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Design Review: Volume 1, Issue 5 (February-March 1949)


page 10



Taina is an exciting book to look at, but somewhat disappointing to read. Without Mervyn Taylor's wood engraving Taina would merely be another addition to the already overstocked shelf of dull books about the early days in New Zealand. The fault does not lie with New Zealand's history as such. This country has had its fair share of glamour and glamour boys—whalers, traders, missionaries, settlers, the whole complexity of Maori-Pakeha relations—there are incidents and personalities enough for a first-rate historical novel, for a really good biography. Instead library shelves are littered with second-hand biographies of early missionaries written by conscientious descendants and with ragged reminiscences of pioneer settlers. Oh that elderly citizens would follow Voltaire's advice. il faut cultiver notre jardin, and not feel impelled to rush to print with a ditty bag of stray reminiscences. New Zealand has had too many chroniclers and too few standards.

Taina, however, is not a pretentious book. The story of a white seaman turned trader who settled in New Zealand and married a rangatira wife, and of the early years of Taina the son of this marriage, are recalled simply even naïvely, and if the story makes few pretences to literary style, the reader is not jolted by literary lapses. There is one delightful story about the escape of a young Maori boy and girl made captive by a Ngapuhi war party. And some of the translations of Maori chants are good. The English phrases are poor media for the rhythm of the Maori language but there is a simple and quiet beauty in

Yonder the mist clings ever to Pukehina,
And thither departed my beloved.
Tura back again to me
That the water of my eyes may flow.

It seems a pity that G. M. Henderson had not either let Taina Savage's original manuscript stand as an interesting and significant record written by a Pakeha-Maori, or else used this fragmentary material simply as a basis for a much fuller and more coherent study.

But the book will sell; partly because there seems to be a ready market at the moment for books about New Zealand, but mainly because of the highly satisfactory wood engravings by E. Mervyn Taylor. It is interesting to see that wood engraving is such a successful medium for large-scale illustrations, although the Wakefield Exhibition was proof enough that the art was not confined to the delicately
Black and white wood engraving depicting tangihanga by E. Mervyn Taylor.

Tangihanga, possibly the finest engraving in the book—reduced from 7¼ inches by 5 inches

worked miniature. In care and attention to historical detail the engravings are faultless. Tangihanga, possibly the finest engraving in the book, is a perfectly designed and balanced group, achieving in black and white a striking statuesque effect. But the most interesting is Hineato climbing into the cutter. This is not a slick engraving but Hineato is alive, the pose is realistic, it gives the effect of solid bodies. More attention could have been given to the faces and hands, but the study although not immediately attractive is worth looking at carefully.

The book can stand criticism; it is attractive and is worth buying.

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I.C.I. Calendar

The grocer's Christmas calendar is usually an atrocity which we accept with thanks and hang in the kitchen simply because it is at times necessary to know the exact date. The Imperial Chemical Industries calendar is not to be treated so lightly. That a New Zealand firm should take the trouble to employ a first-rate wood-engraver to illustrate a calendar in which design and not advertisement is the keynote is in itself a triumph of good taste and sound psychology. Because good design pays.

The six wood-engravings depicting scenes from Maori life and legend were made by E. Mervyn Taylor, and have that careful attention to detail which is characteristic of all his work. The format of the calendar is not perfect—for example, there is not enough white at the bottom of each page to balance the heavy blackness of two month's calendar figures. What is significant about the calendar, however, is that an industrial firm dissatisfied with the conventional has been willing to experiment so successfully with what have bitherto been such unattractive advertisements.

Good taste in everyday things cannot be imposed on people, but they can be led by example. ‘It is the responsibility of big business and the large agencies of the State to use the work of first-rate designers at all their points of contact with the community,’ wrote the editor of the current Arts Year Book, and it is a responsibility and an opportunity that the Imperial Chemical Industries has realized. As a harbinger of the aesthetic in the everyday a demonstration calendar is as worthy an achievement as a demonstration house.

Black and white engraving of Maui snaring the sun by E. Mervyn Taylor.

Maui Snaring Sun God. Reduced from 5 in. by 3½ in.

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