Archive for the 'Melanie Lovell-Smith' Category

Wild flowers from Palestine

In response to my earlier blog about a First World War souvenir book of pressed flowers from the Holy Land, Alison Parr, our wonderful oral historian at Manatū Taonga the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, brought in a similar book, Wild flowers from Palestine, which she had inherited from her mother. Her mother had nursed in Egypt during the 1940s and Alison thought that perhaps it dated from that time.

Book cover

Book cover

Interestingly it turns out that this book dates from the late nineteenth century, and was compiled by a Reverend Harvey B. Greene. He gives a lovely description at the beginning, explaining how he collected the flowers over three seasons, assisted by a large number of the local people and ‘a most faithful dragoman’. (I had to look up dragoman, as to my eyes it looks too much like dragon and I had images of a Victorian reverend accompanied by a large fire-breathing creature. Too much Harry Potter, I think. In case, like me, you didn’t know, dragoman actually refers to an interpreter or guide in a country speaking Arabic, Turkish or Persian).

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon

One of Greene’s aims seems to have been to try and find the flowers referred to in the Bible, and each dried flower is matched with a Biblical quote or a snippet of poetry. In the case of the Rose of Sharon (’I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys’) Greene refers to the English translations of the Bible, which note that ‘rose’ refers to an autumn crocus- and it is a crocus that he has chosen to include here. He names it as Crocus gaillardotii, today known more commonly as Crocus aleppicus.

Greene himself was American, born in 1864, and he graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1891. After serving for a few years as a congregational minister, he left the church and established a florist business in Lowell, Massachusetts. He first went to Palestine in 1895 and this book was first published that year, with subsequent editions in 1896 and this one in 1899 (I think. To be honest trying to work out the editions of this book is like swimming in treacle). Greene also compiled Pressed flowers of the Holy Land, which is very similar in content and feel.

Madonna flower

Madonna flower

Various interpretations I’ve read link these books with the increasing American interest in Palestine during the nineteenth century; with the wider Victorian genre of printed books with natural history specimens; and with a vogue for souvenir albums of pressed flowers. Certainly Greene and his books fit into all of these interpretations, even the last. He also produced a couple of floral souvenirs from American wildflowers.

Unfortunately Alison wasn’t able to ask her mother about the book, so we will probably never know how a book containing wild flowers from Palestine, collected by an American, and published in both the United States and Britain, ended up in New Zealand. But it’s a fascinating object and story all the same.

Flowers from the Holy Land – a First World War souvenir

Flowers and views of the Holy Land, Jerusalem – the book's title page

Flowers and views of the Holy Land, Jerusalem – the book's title page

Wellingtonians (and ex-Wellingtonians) might remember Quilters, the second-hand bookshop run by John Quilter for 36 years. Earlier this year John decided to close the store (although he plans to keep selling rare New Zealand books online), and, as is traditional, he had a closing-down sale.

As I waited in line to pay for my small pile of goodies, while brooding about whether I should buy the incredibly fluorescent poster for Hair (I should have), I noticed a small book with a wooden cover on the counter. I had a quick look and discovered that it had pages of pressed flowers from sites in the Middle East. Having never seen anything like it before, I added it to my pile and took it home.

Flowers from, and an illustration of, Bethlehem

Flowers from, and an illustration of, Bethlehem

It turned out to be a book of ‘Flowers and Views of the Holy Land, Jerusalem’. It has lovely, slightly naïve prints showing places such as Bethlehem, separated by tissue paper from delicate dried flower arrangements collected from the same location. My copy has 12 plates and 12 matching flower arrangements, as well as a title page and the wooden cover. The lithographs are credited to A. L. Monsohn of Jerusalem, which, according to Wikipedia, was a lithographic press that began in 1892.

A bit more of a web search revealed that these little books were popular souvenirs from the Middle East from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. The covers were generally made from olive wood. (I can’t tell if mine is or not, but I’m going to assume so for now.) Some of them, like this one from the Australian War Memorial Museum, have a carved cross on the cover. Others have ‘Jerusalem’, surrounded by a carved and coloured border, or silhouettes of camels and palm trees. Mine is much plainer, and has ‘Jerusalem’ stamped on the cover. It would appear that some of these books only have the pressed flowers, and some have much more elaborate flower arrangements, such as this one, where the leaves, grasses and flowers have been arranged into a picture of a tree in a meadow.

Pressed flowers, purportedly from Bethlehem (left) and the Tomb of Rachel (right)

Pressed flowers, purportedly from Bethlehem (left) and the Tomb of Rachel (right)

So how did this book end up in New Zealand? The inside cover has a pencil note, ‘to Auntie Anne [or Annie?], from Kenneth M Stevens in Palestine’, with 1916 added in pen. The handwriting is a little hard to make out, but I think that’s right. So, assuming that this little book was sent back by a New Zealand soldier, I had a look at Auckland War Memorial Museum’s Cenotaph – where I found a record for Kenneth McKenzie Stevens, 13/2375, of the Auckland Mounted Rifles. On Archway, Archives New Zealand’s website, I found two First World War records for Kenneth Stevens – the one above, and Kenneth Murdock Stevens (13/237). Both men served in the Auckland Mounted Rifles, which fought in Palestine in 1917–18. My best guess is that one of the Kenneths picked this book up and sent it to ‘Auntie Annie’ – but which one will have to wait for another day.

