The Rooms is a unique, historic exhibition taking place at The Elms, one of the Bay of Plenty's oldest heritage sites.
Nine contemporary New Zealand artists have been invited by the Tauranga Art Gallery (who have collaborated with The Elms) to transform seven rooms within the house and library. Each room installation celebrates a piece of The Elms' history and the people who lived there.
Contemporary artists Maureen Lander, Vita Cochran, Matthew McIntyre Wilson, Crystal Chain Gang, Emily Siddell and Stephen Bradbourne, John Roy and Gavin Hurley have created works specifically for each room, paired with items from The Elms collection to paint a picture of our history.
It was a "stinking hot day" in February when Crystal Chain Gang artists, Jim Dennison and Leanne Williams, first visited The Elms historic house.
The mission house made an earnest impression on the effervescent pair who were fascinated with the history and collection. Following their visit they undertook a four-month project to transform the dining room of The Elms; to create a contemporary installation filled with crystal, shadow and light. It's "just great" said Leanne, "to engage with a collection, to make it contemporary."
For The Rooms, the Crystal Chain Gang have explored the house's role as a place of celebration and how each event held in the house — weddings, dinner parties, birthdays and family gatherings — all contributed to the building's role as a home.
Built between 1838 and 1847, The Elms mission house started its life as a religious outpost before being purchased by Archdeacon Brown in 1873 as a private family home. Over consecutive generations the property has been passed down to family members; each interweaving their stories with the property. All the installations reference these different characters, their day-to-day life and their creative outlets (sewing bees, carved picture frames and quilt making).
Impressed by a vibrant 1800s quilt in the main bedroom, created by Euphemia Maxwell, artist Vita Cochrane has transformed the bedroom around it; depicting Euphemia's life in embroidery and appliqué. Cochrane, who works with fabric and stitch, fell in love with the atmosphere of the mission house and in particular Euphemia's quilt, which she says is an encyclopedia of fashion, stitch and pattern.
"Stitching is an age-old technique that is renewed every day, and I hope my homage to Euphemia's quilt attests to the life and currency of this amazing 100-year-old object."
Another artist inspired by the incredible skills the women of the era had, is Maureen Lander who has transformed the library with her installation Shades of Pink. To honour the work and often under appreciated female roles; Lander has transformed the masculine library into a space that brings the feminine householders back into the limelight.
Glass and ceramic artists Emily Siddell and Stephen Bradbourne have created works that reference the day-to-day household items of The Elms. A dinner set, wash jugs and medicine bottles; all with impressive and intricate connections to the past.
Paint and paper collage artist Gavin Hurley has incorporated objects from The Elms that the inhabitants have touched, worn and passed down over generations that act as a tangible link between the real people and the history books.
The black top hat worn by Alfred Brown was the inspiration for local artist John Roy's installation in the drawing room.
"I see some of these items as symbols of power that single the family out as being important in the community at that time, much as the top hat was in England."
And on the flip side, artist Matthew McIntyre Wilson has chosen to focus on the Māori items in The Elms collection. His installation includes four samplers that reference different kete in the collection, one of which includes the words "kāinga reka kāinga," a direct translation for "home sweet home".
This project was curated by the Tauranga Art Gallery director Karl Chitham and Kate Darrow with support of Legacy Trust, Creative New Zealand, Blumhardt Foundation and The Rooms Patrons.