The Exhibition

Selling the Dream is a collection of world-class tourism posters promoting New Zealand’s unique attractions in an age before television and the Internet. Created by some of the country’s finest commercial artists, the themes promoted through the posters reveal New Zealand’s developing national identity in the early twentieth century.

Working for the Tourist and Railways Departments, artists used new technologies, such as screen-printing. They created popular and inspiring images of the landscape that sold New Zealand to New Zealanders and to the world.

Selling the Dream was developed by Canterbury Museum. It debuted at the Museum on 19 December 2014 and ran until 19 April 2015. The exhibition has toured to venues around New Zealand since that time. A smaller version of the exhibition is currently on display at the Museum until 7 February 2017. The exhibition is accompanied by a book Selling the Dream by Peter Alsop, published by New Holland Publishers Pty Ltd, 2016.

Image credit (banner): South Westland, New Zealand, Marcus King, Tourist Department. 

Scenic Wonderland

The idea that New Zealand is a ‘scenic wonderland’ has its origins in ancient Europe and Africa. Imagining a perfect relationship between nature and humankind, the notion of paradise has been a common desire of the people of all continents and cultures throughout time. The word ‘paradise’ is derived from the French for the Garden of Eden, Paradis, and the Iranian word, paradisus for ‘park’. So it is hardly surprising that colonisation and the immigration of Britain and Europe’s population into the Pacific in the nineteenth century promised a new beginning in an idyllic land.

In New Zealand in the 1850s, surveyor artists like William Fox and Charles Heaphy promoted the benefits of voyaging half-way around the world, painting landscapes that revealed a paradise suitable for English settlement.  In the twentieth century, the New Zealand Government Tourist Department also understood the value of such promises.  From the scenic beauties of the country’s national parks, to the fiords and mountains of the Milford Sounds and grandeur of Mount Cook, the Tourist Department promised a getaway to an experience with nature that – even today - still seems picture-perfect.

Marlborough Sounds
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Leonard Mitchell
Marlborough Sounds, 1934
Lithograph
Tourist Department
1000 x 654mm

Long before the inter-island ferry link between the North and South Islands was established, Marlborough was already a recognised tourist destination. Popular with pig and deer hunters in the first half of the twentieth century, by the 1930s it was increasingly favoured as a holiday destination for boating, fishing and swimming. Leonard Mitchell’s poster of Marlborough Sounds captures the region’s attractions as an idyllic playground, with the artist taking a view through a clearing in the trees.

Waitomo Caves
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Artist Unknown
Waitomo Caves, 1932
Lithograph
New Zealand Railways Publicity Department
1005 x 635mm

While the Waitomo Caves were well-known to Māori, they gained national and international attention in the late 1880s, following Māori Chief Tane Tinorau and surveyor Fred Mace’s discovery of the Glow-worm Grotto. In 1889 Tinorau, acting as a guide, opened the cave to visitors and numbers quickly soared. The government acquired the land in 1904 and the Tourist Department managed the caves from 1905. This poster reveals the magic of the Glow-worm caves in 1932 with lanterns and boats floating in the cavern for one of the – ‘Wonders of the world!’

 

New Zealand Fiords
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Leonard Mitchell
New Zealand Fiords, c 1930
Lithograph
Internal Affairs Department
1000 x 600mm

In its bright colours depiction of the forest and mountain, Leonard Mitchell’s view through the bush into Fiordland reveals the modern style and design of the 1930s. Yet, as a professional artist, Mitchell also had a knowledge of European art and the influence of seventeenth century landscape painting is evident in this poster.  The perfect world that Mitchell has created may be based on a scene from the South Island, but its origins come from Europe’s art and culture.

Mount Cook for Summer
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Artist Unknown
Mount Cook for Summer, 1935
Lithograph
Railways Department
875 x 565mm

Mount Cook’s first Hermitage was built in 1884, but struggled to attract visitors due to the expense of the accommodation. In 1895, however, with the government assuming ownership and improving facilities, it experienced a ‘golden age’ of mountain climbing. By the 1930s, Mount Cook was also part of an important tourist package that revealed the region as a ‘playground.’ Encouraged by affordable rail and road fares that included ‘easy time-payment systems’ visitors could amuse themselves in recreational activities, just like the youthful figure in this poster. She is surrounded by mountain daises and has the evening comforts of the Hermitage to look forward to.

