Cloaks in New Zealand have been made from skins, furs, feathers, plants and textiles including polynesian dog, moa, polynesian rat, n.z flax, emu, seal, huia, goat, peacock, moss, kiwi, wool, cotton, chicken, plastics and even electrical wire.
I was in Wellington, invited as a carver to an arts expo held at the School of Philosophy in Aro Valley. Seeing some sculptures I’d made from wood shavings glued together, a viewer remarked on how the shavings looked so featherlike – she mused at how it would make a fantastic cloak with the shavings of different woods suggesting different types of feather?
I imagined a form of tapestry. Like a cloak on display. Growing up, my family had a puipui and a tapa cloth amongst the art on our walls in our lounge and I’ve always loved textiles, quilting and construction. Nearly all of my 6 older sisters sewed and wove something or other and our huge dining table was often a messy atelier.
Before leaving Wellington I ducked into Te Papa to do a little research into cloaks and made it into the library. A dearth of books on the subject was available due to Te Papa researchers compiling their Whatu Kakahu: Maori Cloaks show that was to open the next month with accompanying book. I found that cloaks are so much more than flax and feathers.
Mulling things over back in Gisborne I played with various ideas – wood shavings, plastics, even hairdressers swatch books of hair, with the idea of cutting the swatches into feathered shapes and compiling a cloak with those. Some beautiful colours people dye their hair and the colours of native birds feathers are easily suggested.
I eventually came to using fur in place of feathers, using the pests – the predators that are accounted as the reason I can’t use native bird feathers.
The story goes…I was deep in the bush when along came a D.O.C ranger checking his trap-lines.
– What are you up to?
– Spearing some kiwi and weka to make a cloak, sir.
– No, You’re Not, Come with me – each time he emptied and re-set a trap he’d throw the possum, stoat, rat, weasel carcass into the bush.
– Can I use those then?
– Sure, Why Not.
I started my first cloak using ferret, stoat and weasel pelts from stoles that a local theatre company sold at a cleanout in their wardrobe department. A book-reviewer friend gave me her copy of the Te Papa book and I used that as my prime reference book as the cloaks developed.