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Collection Focus gallery, Level 5, Te PapaPrevious Exhibition
Bone Stone Shell was a 1988 exhibition of New Zealand jewellery that represented a new way of thinking about materials and place.
Instead of looking to Europe, jewellers and carvers drew inspiration from influences closer to home - in particular, a rich tradition of Māori and Pacific adornment. Rather than working with gemstones and precious metals, they emphasised local materials such as paua shell and pounamu (greenstone). They harnessed a desire that many New Zealanders felt to express a South Pacific identity through their jewellery.
This exhibition presents the original Bone Stone Shell exhibition, its influences, and some of its inheritors - contemporary jewellers using non-precious materials to explore questions of personal and cultural identity.
Te Papa gratefully acknowledges the Friends of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, who generously gifted Bone Stone Shell to the national collection in 1993. We also thank John Edgar for his gift of archival material.
About the original exhibition
These materials and the objects made from them are our homage to the past, our amulets in the present, and our treasures for the future.
John Egdar, Bone Stone Shell catalogue, 1988
Bone Stone Shell: New Jewellery New Zealand opened in Wellington in early 1988. Developed by the Crafts Council for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it went on to tour Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
Government-sponsored crafts exhibitions such as Kahurangi (1984) and Treasures from the Land (1985) had travelled overseas before, but Bone Stone Shell was the first to put the spotlight solely on the country’s jewellery. The selection criteria reflected a desire to promote the cultural significance of local materials: exhibitors were chosen partly for their ability to ‘communicate the uniqueness of the New Zealand product’.
Bone Stone Shell featured 12 jewellers and carvers. Only one was Māori, Inia Taylor, but all were interested in exploring local and natural materials, and many explored indigenous forms. For the curator, John Edgar, the show represented ‘a growing awareness of our place in the South Pacific’.