Women Weaving

Māori have a rich weaving and textile tradition that is illustrated in exquisite ways in Lindauer's paintings. His portraits of Māori cover a diverse range of cloak and garment styles that show customary techniques, materials and technology related to this art form. This large scene painting is based on a Samuel Carnell photograph, now in the Alexander Turnbull Library, taken in the 1890s showing two figures sitting in the porch of a Hawke's Bay meetinghouse. In Women Weaving, two weavers are in the finishing stages of making large korowai. The cloaks, being woven in the mahau of an ornately carved meetinghouse, are held by turuturu (weaving pegs) at the corners to maintain the shape and structure of the garment as it is being made.

The sun is casting afternoon shadows on the porch, revealing a quiet, contemplative environment perfect for the meditative process of weaving. The weavers seem absorbed in their work and are not distracted by two inquisitive youngsters being gently introduced to the world of weaving. Their presence in this painting emphasises that weaving is the domain of women.

Although Lindauer has painted a tranquil scene, visually it is very active and full of colour and texture. Customary Māori art traditions related to the meetinghouse are illustrated: the whakairo that grace the front of the house and in the porch the painted heke with kōwhaiwhai in bold red, black and white pigment. The turapa of the porch show another weaving tradition: tukutuku panelling in long geometric patterns similar to the tāniko patterns on the borders of garments.

Beyond the meetinghouse on the left there is a pā harakeke and a distinct waterway in the distance, indicating its location amidst a well-established supply of weaving resources.

Nigel Borell

(originally published in Gottfried Lindauer's New Zealand: The Māori Portraits, edited by Ngahiraka Mason and Zara Stanhope, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki and AUP, 2016.)

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