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Published: 25 September 2021

By Andy Ross

Maori and Shetland - a pattern connection

This week a visitor to the studio related an story about a fireplace surround in Yell that had an unusual history. 

Gossabrough is on the east coast of the island and sometime in the 20th Century a man returned from New Zealand with a companion, a Maori man who lived in the island for a number of years. While he was in Yell, the man carved a fireplace with symbols and patterns that the family in New Zealand, or possibly the government of the time, asked for. According to the tale, this fireplace is now in New Zealand, keeping a link between Shetland and the antiopdean country alive. 

A book, Maori Patterns, Painted and Carved, has been added to our collection. Complete with a loose page from the original printed book of 1910, this publication is a reprint of the earlier edition. It is a large format book and is mainly comprised of whole pages of illustrations detailing the patterns that John Henry Menzies painted. While the artist did not do much research and the meanings behind the patterns were not recorded, as an artefact of a period of New Zealand's history this publication is important. It captures a particular moment as the country looked to creating its own national artistic identity. Perhaps some of the patterns in the book are also on the Yell fireplace surround? More research is needed.