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Walter Cook: A collector's quest

21 Jul 2012 - 06 Mar 2016

Level 6, Te Papa

Previous Exhibition


  Watch and listen to arts multimedia

<P><STRONG>Walter Cook – ‘an obsessive collector’</STRONG></P> <P>Between 1965 and 1990, Walter Cook built a major collection of European domestic ware, which traverses the rise of modernism. Retrace the footsteps of this self-confessed ‘obsessive collector’, uncover his influences, and explore the wider story of European domestic design in New Zealand.&nbsp;&nbsp; </P> <P><EM>Each item stays true to the golden rule: ‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’</EM></P> <P align=right><FONT size=2>British designer and social reformer William Morris, 1880</FONT></P> <P>Walter and his wife Adriann gifted the collection to the nation in 1992.</P> <P><STRONG>Early years</STRONG></P> <P>Walter Cook was born in 1941, the son of an artistic mother and a clergyman father. He grew up in provincial New Zealand. </P> <P>Childhood visits to museums inspired Walter’s love of collecting. His well-read father introduced him to the Arts and Crafts movement and to the ideas of British designer and reformer William Morris (1834–96), who would influence him greatly. </P> <P><STRONG>The quest begins</STRONG></P> <P>In 1961, Walter moved to Wellington as an apprentice gardener. He spent his free time reading about art and design and exploring the inner-city second-hand shops. These would provide most of his collection over the next three decades.</P> <P><STRONG>A gift to the nation</STRONG></P> <P>Walter believes in what he calls ‘old-fashioned ideas such as the public good and collective ownership’. His decision, in 1992, to gift his collection to the people of New Zealand was in part a protest against the individualistic New Right policies of the time. </P> <P><EM>I suddenly felt like a stranger in a strange land … I decided that it was time for me to discard much of life’s baggage … to lighten the load and prepare for flight.</EM></P> <P align=right><FONT size=2>Walter Cook</FONT></P> <P><STRONG>Collecting ideas</STRONG></P> <P>The ideas of British designer and social reformer William Morris (1834–96) were a major influence on Walter Cook’s approach to collecting. Morris advocated the revival of handcrafting – a reaction against burgeoning mass-production. </P> <P>Morris also believed that art should be available to everyone: ‘What business have we with art at all unless all can share it?’ For this reason, he was seen by art historian Nikolaus Pevsner as a forefather of modernism, which embraced functional designs and took them to a wide audience. Somewhat ironically, mass-production – which Morris had opposed – facilitated this access.</P> <P>Ideas like these fuelled Walter’s collecting pursuits. Pevsner’s book <EM>Pioneers of Modern Design</EM>, which featured Morris, became Walter’s key guide as he built his collection through the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. By the time the collection was gifted to the nation, it traversed pre-modernist works from the late 1800s, transition pieces like art-nouveau pewter, and post-1945 modernist designs from Europe.</P> <P><STRONG>‘The addictive habit’</STRONG></P> <P>Wellington’s antique and second-hand shops brought Walter Cook face to face with the objects behind the theories and styles he’d been reading about. His first purchase initiated him into what he called ‘the addictive habit and thrill of hunting quarry in second-hand shops’. </P> <P>Travis Antiques and Odds and Ends were among the shops that enjoyed Walter’s custom in the 1960s. In 1978, he moved to Thorndon, becoming a regular at nearby second-hand shops like Pleasant Place Antiques and 302 Tinakori Road. He also bought new pieces, mostly from James Smith’s department store, which imported the latest modernist designs from Europe. </P> <P>Walter’s collection is a remarkable showcase of European style. Perhaps equally remarkable is the fact that he amassed it mainly from shops within walking distance of central Wellington.</P> <P><EM>I have no idea what it was in my character that led me to become an obsessive collector.</EM></P> <P align=right><FONT size=2>Walter Cook in ‘The Confessions of an Obsessive Collector’, Turnbull Library Record 40, 2007</FONT></P> <P><STRONG>The European connection</STRONG></P> <P>Walter Cook’s collection reflects what many New Zealanders were buying in the 20th century – domestic ware from Europe. Walter was interested in their ‘conscious or unconscious cultural decisions’ in making those purchases – in what influenced and informed them. </P> <P>A major influence was the 1906–07 New Zealand International Exhibition in Christchurch, which celebrated the country as a proud ‘Britain of the south’. The exhibition attracted almost 2 million visitors – more than double New Zealand’s population at the time. The catalogue from the British display guided Walter as he searched for similar items second-hand some 50 years later. He found it particularly valuable as ‘it covered the whole of the British Arts and Crafts movement’. </P> <P>New Zealanders kept up with European trends through other exhibitions too, as well art journals. Local shops encouraged and met their desires. Modernist items were all the rage from the 1950s, bolstered by a wave of European immigration after World War II. Walter, like others, pursued the latest designs – through the Wellington department store James Smith’s.</P> <P><A href="http://arts.tepapa.govt.nz/off-the-wall/282799/8067/media/join-walter-cook-on-a-collectors-quest-into-the-past">Watch a video of Walter Cook telling the story of his collecting in <EM>Off the Wall</EM></A></P>
Selected Works

