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Monday, February 20, 2012

De Young Gets Māori Cloak Made on Site
From Flax in Golden Gate Park

Posted By on Mon, Feb 20, 2012 at 9:30 AM

The Contemporary Māori Cloak - FINE ART MUSEUMS OF SAN FRANCISCO
  • Fine Art Museums of San Francisco
  • The Contemporary Māori Cloak

Cultural institutions in San Francisco continually search for new acquisitions. Alexis Coe brings you the most important, often wondrous, sometimes bizarre, and occasionally downright vexing finds each week.

The de Young Museum welcomes a new artist-in-residence every month, but it rarely acquires any work produced during that time. In reality, the museum is regularly "deaccessioning," meaning it offers items from its collections to other institutions if, upon reassessment, they are deemed better placed elsewhere.

In its contemporary collections policy, then, the de Young is a discerning institution, which makes its recent acquisition all the more interesting. When October's artist in residence, Glanda Joyce Hape, offered as a gift a cloak she made at the museum, Curator Christina Hellmich didn't hesitate to accept.

Hape is Māori, an indigenous people of New Zealand, and her work proved exceptional from the beginning. The de Young is located in Golden Gate Park, and the museum encourages its artists-in-residence to explore the connection between park and museum environments. Hape relies on flax to weave her contemporary art, so she excitedly embraced the 1,017 acres of park - which boasts more than 7,500 exotic plant species - out of necessity. She regularly teamed up with Andy Stone, the park supervisor, and the two went on long expeditions in park in search of flax to harvest. Stowe Lake, as it turns out, offered Hape an abundance of flax bushes to choose from.

Money doesn't grow on trees but art, apparently, does. - FINE ART MUSEUMS OF SAN FRANCISCO
  • Fine Art Museums of San Francisco
  • Money doesn't grow on trees but art, apparently, does.

In accordance with Māori culture, Hape harvested only the exterior leaves of the flax bush, which posses a fan shape. These are older leaves, referred to as "ancestors," which represent grandparents. The innermost shoots, known as the child, are flanked by the mother and father for protection. Harvesting around the peripheral ensures that the bush will continue to grow.

Creating the cloak was labor intensive and time consuming. After stripping the flax leaves found in the park with a mussel shell, Hape dyed the fiber ends. After they dried, she hand-wove them using a double-pair twining technique.

At the end of Hape's residency, she returned to New Zealand, and Hellmich placed the gifted Contemporary Māori Cloak in the Oceana Gallery. While it sits near other Māori works, some of which were the first to enter the museum in 1895 as a part of the inaugural collection, it is the first contemporary expression of Māori weaving in the museum. Hellmich hopes that visitors use Hape's gift to "connect the historic Māori works in the collection with contemporary Māori art and culture."

The rain cloak, or pake, is a captivating piece to behold. The color struck me as a bit foreboding, and it turns out that Hape hoped it would be representative of the forest in New Zealand. I spent at least 20 minutes following strands up and down through the glass case, imagining the functional purpose it once served. The pake is still worn today, considered a fashionable addition to any ensemble.

You can view the Contemporary Māori Cloak in the Oceana Gallery at the de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park, S.F. Admission is $6-$10.

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Alexis Coe

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