Walter Cook took his audience on an entrancing and inspiring journey through the story of modern design, with the central theme of ‘Liberty Style in New Zealand’.

Cook,  a renowned Wellington collector and expert on the decorative arts between 1860 and 1970, presented a talk on the fashionable British store Liberty & Co which had a strong presence in New Zealand between the late 19th and early 20th century.

The lecture presented the idea that the things that we import into New Zealand, and what New Zealanders purchase, are cultural artefacts and tell us things about ourselves.  Liberty & Co is just one example of this process.

“Liberty style” in New Zealand was a way of thinking rather like “Scandinavian design” in the 1950s and 1960s.  Liberty’s was a firm whose brand represented imported design in New Zealand especially from 1903 to 1914. Under their home brand, Liberty’s frequently exported good examples of the arts and crafts, and art nouveau style.

Changes in architecture and domestic design in New Zealand from the late 1890s, spurred a growing demand for ‘artistic’ houses and furnishings and provided a market for Liberty’s and other new art products.  These fashions, illustrated with examples of local houses and house interiors, showed what this meant in New Zealand.

Feature image: Vase, ‘Tudric’ by Liberty & Co, circa 1903, England.
Walter C Cook Decorative Art Collection, Gift of Walter Cook, 1992. Te Papa GH004281