Dish

William De Morgan

1883

Biscuit box

J. P. Kayser and Son

circa 1900

Vase holder

Wurttembergische Metallwarenfabrik

circa 1905

Vase holder

Wurttembergische Metallwarenfabrik

circa 1905

Vase, 'Tudric'

Liberty & Co, inspired by Archibald Knox

circa 1905

Vase, 'Tudric'

Liberty & Co, inspired by Oliver Baker

circa 1910

Cake Basket, 'Tudric'

Liberty & Co

circa 1903

Krenit bowls

Torben Orskov & Co. A/S

1953-66

Milk Jug, 'Tudric'

Liberty & Co, inspired by Archibald Knox

circa 1902

Teapot, 'Tudric'

Liberty & Co, inspired by Archibald Knox

circa 1902

Sugar Bowl, 'Tudric'

Liberty & Co, inspired by Archibald Knox

circa 1902

Jam pot, 'Tudric'

Liberty & Co, inspired by Archibald Knox

circa 1905

Muffin Dish and cover, 'Tudric'

Liberty & Co, inspired by Archibald Knox

circa 1903

Coffee Pot, 'Studio line'

Rosenthal GmbH

circa 1957

Vase, 'Tenera ware'

Royal Copenhagen

circa 1970

Centrepiece

Copeland

1859-1865

Jug

Linthorpe Art Pottery

1879 -1882

Vase

Linthorpe Art Pottery

1879-1882

Vase, 'Secessionist' ware

Mintons

1912

Vase

Josiah Wedgwood and Sons Ltd

circa 1950

Fazzoletto (handkerchief) vase

Venini & C.

circa 1950

'Pollo' vase, 'Studio Line'

Rosenthal GmbH

circa 1970

Bottle Vase

Poole Pottery

circa 1956

Vase

The Ruskin Pottery

1923

Flower dish

Wurttembergische Metallwarenfabrik

circa 1905

Candlesticks

Wurttembergische Metallwarenfabrik

1909

Ewer

Mintons

1876

Vase

Royal Doulton Company Ltd

1904

Candlestick

Royal Doulton Company Ltd

1902-1922

Vase

Doulton & Co. Ltd

1882

Vase

Doulton & Co. Ltd

1891-1902

Vase

The Ruskin Pottery

1912

Vase

The Ruskin Pottery

1912

Vase, 'Hadcote' pattern.

Wardle and Co

1905

Vase

Bretby Art Pottery

1900-1910

Bottle

Bretby Art Pottery

circa 1890

Vase

Bretby Art Pottery

1890-1900

Bowl

Pilkington Tile and Pottery Co

1906

Vase

Pilkington Tile and Pottery Co

1909

Bottle

Pilkington Tile and Pottery Co

1907

Dish

Royal Copenhagen

circa 1975

'Bullicante' Vase

Kosta Glasbruk

1958-1959

Coffee pot, 'Syren' style

Royal Doulton Company Ltd

circa 1932

Vase

Royal Doulton Company Ltd

1922-1927

Vase

Royal Doulton Company Ltd

1919

Vase

Doulton & Co. Ltd

circa 1895

Vase

Doulton & Co. Ltd

circa 1877

Jug

Doulton & Co. Ltd, and Hannah Barlow

circa 1871

Vase

Bretby Art Pottery

1890-1900

Hot Water Jug, 'Tudric'

Liberty & Co, inspired by Archibald Knox

circa 1903

Tulip Vase, 'Tudric'

Liberty & Co

circa 1905

Dish 'Tudric'

Liberty & Co, inspired by Archibald Knox

circa 1903

Hot Water Jug, 'Tudric' ware.

