Constructing craft : harmony and conflict within the New Zealand studio craft movement 1949 - 1992 : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in History at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
This thesis examines different constructions of studio craft in New Zealand between 1949 and 1992. Initially, most craftspeople were amateurs who shared similar ideas about craft and worked cooperatively to establish a movement. As the movement developed some craftspeople began earning part or all of their income from craft while others believed the quality of their work lifted them above the amateur ranks. Conflicts developed between amateurs and professionals and between craftspeople who held different ideas about what it meant to be a professional. Some crafts, most notably ceramics and the fibre crafts, established strong craft-specific organisations and dominated these discussions. The thesis investigates the many reasons for the growing interest in craft and why conflicts arose between competing groups.
The romanticising of the studio craft movement has, the thesis contends, obscured many of the factors that explain its development and the issues that created conflict. To identify the dominant influences the research has investigated ideas from a number of intellectual disciplines, calling on theories which assert that economic, cultural, symbolic and social capital influenced the decisions made by craftspeople and others. It examines the craft structures that emerged as a result of these decisions and investigates how people interacted with them and with existing structures that direct society. The research is presented in a thematic form that recognises the most important influences, including: the relationship between art and craft; the meaning of professionalism and amateurism in relation to craft; the idea that craft was a vehicle for protest; how craft and industry interacted; how craft influenced the lives of women and Maori; and how attempts were made to control the movement.
The thesis argues that as studio craft developed it changed, becoming more professional in both economic and cultural terms. Conflicts arose over which form of professionalism would dominate. Economic professionalism was linked to traditional craft and was financially rewarding, while cultural professionalism was believed to be more aligned with art and was symbolically rewarding. Furthermore, the capacity of some crafts, such as ceramics and fibre, to function as independent entities within the wider movement created additional divisions. The conflicting aims of these groups divided the movement as each struggled to assert their version of studio craft. The demise of the Craft Council of New Zealand in 1992 represented for many craftspeople the end of a united movement.