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New Exhibitions: Welcome Sweet Peace

New Exhibitions: Welcome Sweet Peace

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Group including 'John Bull' in fancy dress during the Armistice Day celebrations in Levin

For immediate release
24 November 2008

2 December 2008 – 14 March 2009

Returning home after the Great War

The Armistice of 11 November 1918 brought to a close four years of fighting in which thousands of New Zealanders served with distinction in various theatres of conflict.

While peace was not officially announced until June 1919, the November Armistice was cause for great celebration and considerable relief in New Zealand as elsewhere. The immediate post-war celebrations were tempered, however, by the devastating influenza pandemic that left 8,600 dead (almost half the number of New Zealanders killed during the war), concerns over repatriation and rehabilitation of servicemen and women, and uncertainty at what post-war society held.

Welcome Sweet Peace, which opens at the National Library on 2 December, brings together an array of material including photographs, music, posters and cartoons from the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library. They demonstrate not only the diverse ways in which the end of hostilities was commemorated, but also highlight how the New Zealand home front underwent a transformation during and after the Great War.

Second Lieutenant Frederic Kingsford's album provides an in-depth photographic account of his last few weeks in Britain in 1919 and his journey back to New Zealand. In a similar way, oral histories from returned servicemen provide personal reminiscences of events, including their views on Armistice, their journeys home, and post-war rehabilitation. Featured in the exhibition will be soldiers’ letters to their families in New Zealand that touch on immediate post-war life in uniform and their thoughts regarding returning home. Also on display are original pen-and-ink and watercolour draft designs for certificates of service presented to New Zealand soldiers.

Other material includes letters written by Edward, Prince of Wales, as well as photographs documenting his well-received 29-day imperial visit to New Zealand in 1920. These items, acquired by the Turnbull Library in 2007, provide detailed descriptions of the tour from the Prince’s own perspective.

By employing a wide range of visual and aural material, Welcome Sweet Peace charts the development of the post-war settlement in New Zealand from the euphoric early days following Armistice through to the social, cultural and political upheaval imposed on all New Zealanders in the early 1920s.

(High resolution images can be unloaded directly from the following link: )

Collecting Pandemonium: John Milton in the Alexander Turnbull Library

The 17th-century English poet and polemicist John Milton arrived in New Zealand in rather inauspicious circumstances. The Endeavour’s botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, used pages from Paradise Lost to press plant specimens collected during Cook’s first voyage. Another edition of the epic poem came as part of Charles Darwin's library on the Beagle in 1835.

But all of this activity does not account for why the Alexander Turnbull Library holds one of the world’s best collections of Milton and ‘Miltoniana’. This distinction rests with Library founder Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull, and his visionary commitment to establishing a Milton collection in Wellington.

A new exhibition at the National Library Gallery showcases Alexander Turnbull’s collecting of Milton, and the Library’s ongoing commitment to expanding and enhancing this rich inheritance.

The exhibition begins by tracing the collection’s humble origins to Alexander Turnbull’s school days. A cheap copy of Milton’s Early Poems is covered with Turnbull’s schoolboy scrawls and drawings. Roughly sketched plans for fielding positions on a cricket pitch suggest that Milton may not have always held the young Turnbull’s attention.

The horde of valuable first editions on display demonstrates that the adult Turnbull’s attention was more focused. He collected widely in and around Milton’s work, often annotating volumes to draw connections or dispute current research. Correspondence with London book dealers reveals just how Turnbull managed to amass such an impressive collection.

Collecting Pandemonium showcases the full range of Milton holdings in the Alexander Turnbull Library. Highlights include: elaborate fine print editions of Milton’s work, a collection of his radical pamphlets, lavishly illustrated versions of Paradise Lost, and translations of his great poem into many languages – from Swedish, Welsh, Tongan, Greek to Ancient Armenian.

This exhibition marks the 400th anniversary of Milton’s birth. It also accompanies Miltonic Origins/Miltonic Innovations: Milton’s poetry and thought in new world societies and cultures, an international symposium being held at the Alexander Turnbull Library in December. The symposium and exhibition continue a long tradition of the Alexander Turnbull Library actively contributing to Milton studies on a world stage.

(High resolution images can be unloaded directly from the following link:

Leo Bensemann: the Fantastica drawings

First published by the Caxton Press in 1937, Fantastica: 13 drawings is a technical and artistic marvel. It undoubtedly represents one of the highpoints of the book arts in New Zealand.

Bensemann’s intense, hypnotic drawings are rich with artistic and literary allusions, the latter stretching from Japanese folktales to the Brothers Grimm to Doctor Faustus. Bensemann’s allegiance to the imagination and European cultural traditions set Fantastica apart from the landscape-based realism that dominated New Zealand art through the 1930s. The Caxton Press rightly promised that ‘Nothing quite like these drawings has appeared in New Zealand’.

The Alexander Turnbull Library purchased Bensemann’s pen and ink drawings in 2003. The metal blocks used in the printing of the book were subsequently donated to the library by the Bensemann family. Auckland’s Holloway Press used these original blocks to reprint a highly acclaimed, fine-print edition of Fantastica in 1997.

The Fantastica drawings have previously been exhibited only individually or in small groupings. This exhibition brings together the complete set of drawings for the first time – sparking off the web of associations and allusions that grants the series much of its power. Don’t miss this opportunity to immerse yourself in the wondrous visions of one of this country’s most intriguing artists.

Other items from the Alexander Turnbull Library are used to flesh out Bensemann’s project, including an unusual double-sided painting. One side holds a self-portrait – showing the suave, mono-browed artist striding across a dramatic landscape. The other depicts a bulbous-eyed masked or alien figure. This combination is richly suggestive of the two worlds straddled by Bensemann’s art – the real and the imaginative, the everyday and the fantastic.

Leo Bensemann: the Fantastica drawings accompanies the exhibitions Welcome Sweet Peace: returning home after the Great War and Collecting Pandemonium: John Milton in the Alexander Turnbull Library. Connections between these exhibitions abound. Collecting Pandemonium includes the beautifully designed Caxton Press edition of Areopagitica, Milton’s iconic defence of the freedom of the press.

(High resolution images can be unloaded directly from the following link: )


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