Speaker by Various Artists


Selling the Dream: The Art of Early New Zealand Tourism

by Peter Alsop

Building an infant New Zealand tourism industry in the early years of the twentieth century was a challenge. There was no "New Zealand" brand and no clear national identity for New Zealanders. It took six weeks to get here by boat. The challenge was accentuated by two World Wars and the Depression.

But the challenge was also an artistic opportunity. As a no-name tourism new entrant offering a risky proposition, we needed to find a way compete with the world's top tried-and-trued attractions. Posters would do it, promoting the splendid naturalism that New Zealand, 'A World in Itself', had to offer.

As with most successes, the environment was also ripe. At about the same time as posters and other publicity were becoming more widespread, in 1901 the Government took a bold step by establishing the first government tourist office in the world, the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts.

At this time, posters – the "art of the street" – would have surely impressed. There was a marked shift in style from typography to eye-catching graphic work, a trend that would progressively strengthen and underpin the golden age of the travel poster in the 1930s.

Transportation, including international travel, was also of course on the rise – itself leading to reciprocal display arrangements abroad. Outdoor advertising was heralded as a way of beautifying railway stations and the increasingly hoarding-laden landscape. New Zealanders, an enthusiastic marketing force, also addressed envelopes to friends and distant relatives with decorative ‘Cinderella’ poster stamps. Publicising New Zealand was "in".

Our new book, Selling the Dream, is a showcase of the remarkable range of tourism posters and other publicity that promoted New Zealand, both locally and to the world, until the 1960s. This was a pivotal period in the history of New Zealand publicity – before television and colour photography changed the publicity landscape forever – creating not only a tourism marketing proposition but a sense of national identity as well.

At 408 pages and with close to 1000 images and 11 specially commissioned research essays, Selling the Dream is the first dedicated and extensive celebration of this valuable material. The imagery is some of the finest graphic art ever produced in New Zealand, and as arresting and impressive today as when it was first created.

But what leads a guy -- me -- to spend two years of his evenings, after the kids are in bed, completing such a mammoth project? (Alongside the work of Gary Stewart and Dave Bamford as well, I should point out.)

At its most fundamental level, the book reflects my deep love of New Zealand and its scenic splendour. The more specific story, though, starts in Paris in 1996 when I paid a silly amount of money for a Roy Lichtenstein coffee-table book (my dog chewing the spine is similarly memorable). About two years later, I stood before some large Lichtenstein paintings, awed by their scale, cleanness and impact, notwithstanding their simplistic comic appearance. It was then I was badly bitten by a pop art bug.

Back in New Zealand these wider experiences percolated away. In 2002 I produced a series of paintings, Icons of NZ ID, fantasising about walking the streets in a time before my own, particularly amongst imagery from the Art Deco and mid-century periods. From here it was only a small step to tourism posters – further fuelled by Hamish Thompson’s wonderful 2003 Paste Up poster book – and a further small step to my current addiction to collecting tourism publicity.

With an obsession like this inevitably come some heroes. Yet within this body of work are people hardly known, people who pioneered important artistic developments, and people who made a significant contribution to New Zealand’s identity and economic development. While blinkered by my own adoration, it was nevertheless clear that an appropriate degree of recognition for these heroes was missing and deserved.

And so the labour of love called Selling the Dream was born. Unlike most pipe dreams, however, this was one of the lucky late night projects that got completed.

The book will leave you in no doubt that the art of early tourism was highly significant in New Zealand’s art history, and in the development of New Zealand’s tourism industry and sense of national identity. The book is available from www.sellingthedream.co.nz with a 10% discount (posted to you mid-late September on release). I hope you enjoy the book as much as we’ve enjoyed creating it.

Images provided in association with Selling the Dream: The Art of Early New Zealand Tourism

The Railways Department, through its publicity branch and design studios (Railways Studios), was a leading force in early commercial art. This brochure is from around 1935. Photo: Supplied by Peter Alsop

Wonderland of the Pacific, an evocative romanticised poster by Carl Laugeson, c.1935, published by the Tourist Department. This image was used on a American magazine cover, among various other bits of New Zealand publicity. Photo: Supplied by Peter Alsop

Large-format magazines, often through their "Christmas Number" or "Christmas Annual", ran attractive tourism-related covers to encourage New Zealanders to see their own country. This outdoors image published by the Christchurch Press Company in New Zealand Illustrated. Photo: Supplied by Peter Alsop

Leonard Mitchell has been called the father of New Zealand poster art. He was also one of New Zealand's leading stamp designers. This romanticised version of Mount Egmont dates from 1934 and was published by the Tourist Department. Photo: Supplied by Peter Alsop

New Zealand was promoted early as a "world in itself" and "the pocket edition of the world". This 1960 poster by Dennis Beytagh, published by the Tourist Department, does its bit to show the diversity of what New Zealand has to offer. Photo: Supplied by Peter Alsop

Sophistication at the snow. This Railways Department poster by Edgar Lovell-Smith dates from 1932. The Chateau itself was built in 1929 by tourism pioneer Rodolph Wigley; later taken over by the Government in the tough times of the Depression and used as a hospital during World War II. Photo: Supplied by Peter Alsop

Showing out at the skifield is not a new thing ... Photo: Supplied by Peter Alsop

From the formation of the Tourist Department in 1901, glass "lantern" slides were sent abroad; those with luminescent hand-colouring were the most visually appealing. Photo: Supplied by Peter Alsop