What better way to set the tone for a talk entitled  Shakespeare: As we like him!  than  drinking a glass of mead, the surprisingly tasty fermented honey concoction popular in Elizabethan times.
This is how over 60 Friends of Te Papa were welcomed to an amusing and informative talk (subtitled Avon to Aotearoa: Shakespeare in our art collections) by Dr. Mark Stocker, Te Papa’s Curator of Historical International Art.

Although Te Papa’s Shakespearean-themed collection is relatively modest, it includes a number of significant pieces. The first of the two pieces of which Mark appears most proud, is Cleopatra, a 1594 engraving by Jan Muller, a Dutch artist who was seven years the bard’s junior.

Cartoon for Venus hanging, Shakespeare’s Globe, London, 1989, by Raymond Boyce. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds.

The second is the set of full-sized cartoons by Raymond Boyce, commissioned in 1989 to form the basis for the creation of a quartet of wall hangings, New Zealand’s gift to the Shakespeare Globe Trust of London, for its full replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre to be constructed near its original location in London’s Bankside.

The two hangings featuring Venus and Adonis, and the two of Hercules and Atlas (with the globe on Atlas’s back cleverly positioned to display an oversized New Zealand) took 500 embroiderers from across the country over a year to complete.

Boyce attributed the success of bringing it to fruition to the unique ‘Kiwi can-do’ attitude.  These magnificent wall hangings would meet with the hearty approval of Shakespeare, were he alive today, according to Mark.  It is his opinion that this work comprises the single most important piece of New Zealand women’s art, and he bemoans the lack of recognition that embroidery garners as an art form.

Mark hopes that the original cartoons will eventually be put on public display at Te Papa. And, as can be expected, his ultimate dream would be a homecoming to Aotearoa of the wall hangings, so they could be suitably presented alongside the cartoons.

Following the entertaining talk, Friends were able to chat informally with Mark, and, as an added bonus, with Sandra Heffernan, Associate Professor of Textile Design at Massey University, one of the original principal embroiderers, and a Friend of Te Papa.

Feature image: Detail from Cleopatra, engraving by Jan Muller, Te Papa collection 2015-0056-4