Liberty & Co

1904-1926

Bowl

The Ruskin Pottery

1919

Dinner sevice 'Shape 511' (part only)

Porzellanfabrik Schonwald

circa 1960

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Dish

European Splendour 1500-1800

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The Clown from Fulham Road

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Simon Denny: Secret Power

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Untitled. From &#39;The object series&#39;

Alexis Hunter: The model’s revenge

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Max Gimblett, &lt;EM&gt;Remembrance&lt;/EM&gt;, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and The Friends of St David’s Trust

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Untitled #6. From the portfolio: 10 Screenprints

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Knowledge on a beam of starlight (panel 1)

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Untitled

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 Flower dish

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Milford Sound, cascade from Mitre

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Matt Pine, &lt;em&gt;Placement Projects: revisited&lt;/em&gt;, 2016. Photograph by Mike O&#39;Neill. Te Papa

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Sataua, Savai&#39;i, Western Samoa, 1982. From the series: Polynesia here and there

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T&#239;vaevae ta’&#246;rei pepe e pua kaute (quilt with butterfly and hibiscus pattern)

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Louis Rosenberg: Etched into memory

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Helen Hitchings holding a carved wooden cat

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T&#228; Moko panel

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Charger

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Te Kooti at Ruatahuna

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Winter in Quebec

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Boy Am I Scarred Eh

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22 Aug 2014 - 01 Mar 2015

The dinner party

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Waharoa (gateway)

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&quot;Un Grime&quot; Musique de Ravel (An Actor)

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Daylight flotsam Venice

Bill Culbert in Venice

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Martha Graham - &#39;Ekstasis&#39;

Anonymous Bodies

22 Aug 2014 - 01 Mar 2015

I was born in the Pacific Equinox

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A grain of wheat

Jonathan Mane-Wheoki (1943–2014)

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The giant stride

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Land List

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The marriage at Cana

Winifred Knights: The Marriage at Cana

12 May 2014 - 20 Jul 2014

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18 Jan 2014 - 20 Jul 2014

Marken funeral barge

Petrus van der Velden: Art of two halves

19 Oct 2013 - 20 Jul 2014

This is the Trekka

Michael Stevenson: This is the Trekka

19 Oct 2013 - 20 Jul 2014

Poster for &#39;James K. Baxter Festival 1973: Four Plays&#39;

Walk with Me

19 Oct 2013 - 20 Jul 2014

Bangle

Bone Stone Shell

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Autumn mist

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29 Mar 2013 - 20 Jul 2014

Light Fall

Bill Culbert's Light Fall

22 Aug 2014 - 19 Oct 2014

Lake Matheson, Westland

Brian Brake: Lens on the World

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Te Papa poster no. 22

Artist Project: Andrew McLeod

29 Mar 2013 - 20 Jul 2014

Shi Lu Painting a lotus flower

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Water lilies in painted pond. From the series: Lower Hutt: two public places

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Atua #4

Darryn George: Maori abstraction

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Untitled (Textile design no III)

Frances Hodgkins: Textile designs

19 Oct 2013 - 16 Jan 2014

Reading on the Rocks, Grand Manan

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13 Jul 2013 - 12 Jan 2014

The girl with flaxen hair

Figures in Light

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Chester Karnofsky

Warhol Aotearoa

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Blue and green Pacific

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Orange on black

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Tawa. From the portfolio: Barry Lett Multiples

Gordon Walters

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Warhol: Immortal banner image

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Emerey Weschlette

Yvonne Todd

29 Mar 2013 - 30 May 2013

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Amiens. From the series: The consolation of philosophy: Piko nei te matenga

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16 Mar 2015 - Jul 2015