A SPOONFUL OF SUGAR
Photographs, texture, historical documents and a fictional short story weave a book about a house, in the suburb of Wilton in Wellington, New Zealand.
“I moved in to this house amid stories about its commissioner, a trail-blazing woman and the one responsible for bringing the woodwind instrument, the recorder, to New Zealand. The narrative of her and her architect’s lives struck me as still critical and relevant today as we pull down the metaphorical garage door on refugee access to New Zealand and as we uncover and foreground the unnoticed roles women played in society. I wanted to activate the history of this house and its protagonists and bring many of these threads into a book.
In 1957 Nancy Martin staked out a humble claim to fame: she was purportedly the first single woman in Wellington to receive a mortgage to build her own home. Martin didn’t have a husband, and is listed on her mortgage as a spinster, a decrepit word that it must have taken more than a spoonful of sugar to get down. Armed with the independence, privacy and self-determination that her own home would allow, Martin claimed an autonomous space for her single and alternatively constituted feminine self, her home was critical to this end. It wasn’t a typical New Zealand home either – Martin commissioned Jewish emigré architect Fredrick Ost to design her whare. It was 1957, seventeen years after Ost’s escape from Europe and this house remains one of a handful of examples of a domestic home designed by him. Ost, originally from Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia) had fled Europe with his young wife, escaping the Nazis and the ‘breach of civilization’ that was to ensue across the landscape of Europe and in Hitler’s concentration camps. As art historian Leonard Bell states, Ost was also an graphic artist and a painter, a radical in his own right, he assembled selections of writing by Jewish poets, wrote an anti-Fascist ballad, essays and poetry. He continued to publish in Europe until his death. Dipping into and out of these narratives this project seeks to invoke the ghosts of change and of futures – of feminism, of modernism, of a haunted house, a musical house, a diasporic house, a Jewish house, and a house from Aotearoa, thereby making visible and audible links between banking history, gender politics, agency and the role of a woman in architecture in Aotearoa.”
Ann Shelton 2015
35pp, Hardcover, spiral bound
Designer: Duncan Munro
With a text by Pip Adam
RRP NZ $60 including GST