Thursday, 30 August 2012

A Maori Putorino - an Art Treasure


This is Forster No. 116, 'A flute', from New Zealand. 

The putorino is only found in New Zealand, and is esteemed by the Maori.  Sometimes the instrument is called a bugle flute, because it has two complementary voices, male and female.  The male voice with it's kokiri (negotiating skill) sounds when the instrument is played as a trumpet, using the large hole at proximal end. The sound is used to summon, or to make people aware of something about to happen, and each named call has a meaning.

The female voice sounds when the instrument is played like a flute, using the opening half way down the instrument.  This voice is sometimes a crying sound, and is used on appropriate occasions.

The sounds made "can stir a wide range of emotions, from the ghostly chill of an icy wind to the heart-warming resonance of a peace-giving hue puruhau" (resonating gourd instrument). (Brian Flintoff, Taonga Puoro - Singing Treasures, The Musical Instruments of the Maori, Nelson, New Zealand, 2004).

1886.1.1153 Detail of carving

The shape of the instrument is derived from the shape of the casemoth coccoon that houses Raukatauri, Goddess of Flute Music.

Bugle flutes were made in two halves, using a dense wood like matai (Prumnopitys taxifolia).  Once the inside was shaped, the two halves were bound together with the split aerial root of the kiekie vine (Freycinetia banksii).

1886.1.1153 Detail of kiekie binding, with applied plant resin

This was applied when wet, and shrank on drying to hold the pieces tightly.  Before binding, a sealant such as the sap of the tarata (Lemonwood tree, Pittosporum eugenioides) was applied to the edges of the two halves.

The museum labels on this putorino were removed for the 1970 Pitt Rivers exhibition 'From the Islands of the South Seas', and were retained in the museum archives.  One of the labels was especially interesting, as it meant that the flute was sent by the Ashmolean to the Art Treasures Exhibition in Manchester in 1857.

This exhibition ran from the 5th May to the 17th October, and still remains the largest art exhibition ever held in the UK.  There were more than 16000 works on display, and 1.3 million people visited.

The Exhibition Hall

The venue was a specially constructed hall, similar to the Crystal Palace in London.  The hall was divided into separate galleries, including Pictures by Ancient Masters, Pictures by Modern Masters, Engravings, Works of Oriental Art, and Sculpture.  Works were borrowed from over 700 collections, most of them private.  One of the nobility, when approached to lend to the exhibition, is said to have replied 'What in the world do you want with Art in Manchester? Why can't you stick to your cotton-spinning?'

Nine objects currently in the Pitt Rivers Collection were sent to Manchester, seven of them from Polynesia.  They were presumably exhibited either in the Museum of Ornamental Art or in the Oriental Court.  Although an editorial in the Manchester Guardian on the 20 July 1857 was of the opinion that 'we are inclined to regard the museum of ornamental art as that portion of the present Manchester exhibition which is calculated to produce the most practically useful result, and to be of the highest importance to the community' the contents of that gallery are not listed in the exhibition catalogue.

See Jeremy Coote, 'A review of The Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857.  Entrepreneurs, Connoisseurs and the Public' in 'Journal of the History of Collections' Vol 24, Issue 1, 2011.