City Gallery City Gallery Wellington

Past exhibition

Fabric Art Company: Stuffed Stuff Show

26 November 1983–8 January 1984

ARTISTS Anne Allan, Joan Beattie, Noelene Black, Pru Durant, Tineke Fijn, Jill Gunn, Rosemary Nausbaum CURATOR Ann Philbin SPONSOR Community Arts Council OTHER VENUES  Wairarapa Arts Centre, Masterton, 25 March–12 April 1984; Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, 9 May–4 June 1984; Bishop Suter Art Gallery, Nelson, 30 July–12 August 1984; Aigantighe Art Gallery, Timaru, 24 August–9 September 1984; Waikato Art Museum, Hamilton, 25 September–21 October 1984; Manawatu Gallery, Palmerston North, 1 November 1984–12 December 1985; Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui, 22 December 1984–10 February 1985;  Robert McDougall Gallery, Christchurch; Forum North, Whangarei, 22 February–10 March 1985; Fisher Gallery, Pakuranga, 17 March–14 April 1985; Forrester Gallery, Oamaru

Merry Christmas. Ho, ho, ho! The Stuffed Stuff Show runs during the kiddy-orientated holiday period. The press release reads, 'This show will be an inspiration to handicrafts people—a must for all families.'

Stuffed Stuff Show is like a feminist housewife's take on The Muppets. Describing themselves as 'domestic engineers', Fabric Art Company produce life-size 'soft sculpture' tableaus. Their tongue-in-cheek fabric creations take six months to produce and include everything from Doris, Marjorie, and Ethel (a trio of Salvation Army knitters) to the Light of His Life (a glamour-girl lamp) to Bruce (lounging in an armchair with his beer cracked open). The Stuffed Stuff publication is sponsored by Lion Breweries.

The Company are a group of Wellington women who met during a Workers Education Association fabric-art course. They formed a collective with their tutor Joan Beattie and have not looked back. At the time of this show, they have been exhibiting together for only eighteen months, but demand for their work is high. They have already shown in the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts 1982 Fabric and Fibre exhibition and the Lombard Exhibition, and their work Ladies a Plate went down a treat at Kapiti Arts Festival.

Between them, the seven women in the Fabric Art Company have twenty kids. Their artist statement reads, 'We have chosen to share with you some of the personalities, situations and thoughts we have encountered in our day-to-day lives.' Their works are a comment on life in the 'burbs and are produced from everyday materials sewn, stuffed, knitted and patched together. The forty exhibits have titles like Mother-in-Law's Tongue and Did You Cancel the Paper, Dear? They also include wall hangings, reliefs, and constructions.

Spokesperson, Noeline Black, tells the media that the group has a serious message, but 'people take more notice if they do it in a fun way'. (Her The Tooth Fairy resembles National Party politician Allan Highet and holds a $1M note from the bank.) She says they are 'not feminist in the way the term is used now. We are all very much family people and enjoy being at home.' In the Listener, Margaret Christensen observes, 'Laundry is a big part of the show. It spills from on high, harsh as doom, into a basket, to emerge as neatly ironed shirts.' In the Dominion, reviewer Elva Bett writes, 'I defy anyone to leave less aware of the mundanity of suburbia and the housewife's lot', concluding, 'You've got to see this show. It will make excellent holiday relief.'

The show proves popular, attracting record-breaking numbers. Director Ann Philbin says, 'It's a bit like the movie E.T. You hear people talking and they're on the fourth or fifth visit.' Christensen writes, 'Highbrows will probably agonise over the Stuffed Stuff show, worrying but is it art? I have news for them. When craft skills such as these come together with serious intent, the whole touched with wit, style, and imagination, then we have something new to come to terms with. That the show should speak so unerringly to so many people of all ages is not so much the icing on the cake as the raison d'etre.'

Stuffed Stuff Show tours the country, winning hearts—if not minds—wherever it goes.