 

Fisherman’s Paradise

Mountainous and bush-covered New Zealand was well equipped for such active pursuits as climbing, hiking and skiing, however, nature had not provided it with fish suitable for the sport of angling. As a result, in the late 1860s various fish from Britain and North America were introduced to this country’s inland waterways and by 1904 it was being hailed as the ‘Angler’s (as well as Deerstalker’s) Paradise’. With brown and rainbow trout, salmon, perch and carp successfully acclimatised.

By comparison with its lakes and rivers, New Zealand’s coastal waters have always been well-stocked, and therefore ideal for big-game fishing.  Māori traditionally caught swordfish and other species with handlines from canoes and Europeans first took to the sport in the early 1900s in the Bay of Islands. Local big-game fishing received a boost, thanks to popular American writer Zane Grey, who made four trips to New Zealand between 1926 and 1933. He established a base at Otehei Bay, on Urupukapeka Island in the Bay of Islands. This subsequently became a popular destination for deep-sea anglers from around the world during the summer, when large fish such as swordfish, marlin, tuna and shark, were attracted to the warmer waters. Grey caught a record ten marlin in one day and a film of him landing a swordfish was made for screening overseas, while his books – including the best-selling 1926 Tales of the Angler’s Eldorado, New Zealand - helped publicise the sport here.

For the Worlds Best Sport
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MA (Maurice) Poulton
For the Worlds Best Sport, 1936
Lithograph
Tourist Department
1000 x 600mm

This poster depicts a well-equipped and pipe-smoking angler casting his line in a typical New Zealand river.  This image was ideal for reproduction by the lithographic process. The angler’s arms and legs create opposing diagonals, adding to the sense of drama and concentrated effort, while his white shirt contrasts with the dark greens of the river and bush beyond.

The Sportsman’s Paradise
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H (Harry) Rountree
The Sportsman’s Paradise, c 1930
Lithograph
Internal Affairs
920 x 660mm

This poster was produced during the period when the world’s best known big-game fisherman, American Zane Grey, was visiting New Zealand. Painted in a very fluid style, it captures the high drama as a fish takes the bait and leaps clear of the water. The artist has also caught the iridescent colours of the glistening fish, while the sense of movement is heightened by the bubbles and water trailing from its tail. The sportsman in the stern of the boat takes the strain on his rod, and the action has the attention of his three companions. The sea is dark and choppy, beneath a hot yellow sky. The tightly arcing form of the leaping fish captured here was also used on other promotions for New Zealand’s big game fishing.

Big Fighting Fish
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H (Howard) Mallitte
Big Fighting Fish, c 1955
Screenprint
Tourist Department
1000 x 600mm

This piece of big-game fishing action took place in the Bay of Islands, identified by the distinctive hole-in-the rock of Piercy Island at top right. The fact that this fish has not taken a line – as was usually depicted in such promotional images - suggests it is one that got away.This design takes full advantage of the screenprinting process, with its large areas of flat colour and simplified forms. Also notable is the imaginative use of textures, as seen on the ‘big fighting fish’ itself, and the informality of the hand-done lettering. The foaming surf and swirling green ocean add to the general sense of immediacy and movement. In contrast, the three men in the boat at top left appear strangely becalmed.

Landmarks

A landmark is a natural or man-made feature that offers a guide for travelling, and also a word that represents our belief in significant events in history. The celebration of 100 years of Pakeha settlement in 1940 was considered a landmark occasion and was commemorated in regional and national celebrations.  It reflected popular perceptions about the country’s identity. The New Zealand Centennial Exhibition held in Wellington (November 1939 - April 1940) was the most visibly successful centennial event. Held close to the airport at Rongatoi, it was a carnival that featured roller and side shows and also a trade fair that attracted 2.6 million visitors.

 The Centennial acknowledged the country’s material progress, as a partnership between hard work, new technology and improved transport systems all accommodated within the enduring natural beauty of the landscape. This was apparent in illustrations of farming and ‘men alone’ in high country stations.  Such popular images remained predominant in New Zealand culture for the next forty years.