I’m fascinated by this little book, and would love to know if anyone else in New Zealand has one. It also raises other questions, such as who did the flower arranging, and were the flowers really collected from the specific locations, or were they pulled out of one large pile? Possibly unanswerable, but interesting to think on.

Birds, birds, birds

White tern chick (pic: Department of Conservation, photo by Don Merton (10030637))

White tern chick (pic: Department of Conservation, photo by Don Merton (10030637))

A-well-a, everybody’s heard about the bird
Bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word …
*

Whether you like Big Bird or little birds, early birds who get the worm, or birds who flock together, there is bound to be something in Te Ara to interest you. (Well, maybe not Big Bird, we only have one mention of Sesame Street). Most of our bird entries were published in 2005–7, however, so we’ve recently been starting to update them.

Some changes in the bird world since we did these entries include the discovery of the New Zealand storm petrel breeding on Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island and the removal of Canada geese from the game birds schedule of the Wildlife Act. It has also recently been discovered that kiwi are most closely related to the extinct elephant bird from Madagascar, and that the closest living relative of moa is the small South American tinamou, which can fly!

One of the great things about working on Te Ara is the wide range of subjects that I get to research. However, the jump from painters, potters and poets to penguins, pūkeko and prions has meant a bit of a stretch in the old brain department. Luckily, we’ve had Colin Miskelly (seen here with a fluttering shearwater chick), ornithologist, curator at Te Papa and editor of New Zealand Birds Online, to review these entries and patiently answer our questions about nominate subspecies and the genetic distance between moa and kiwi.

As well as updates to the text, our designers have been hard at work re-sizing all the images and video, and moving layered maps like this albatross one from Flash into HTML. This might not look immediately different on your PC screen, but it does mean that it is now usable on my phone (and hopefully yours!).

Another new function is that some of our tables are now sortable, like this one listing the birds that migrate to New Zealand – you can sort it alphabetically by common name or species name.

The bill of a whio or blue duck (pic: Nature's Pic Images, photograph by Rob Suisted)

The bill of a whio or blue duck (pic: Nature's Pic Images, photograph by Rob Suisted)

We’ve also added some new photographs, such as this fascinating one of the underside of a whio’s bill (above), supplied by Rob Suisted of Nature’s Pics, and this amazing one of a long-tailed cuckoo being fed by its much smaller whitehead parent. You can read about how photographer Adam Clarke got this image on the Te Papa blog.

So this is just a taster of some of the work we’ve been doing recently. We’ll have more images and some lovely new video still to come, as well as some interactive graphs, so do keep looking!

* A bit more trivia – the quote at the top comes from the Trashmen’s 1963 hit song ‘Surfin’ bird. When I was writing this blog, I kept singing the Bluebird chips song from their early-1990s advert, which turned out to be an adaptation of ‘Surfin’ bird’. The Trashmen apparently created their song from two songs by 1960s American doo-wop band the Rivingtons, ‘Papa-oom-mow-mow’ and ‘The bird’s the word’. Blog writing occasionally takes you down some strange paths.

In search of the Great Southern Cheese Roll

A cheese roll in a Middlemarch café – not quite the real thing

A cheese roll in a Middlemarch café – not quite the real thing

Having grown up down south, it took me a long time to realise that other parts of New Zealand don’t know what cheese rolls are, which is so very, very sad. There have been at least two, possibly three, conversations during morning tea at Te Ara where the few of us who grew up south of the Waitaki (or at least went to university there) have tried to explain the delights of cheese rolls to those unfortunates who have never tasted them. The others haven’t seemed convinced by our passion, and unfortunately we never managed to provide any for tasting purposes, although we threatened to, which might explain why they’re still not mentioned in Te Ara.

If you too have no idea what I am talking about, then let me explain. Cheese rolls are made from thin white bread, which is spread with a mix of tasty cheese, Maggi onion mix and evaporated milk, then rolled up, spread with butter and grilled. Well, that’s my memory of them – there are a few alternatives out there, which include an actual onion or mustard and vinegar rather than the Maggi. (You can watch a video here on how to make them if you’re interested.)

When I was growing up in Dunedin you could still buy them from a tea shop, or the department store tearooms or the school tuck shop, and they were a cheap, warm and filling food. They also came frozen in large plastic bags, usually as part of a fundraising exercise. If you grew up in a health-conscious household like I did, eating brown bread, margarine and trim milk, cheese rolls were not only cheap, warm and filling, but also quite possibly the food the devil supped on in hell, and therefore totally irresistible.

