’s Products. Purchased 2013. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH024220)

So where did the designs originate? Was there a common source Well, when you compare them to wallpaper from the 1930s and 1940s – it’s clear that interior design – drawing room decor – was a source of inspiration!

Wallpaper, 1931, England, by Crown Wallpaper. Gift of Ray and Betty Weeber, 2010. Te Papa (GH021288)

Wallpaper, 1931, England, by Crown Wallpaper. Gift of Ray and Betty Weeber, 2010. Te Papa (GH021288)

Wallpaper, circa 1935, England, by Wall Paper Manufacturers Ltd. Gift of Ray and Betty Weeber, 2010. Te Papa (GH021247)

Wallpaper, circa 1935, England, by Wall Paper Manufacturers Ltd. Gift of Ray and Betty Weeber, 2010. Te Papa (GH021247)

Wallpaper, 1930s, maker unknown. Gift of Ray and Betty Weeber, 2010. Te Papa (GH021216)

Wallpaper, 1930s, maker unknown. Gift of Ray and Betty Weeber, 2010. Te Papa (GH021216)

2 Responses

  1. Chrissy garlick

    A succinct but delightful & informative article, thanks!

    Reply
    • Kirstie Ross

      Thanks, Chrissy, for reading the blog and commenting on it.

      Kirstie

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