Wahine - New Zealand Centennial Exhibition Wellington
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Leonard Cornwall Mitchell (1901-1971)
Wahine - New Zealand Centennial Exhibition Wellington, 1939
Lithograph
New Zealand Tourist Department
1000 x 600mm

The 1940 centennial celebrations of the founding of New Zealand were five years in the planning and from November 1939 to May 1940, the exhibition in Wellington was its central attraction. Leonard Mitchell’s poster for the Centennial shared much in common with popular cinema with its Art Deco buildings, showcasing a radiating light that had its origins in the German Expressionist film, Metropolis (1927). The Wahine (woman) in this poster stands in for Pakeha aspirations. Posing as Zealandia, England’s representative in the South Seas, she represents a youthful child who has come of age.

 

Canterbury Centennial Celebrations
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Irvine James Major (1922-2000)
Canterbury Centennial Celebrations, 1950
Screenprint
Publisher unknown
800 x 550mm

Although Wellington’s Mayor, Thomas Hislop argued for a centralised centennial event in his city, the Under-Secretary of Internal Affairs, Joseph Heenan maintained that celebrations should also be held in all towns and cities.  The 1940 centennial recalled historical milestones and looked to the future. With a generation of grandparents who had been settlers in the late nineteenth century still alive, the artist Irvine Major seemed aware that for many New Zealanders, connections with the past were still tangible. Yet, the message in his poster is equally about progress, new and faster methods of communication, modern architecture and a determined nationalist spirit.

Sheep Drafting
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Marcus King
Sheep Drafting, c 1950
Screenprint
Tourist Department
765 x 510mm

Farming maintained an important role in defining New Zealand’s identity from the mid-1940s to 1970s. It offered reassurance about the quality of life. Marcus King’s Sheep Drafting reveals both the beauty of nature and the productivity of the land and, by extension, its importance to the country’s economy. This is a world that by the 1960s, had become an imagined reality for many New Zealanders.  A strong urban drift from the 1930s to 1960s, saw a million people migrate from the countryside to cities and towns.

South Westland, New Zealand
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Marcus King
South Westland, New Zealand
Screenprint
Tourist Department
765 x 510mm OR 1000 x 600 mm

The 1940 centennial film, One Hundred Crowded Years, that documented the story of New Zealand’s progress, was conceived with a storyline taken from Hollywood movies about the ‘taming of the West.’ Director, R W Fenton chose a popular cowboy film, Wells Fargo, as the model for the pioneering period.  Marcus King’s South Westland, New Zealand is equally cinematic, locating the farmer against a panoramic landscape that could have been taken from any of a number of Westerns from the 1950s. It touches upon a relationship between humanity and the land that alludes to a history of settlement and the country’s development for generations to come.

Maoriland

The concept of Maoriland as an alternative name for New Zealand first appeared in the 1860s. In the following years it proved particularly popular with poets and writers, the best known being Thomas Bracken, author of the national anthem and Musings in Maoriland (1890). Maoriland was also chosen as the cable address for the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts, established in 1901.

Maoriland became an old-fashioned concept, but Māori continued to play a major part in this country’s tourism industry. At the centre of this promotion lay Rotorua, home of the model Māori village at Whakarewarewa, and extensive geothermal activity. Tourism images of Māori also moved with the times, from the romanticised views of the early 1900s, to more realistic depictions by mid-century.

These posters reflect changing attitudes towards the depiction of Māori and the Māori world. The challenge for the designer is to produce an image that is both visually arresting and, according to the attitudes of the day, suitably respectful. When it comes to tourist attractions, several countries offer mountains, glaciers and thermal activity but only New Zealand can claim a unique Māori culture.

