Paintings and prints by Peter Atkinson
Teatro - Set pieces from Pompallier Printery, Russell
The Bay of Islands historic site where French Catholic Missionaries translated church texts into Te Reo Maori during the 1840s, known to many New Zealanders as Pompallier House, was restored during the 1990s to its original form as a working tannery and printer.
There, a small group of simple props sit on an ink stained marble slab in a North facing corner and, at regular cycles through the day, are used to demonstrate the methods of 19th Century book binding. While only the foundations of the neighboring chapel remain, a quiet light plays across the rammed earth walls of this simple, almost monastic, space. The guides’ performance has been refined through repetition and, as each of these objects are used in turn to explain the various parts of the binding process, simple gestures unite word and artifact, actor and spectator. The progress through the various stations of tannery, print shop and bindery has already attained something of a liturgical quality.
The lives and stories of those who welcomed those first visitors to the shore of Kororareka; those who established this outpost of French Catholicism, who build and worked in this structure and those who burnt the surrounding settlement to the ground;
those for whom it became a family home, traces of whom remain in broken china cups and combs now reverently housed in museum cases; those who patiently sifted through the layers of history to reconstruct and restore the building to something close to its original form; guides, in whose whakapapa the stories of Tanagata Whenua and Missionary Communities intersect, and visitors who climb the staircase to this corner where the tour concludes; all intersect in this performance and each person who enters this sanctuary is invited to enter into the drama – to hold, to feel, to smell, to gaze on these objects that rest quietly but now saturated with history in this ‘place for viewing’.
I am grateful to Scott Ellifie and the staff at the Pompallier Printery, who's enthusiastic response to my request for permission made this project possible, and for their generous and hospitable welcome on the days I spent arranging and rearranging these objects. I hope these works in some way convey the deep respect with which they hold and share the histories they represent.
View more of Peter's work here.