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.
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 I, an 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.
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!