Keri Hulme’s poetry has inspired two exquisite handmade artists’ books – The Visionary, and The Silences Between (Moeraki Conversations), on display in the Angela Morton Room’s STARGAZER exhibition. A community of artisans and artists combined to produce these ātaahua responses to Keri’s poetry, and this exhibition shares materials and stories about how these pukapuka were created.
Artist and printmaker Beth Serjeant was involved with both artists’ books. The first was her own, The Visionary (1987), which included Keri’s poem Stargazer, along with 10 lithographs Beth created to illustrate ten poems about the future. Beth later helped facilitate the artists’ book edition of Keri’s poetry collection The Silences Between (Moeraki Conversations) (2016).
The Visionary was sparked by a young man Beth knew who was frightened about the future, and always looking for a mushroom cloud on the horizon. She wanted to make something that shared a positive belief in the future, and decided to produce an illustrated poetry collection. Ross Fraser, founding editor of Art New Zealand magazine, mentored her for this project, and poet Riemke Ensing recommended writers who might create a poem for The Visionary. Keri Hulme (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe) was one of those who responded, along with Rangi Faith (Kāi Tahu), Cilla McQueen, Vincent O’Sullivan.
|Image: Keri Hulme, 2012. Moeraki. Photo by Beth Serjeant.
When Beth received Keri’s telegram with her poem Stargazer, Beth rang to say this was the poem she had never dared to hope for.
... “O I have discerned in the blurred heights of heaven
There are still whales:
They arch their backs above the setting sun
Scythe cloudy tails across the miles
Their joy is huge and shouts against a lucent blue
(Excerpt from Stargazer)
|Image for Keri Hulme's Stargazer poem.
“I had no ambition with The Visionary,” Beth said, “I just wanted to make this book, to learn litho, and to create a gift for the writers who had kindly participated.” When she shared her plan with the young man, he said: “This will be bigger than you think.” And so it was.
Beth received Arts Council funding for The Visionary, and then jointly won the 1989 BNZ Art Award for the lithographic prints with printmaker Joan Taylor. The ‘frame’ for these artworks was the book of poems, and Alan Loney noted in NZ Crafts magazine: “Books do not tend to win art awards… it is salutary nevertheless for a book to be somehow at the heart of a substantial public art award.”
As the poems arrived, Beth would think very deeply about them until an image began to emerge. Each lithograph then took about a day to produce, followed by three days with Joan printing each image via different coloured stones. John Denny, of Puriri Press, handset a poem a week, and each was handprinted on a Wharfedale flatbed press. The books were bound at Auckland Technical Institute and housed in a linen-covered slipcase.
After The Visionary was published, Beth and her husband Brian went on a road trip delivering copies to the poets, this is when she met Keri Hulme in Ōkārito. “There was no whitebait running at the time, so Keri made us potato fritters,” Beth said. The pair kept in touch, and then Claire van Vliet entered the picture.
Beth attended the first American National Conference of the Book Arts in New York, in 1990, and met artist, illustrator and typographer Claire Van Vliet of Janus Press (Vermont, USA). She invited Claire to lead the first New Zealand Book Arts Symposium in Auckland three years later. Beth then introduced Claire to Keri at a literary festival, and Claire came away with a copy of The Silences Between (Moeraki Conversations) (Auckland University Press, 1982). Soon after, the idea for an artists’ book edition began to form. She and Beth visited Moeraki with Keri, and can be seen walking along the beach in this photo taken by Beth.
|Image: Claire van Vliet, Moeraki. Photo Beth Serjeant.
The 2016 artists’ book edition of Silences Between (Moeraki Conversations) is a substantial 114 page pukapuka with a large vitreograph (print made from glass) frontispiece created by Claire. It took 14 years for the book to evolve, partly because it included many complex elements such as a glossary of te reo Māori words and sayings written by Keri, a map of Kiwa’s sea, six further vitreographs by Claire, handprinted text, and the creation of non-adhesive bindings.
|Image: Silences Between (Moeraki Conversations), Janus Press.
“When you work by hand, you have the luxury of time, which allows the materials to tell you what they want to be. I wait for the work to take form—it can’t be rushed. It feels right when all the components fall into place and need to be together,” Claire said.
In 2012 Beth visited Keri in Ōkārito to work on the edits. “When Keri took a surprise shot of me, I picked up my camera and took a surprise photo of her, too – which is why it’s a little blurry,” she said of the image below.
|Image: Keri Hulme, Ōkārito, 2012. Photo by Beth Serjeant.
The Janus Press edition is a tactile, immersive experience for readers. Some pages are split horizontally like a flip book, some are layered, others have a die-cut moon. The book can stand up and be spread around into a wagon-wheel display, inviting the reader to explore the pages in any sequence. The vitreographs of Moeraki boulders, sea and sky are haunting in black, grey and white; and the book ends with a golden sun on a gold page. The pukapuka is housed in a maple and tamarack wood box with the map of Kiwa’s sea inset. The slipcase has a moon spine inset painted with acrylic pearlescence. The glossary’s final page is a fold-out image of Keri and Beth at Moeraki. The Black Bach, where Keri began the first drafts of The Bone People, can be seen in the background (Te Karaka, Issue 65, pp 45).
|Image: Keri Hulme and Beth Serjeant, Moeraki.
“… to read a book is an act of opening – we open it and are open to what is inside - we expect to receive from a book. This is an unusually receptive atmosphere for a contemporary artist to work in… All the physical components of a book can act as facilitators for the essence of the text. They can engage the senses and widen the comprehension of the text,” Claire has said.
Northwestern University, Illinois, USA, holds the design archive for this edition, which includes notes and correspondence from Keri, Claire and Beth, research materials, proofs, paper samples, and trial bindings.
Beth will be on-site to discuss these works on Saturday, 25 March 2023, 2.00-4.00 pm. All welcome. The Angela Morton Room Te Pātaka Toi Art Library, Level 1, Takapuna Library. The STARGAZER exhibition runs from Friday 10 February until 12 April 2023. Open daily. Free.
|Image: From Silences Between (Moeraki Conversations), Janus Press.
Angela Morton Room Te Pātaka Toi Art Library
The Visionary (limited edition 50 copies) and The Silences Between (Moeraki Conversations) (limited edition 120 copies) can be viewed by appointment at the Angela Morton Room Te Pātaka Toi Art Library (contact firstname.lastname@example.org); or at Special Collections, Central Library.
New Zealand Crafts. Crafts Council Magazine 29. Spring 1989.
Janus Press: The New Zealand Connection. Objectspace exhibition curated by Kate Shapiro. 17 October – 1 November 2014.
NZ Herald. 27 October 1988, Section 2, pp 6.
Thoughts on Bookmaking by Claire Van Vliet of The Janus Press. By Claire Van Vliet, 10 October 2019.
Te Karaka. Kahuru|Autumn 2015, pp 45.
The Silences Between (Moeraki Conversations). Keri Hulme. Auckland University Press, 1982.