Exhibition with a difference at the Honey House

An art exhibition with a difference is taking place at the Honey House – the Kerikeri Mission Station cafe – and will run until Christmas.

An abstract representation of winter using intricate embroidery.
Winter – one of the Four Seasons Liz has depicted in her original fabric works. Photo: HNZPTexpand/collapse

Manager of the Kerikeri Mission Station, Liz Bigwood, will share a range of her recent fabric, collage and embroidery work in a display that will challenge many people’s ideas about each of these art forms.

“I like to play with embroidery and get away from flowers,” she says.

“I use French knots and other embroidery stitches while also incorporating domestic heritage elements like old tray cloths and pieces of tatting for example. These elements already have ‘embodied energy’ in that they were created by somebody else many years ago. I’ve repurposed and reused them.”

The result is Four Seasons – a set of abstract fabric works that illustrate spring, summer, winter and autumn, capturing the mood and feel of each season in four unique art works.

Liz has long been interested in working with fibres. As a young woman she found herself inexplicably drawn to spinning and weaving – and working with linen in particular.

“I became fascinated with spinning linen which involved working with European flax, which is smaller than our harakeke,” she says.

“The technique involves winding the long fibres – known as tow – onto a Distaff from which the tow is then pulled while at the same time dipping your fingers into water and spun, using a spinning wheel, into linen thread. It’s a little more complicated than spinning wool,” she says.

“It was only in later years I discovered my Scottish forebears were not only Paisley weavers near Glasgow, but also linen spinners and weavers from Stonehaven, south of Aberdeen. As a result of this experience I came to appreciate that whole idea of cellular or genetic memory, and how understanding is passed down almost intuitively through generations.”

Speaking of how knowledge is transmitted, Liz talked about her experience learning traditional Māori weaving techniques.

“I had the extraordinary privilege of being taught by renowned Kaiwhatu (weaver) Digger Te Kanawa – spending two very full weeks living at her home in Piopio and learning how to weave a korowai from scratch. Digger began with the harvesting of the harakeke, then how to extract the muka (fibres); the soaking and pounding process to soften it, then how to spin the muka on our legs the traditional way. Learning the weaving techniques came after that,” says Liz.

“Digger believed every New Zealander should be able to weave a korowai, which is a style of cloak that was developed by Māori after the arrival of Europeans. Later I used the weaving technique Digger taught me to make a large installation (1.5m high x 8m long) that hung in the New Zealand Tourism Board for a number of years.”

Around this time Liz was asked by prominent New Zealand artist Malcolm Harrison to weave a piece for his major installation in the Atrium of Parliament during the refurbishment of the building in the 1990s – this installation is still on display there. Liz was also a loom weaver and had work commisioned for institutions and people both internationally and around Aotearoa New Zealand.

Departing from the world of wrangling fibre and abstract emboridery, Liz will also be exhibiting other examples of her creative endeavours, perhaps best described as ‘out there’ collage.

“I enjoy working with paper in the form of collage – just for fun,” she says.

Liz takes pen and ink illustrations from the Victorian-era Chatterbox book– and then applies her own inimitable take on these, framing the original images with contemporary illustrations and creating new artworks which are at once hilarious, and at times slightly unnerving.

“These will also be on show as part of the Honey House Exhibition for people to enjoy,” she says.

Liz’s Honey House Exhibtion will be launched on Friday, 18 November.

John O'Hare