Māori Chief
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Artist unknown
Māori Chief, c 1950
Screenprint
Tourist Department
1015 x 635mm

The appeal of the image of a Māori chief was long recognised by early advertisers and achieved official recognition when the second Māori King, Tawhiao, was selected for inclusion on the New Zealand £1 note from 1934 to 1940. A decade later an unidentified chief was used to promote the country’s tourism industry. Making imaginative use of a limited range of colours, this screenprinted poster is an impressive depiction of chiefly authority, marked by the pair of huia feathers in the hair, full moko (facial tattoo), pounamu (greenstone) ear pendants and korowai (feather cloak) over the left shoulder. The silhouettes of a meeting house, palisade and carved figure in the background add to the sense of mystery and mana (authority) commanded by this face of New Zealand.

Wonderland of the Pacific
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C (Carl) Laugesen
Wonderland of the Pacific, c 1935
Tourist Department
Chromolithograph
1005 x 640mm

This young Māori woman, enveloped in a kahu kiwi (kiwi feather cloak), featured in a wide range of tourism promotions in the mid-1930s. She was part of a tradition that began in the late nineteenth century with postcard images, frequently showing young and attractive women. In the following decades such subjects became less ethnographic and conformed increasingly to European notions of glamour. This image of New Zealand concentrates on its natural and scenic attractions – mountain peaks and geysers and Māori culture, with the Chateau Tongariro, located at the centre of the composition. Artist Carl Laugesen has managed to include his initials in the traditional taniko (woven) border and has also drawn a parallel between the border and the geometric typeface of New Zealand.

Rotorua
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Artist unknown
Rotorua, c 1950
Tourist department
Screenprint
1000 x 600mm

The Pohutu Geyser (pohutu meaning ‘big splash’ or ‘explosion’) provides a dramatic background to the Māori village of Whakarewarewa in Rotorua. The main geyser in the area, Pohutu performs up to 20 times per day and can reach heights of 30 meters. Also prominent in this image is a small pataka (store house), raised to protect its contents from kiore (rats) and other predators. Such structures could be up to six metres off the ground, elevated on posts or tree trunks. In front of the whare nui (meeting house) a trio of Māori women are preparing flax fibre for weaving.

New Zealand
4 / 4

George Bridgman
New Zealand, 1939
Studio
Screenprint
1000 x 600mm

At various times all sections of Māori society have been considered suitable subjects for tourism publicity, from babies on their mothers’ backs to young maidens, warriors and the elderly. The latter category includes battle-scarred chiefs and kuia (elderly women) who were frequently in Europeanised dress and smoking pipes. In the early 1900s well-known painter Charles F Goldie (1870-1947) recorded many such individuals. These nostalgic reflections captured the dignity of old age and the changing world of the Māori and George Bridgman provided an updated and more upbeat interpretation for this poster in 1939.

Rest & Recreation

New Zealand’s diverse geography – from thermal activity to glaciers – has long been the basis for its tourism industry. With the more active tourist in mind, there was an early emphasis on hunting, fishing and bush walks and the increasing range of options led to this country being labelled the Scenic Playground of the Pacific. Early promotional material was aimed at the international traveller but by the 1930s it had shifted to appealing to New Zealanders to get out and enjoy their own country. By now they could take advantage of an extensive rail network, coupled with connections by road and coastal steamer and it was no coincidence that many of the more memorable tourism posters were produced by the Railways Studios.

Another of New Zealand’s claimed attractions was the weather, and so posters attempted to lure holiday-makers to the sun, as at Tauranga or Timaru. One region that has long been at the centre of the national tourism industry is the Hot Lakes District, based on Rotorua. Once the gateway to the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Pink and White Terraces (destroyed in the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera), it continues to attract visitors with its thermal activity and displays of Māori life and culture.

Christchurch: With the Wonders on the Doorstep!
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Artist unknown
Christchurch: With the Wonders on the Doorstep! , c 1935
Railways Department
Lithograph
1010 x 585mm

The Garden City of Christchurch, the doorway to the scenic wonders of the South Island, is represented by a shady corner of the River Avon. Beyond is ChristChurch Cathedral, with smaller views of other accessible attractions – the mountains, lakes and hot springs – at the bottom of the composition. The emphasis here is on architectural features of Christchurch, once the most English of New Zealand cities. The design of this poster is in strong contrast to the more dynamic approach taken by others in the promotion of tourist spots around the country at this time. Even the typeface here is a conservative approach, evoking an illuminated medieval manuscript rather than the spirit of the 1930s.