Recently I have run into ‘cheese rolls’ again – but cheese rolls that have had a makeover. One time was when I stopped at a café in Middlemarch last winter (I know, cafés, Middlemarch – the Otago Central Rail Trail has really transformed some bits of rural Otago) and was presented with a very large wholemeal bread version (pictured above). It tasted great – but was not a cheese roll as we knew it.

The second time was more recently, at Arthur’s, a café on Cuba St in Wellington which serves ‘Dunedin cheese rolls’. I was there with two other former Dunedinites, so of course we had to try them. Sadly neither were these the cheese rolls of memory, although they looked similar. In this case the filling had become more sophisticated – like a gruyere fondue mix – and it was served with chutney! While we ate them all (in seconds), we all agreed that, once again, they were not the cheese rolls of old.

A cheese roll with chutney (whatever next?) at Arthur's in Wellington

A cheese roll with chutney (whatever next?) at Arthur's in Wellington

However, all is not lost – recently a plate of authentic cheese rolls was circulating at our Ministry, courtesy of the lovely Ashley, and a shared lunch that got cancelled. A good southern lass, Ashley made her cheese rolls as mother made them (well, not my mother), and I ate mine far too fast to photograph it.

It is not just the (strange) southern people who have worked on Te Ara who have this obsession – Labour MP Clare Curran wrote an Ode to the Cheese Roll; the Riverton Art Centre produced an exhibition, Toasting the Cheese Roll; Southland radio hosts James and Rachel wrote a song about them; at one time Lynda Topp had 6 dozen in the freezer; and Professor Helen Leach, along with researcher Raelene Inglis, even published an article on them, ‘Toasted cheese rolls – a regional specialty in New Zealand’.

I’m not sure what it says about our nation, if anything, when one of the few regional food specialities we seem to have is white bread & cheese (dressed pies arguably being another), but perhaps if the Mainland ever secedes from the rest of the country they could include the cheese roll as part of their flag – an image of melted cheese flapping in a southerly has a certain mad logic to it.

Tactile, squishy, squelchy, sticky art

Rock art at Te Ana Māori Rock Art Centre, Timaru (click for image credit)

Rock art at Te Ana Māori Rock Art Centre, Timaru (click for image credit)

Painting can be such a lovely squishing squelchy tactile art, don’t you think? Think how much fun it might have been to mix up soot with oil from berries and weka, or to pick up some kōkōwai (iron oxide) and then start painting on a huge rock canvas with your hands. Or to sit down looking out at a landscape you (and no others of your ethnicity) had ever seen before and quickly, with a large brush, and lots of water, paint the scene before you. (See this piece in Art New Zealand, footnote 5, for a description of William Fox’s technique.)

This month the four entries we’re highlighting all include painting – Māori rock art – ngā toi ana, Public and street art, Contemporary Māori art – ngā toi hōu and (unsurprisingly) the Painting entry itself.

You can’t see me, but as I sit here writing this, I’m waving my hands around, now in imitation of the quick thick strokes of a man painting outside, working quickly, quickly, before the light changes – look at the strokes of colour that build up Edward Friström’s ‘Motutapu. Large oil paintings, done back in the studio, have a different feel, the layers of paint slowly built up over time, glazes gliding across the canvas, creating the near-photographic nature of Charles Goldie’s work.

Working on street murals, slopping and rolling the paint on the vast spaces or working with spray cans, is different again, with the rattle of the can, the hiss of the spray, the full body movement of the artist, the dripping of paint down the wall. The pouring and swirling of enamel, as Pat Hanly did in ‘Pacific condition, uses the physical nature of paint to create the work itself. It just makes you want to grab some paint, stick your hands in it and swirl it all around. Another technique that sounds like it might be both sticky and fun is egg tempera – mixing pigment, egg yolk and water, a centuries-old form of paint that both Grahame Sydney and Isiaha Barlow use in their work.

Underdrawings are visible in this 1943 mural from the Communist Party hall in Wellington (click for image credit)

Underdrawings are visible in this 1943 mural from the Communist Party hall in Wellington (click for image credit)

As you might guess, I am a gallery attendant’s nightmare, wanting to peer and poke and stroke and smooth. Luckily one of the lovely things about the internet is that it is now possible to experience paintings in other ways, without damaging the works, although the smell of soot and oil, of turps, of spray paint, is still missing. But you can zoom in to see the brushstrokes and the underdrawings, or view Ralph Hotere sanding, coating, buffing and painting immaculately straight lines for a mural. Conservators are also using the internet to show people their work with paintings – such as this series of images from Christchurch Art Gallery about the Leo Bensemann painting ‘St Olaf’, or this one from Te Papa, which talks about Colin McCahon’s Northland panels and his use of house paint.

However, although the internet can do many things, and has opened up a world of art, I still think that being able to go and view or make art yourself is fantastic. So, if you can this month, go and view some painting, or grab a toddler and paints and experiment making marks yourself. Go squishy squashy sticky sloppy painting mad!