In years gone by, tea towels were about more than just drying dishes - as a quirky new exhibition in Rotorua reveals.

Rotorua Museum's Every Tea Towel Tells A Story is an off-beat exhibition featuring hand-picked favourite tea towels from celebrity chef Richard Till's collection of New Zealand tea towels. It opens tomorrow.

It looks at a different social era and people's memories of these different times when tea towels were collected as souvenirs, and often used as covers and table ware - something that does not happen now partly because they are not used much any more and there are many other forms of collecting souvenirs. In the '50s and '60s tea towels meant more than washing dishes and they portrayed an image of how culture was perceived at the time.

Museum events co-ordinator Kathy Nichols said tea towels once played a huge part in people's lives in the days before we had dishwashers.


"Many Kiwis would visit places on their summer holidays and buy a tea towel as a souvenir to have a memory of that place. Rotorua's geysers, bubbling mud pools and Maori culture feature on some of the tea towels. These days there is a lot more on offer in the city."

Museum curator Tharron Bloomfield, an enthusiast collector, admits to accumulating a few himself.

"If I see one in an op-shop or garage sale I can't help but pick it up, although I have nowhere near as many as Richard, who has 300. These tea towels tell us about our social history, what was popular and important at the time.

"It's a fun and interesting show about Kiwiana."

Some of the picture stories are told with an educational element and some with a humour, which today would not be appropriate and a lot of these images and stories were aimed at women when in the '50s and '60s when woman were in charge of domestic duties.

The museum is also running a competition asking people to take their inspiration from the nostalgic show, get creative and design their own take on a Rotorua-themed tea towel.

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Museum staff will select 10 finalists for both categories and Mr Till will choose the final winner. Mr Bloomfield said they would be looking for something to represent Rotorua but a bit different to that seen in a local souvenir shop.

Although the show is about nostalgia Mr Bloomfield said he would really like to see a modern take on how Rotorua looked today.

"We think of Rotorua as geysers and mudpools, but there's so many other things as well."

- Details and entry forms for the Design-A-Tea-Towel Competition from the museum in the Government Gardens or

* What: Every Tea Towel Tells A Story exhibition

* When: Tomorrow until May 1

* Where: Rotorua Museum

* How much: Normal admission charges apply.