Northland
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Eugene Collett
Northland, c 1960
Tourist Department
Screenprint
765 x 508mm 

This is a composite and rather conventional design, perhaps reflecting the difficulty of selecting one single attraction to represent the far north of New Zealand. A leaping swordfish, however, does have some prominence at top left, promoting big-game fishing in the Bay of Islands. Also shown are a sandy beach, a citrus orchard and one of the world’s great trees, the mighty kauri, standing alongside another distinctive feature of the New Zealand bush, the nikau palm. All the snapshots seen here are drenched in sunshine, reinforcing the sub-tropical message and the region’s reputation as the Winterless North.

Wellington Harbour
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Wall Cousins
Wellington Harbour, c 1925
New Zealand Shipping Co Ltd
Lithograph
1016 x 1267mm

This large panorama of Wellington Harbour, as seen from the hills above, was produced shortly after the city’s population had reached 100,000. The artist has framed the view with native vegetation, and also made effective use of strong colours, in particular the red border and foreground, and the deep blue which cuts across the centre of the composition. There is a slight breeze on the harbour, and some of the vessels seen here may belong to the New Zealand Shipping Company, which commissioned the poster. It seems safe to assume that this image, of a harbour city surrounded by green hills and expansive areas of open countryside, was designed to appeal to overseas visitors.

Blue Baths
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Leonard Mitchell
Blue Baths, 1935
Tourist Department
Lithograph
1000 x 660mm

This poster was produced in 1935, only a year or so after Rotorua’s Blue Baths were opened. It was designed by one of New Zealand most successful graphic designers, Leonard Mitchell, who has, unusually, given this image a bold black border. The focus of the Blue Baths (so named because of the colour of the mineral water) was on recreation, in contrast to the curative properties claimed of other bath houses in Rotorua. The Blue Baths also offered mixed sex bathing for the first time in New Zealand, reflecting the more relaxed attitudes of the post-First World War period. The emphasis in this poster, however, is on the two female figures in the foreground, whose attention is on the pool.

Trains & Planes

The close relationship between comfortable and affordable travel and tourism were evident as early as the 1860s with the opening of the Otira Gorge Road between Canterbury and the West Coast. It meant that by the late 1870s, Otira’s spectacular landscape was a popular subject for artists.  (It had been singled out as a highlight at the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition in Dunedin in 1889). Throughout the twentieth century, changes in tourists’ expectations about the best way to travel, whether by train, plane or car, were all promoted with a promise of escape, excitement and comfort. Expanding rail networks in the late nineteenth century were popular until the 1960s, when they were challenged by the family car and time-saving options of flight in the 1970s.  Although New Zealand Railways sought to compete, introducing the Silver Star - a fashionable night train that promised greater comfort on the North Island main trunk route - nothing could halt the inevitable competition of NAC’s Boeing 737 jets.

For Your Holidays
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Artist Unknown
For Your Holidays, 1948
Lithograph
Railways Department and Railway Studios
886 x 568mm

As early as the 1890s, New Zealand Railways equally promoted their freight services as well as the advantages for the local tourist. The offered special deals for travellers during the Christmas, Easter and school holidays. From the 1920s they promoted travel by rail in New Zealand to local and international tourists. With increasing leisure time, New Zealanders could afford longer holidays, particularly over the Christmas and New Year period. In addition, the declining size of families meant cheaper and more manageable holidays. As cars were still a luxury for many, New Zealand Railways reaped the financial benefits during this boom period throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

Agents for New Zealand Government Tourist Department
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Artist unknown
Agents for New Zealand Government Tourist Department, c 1955
Screenprint
Tourist Department
1000 x 600mm

By the 1950s, an established network of tourist facilities at major resorts and a comprehensive service of accommodation and transport, saw a shift by the New Zealand Government Tourist Department from local to international tourism. This campaign focused on the promotion of this country’s scenic wonders encouraged the New Zealand Government Travel Service to offer  the international visitor an inclusive easy-to-book package. The imagery and style of this Art Deco poster from the Tourist Department in the mid-1950s reveals this new marketing, with an elegant and stylish promise of travel to a far-away place across the Pacific.