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RAILWAYS STUDIOS

HOW A GOVERNMENT DESIGN STUDIO HELPED BUILD NEW ZEAL AND


RAILWAYS STUDIOS HOW A GOVERNMENT DESIGN STUDIO HELPED BUILD NEW ZEALAND

PETER ALSOP NEILL ATKINSON KATHERINE MILBURN RICHARD WOLFE


THE STORY RAILWAYS STUDIOS


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THE STORY


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After dipping in the early 1930s, holiday rail traffic began to revive in 1934–35, exposing more and more travellers to the Studios’ posters, billboards and incarriage advertising. On Christmas Eve 1934, five trains carried 1800 travellers from Wellington to Auckland; on the same day four years later, 16 long express trains swept 11,000 people out of Wellington. Easter holiday traffic also surged: in 1936, 21,000 travellers left Wellington by train, inspiring the Evening Post to claim that ‘New Zealanders, per capita, are the greatest travellers in the world’.60 Domestic tourism underpinned NZR’s strong recovery in the late 1930s, with annual holiday and excursion journeys rising from 600,000 in 1922 to 3.4 million in 1939.61 The powerful K- and J-class locomotives, sleek railcars, electric units and new urban stations – all celebrated in posters and other publicity – symbolised the glamour and dynamism of Labour’s revitalised people’s railway, forging economic growth and transporting grateful citizens to scenic resorts.62 Meanwhile, the quality and range of the Studios’ work continued to expand. A series of six pictorial posters released in 1938 or 1939 (see pages 198–199) reportedly set ‘a new standard’ for New Zealand poster art, their excellence ‘in both design and printing’ and their ‘general attractiveness and interest-creating

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THE STORY

qualities’ drawing ‘favourable comment’ especially from overseas visitors.63 The department was confident these posters would help attract international visitors to the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition but the Second World War would change everything. Although overall passenger traffic reached an all-time high – largely due to petrol rationing and troop transportation – tourism travel fell away, and NZR emerged from war in a tired, run-down state. Tourist traffic revived in the late 1940s, with new initiatives like winter Snow Specials and springtime Blossom Specials thriving in the 1950s, but long-distance passenger numbers never recovered.64 The conservative National Party that dominated New Zealand politics from 1949 until the 1980s favoured road transport, individualism and entrepreneurship over public transport and state-owned enterprises.65 Although seaside and alpine tourism, like the growing advertising industry, flourished during the affluent 1950s and 1960s, travellers increasingly favoured the private, self-contained holiday experiences offered by car and caravan. New Zealanders continued to pour out of cities in the summer months, but they would no longer crowd the public spaces of railway carriage and station platform. As we shall see, rail’s long post-war decline would pose major challenges for the industryleading Railways Studios.

Below: Departing from a norm of pictorial illustrations, this billboard design relied on a striking typographical statement (c.1935–40, NZRLS Collection). NZR publicity frequently reminded the public that the state-owned railways belonged to all New Zealanders, encouraging them to see themselves as shareholders in a great national enterprise. A thriving, wellpatronised rail system, advertisements claimed, was essential to economic prosperity and reducing unemployment and taxation. Opposite: This photo, digitally coloured by danilpics, shows the comfortable interior of a first-class carriage around 1950 (Archives NZ, AAVK B Series_B7746).


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low rez

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CHAPTER SEVEN

a national journal

New Zealand Railways Magazine was both a product and a crucial documentary record of the interwar golden age of rail travel and tourist promotion. Published between May 1926 and June 1940, its lifespan overlapped the era of rail’s greatest economic and social influence, and coincided with the great flourishing of the Railways Studios’ publicity art.

Opposite: The design of the October 1929 cover of Railways Magazine (detail shown here) was likely by Stanley Davis. Even in silhouette, Art Deco fashion styles can be observed, including the signature hair style of the flapper. Based on the archways, the illustration is probably of the new Auckland Station at Beach Road. The station was not officially opened until November 1930, but was well under construction at the time this cover was produced. Above: George Stewart was the editor of Railways Magazine for its entire existence (May 1926–June 1940). This image of Stewart appeared in the magazine in December 1938. Unless otherwise attributed, all images in this chapter are from the Peter Alsop Collection.

Original designs by the Studios’ artists, including reproductions of posters, were splashed across the magazine’s covers and pages, reinforcing marketing messages readers encountered on their daily journeys and on local streets. Railways Magazine also played an influential role in New Zealand’s literary scene, publishing the work of some of our best-known writers – from historian James Cowan to poet Denis Glover and novelist Robin Hyde.1 The magazine’s genesis reflected a combination of influences and aspirations that coalesced in the mid1920s, including contemporary interest in the AngloAmerican business fads of ‘scientific management’ and ‘industrial psychology’.2 The department hoped to improve internal communications – then a matter of manual delivery – with its widely scattered workforce, and to foster esprit de corps at a time of strained labour relations not long after the serious rail strike of 1924. Realising it faced a genuine threat from motor transport, it was also keen to improve productivity and publicise its services and national value more effectively. Railways minister Gordon Coates’s eagerness to adopt forward-thinking ideas and the sweeping recommendations of the 1924 Fay–Raven report, which included a call for stronger publicity efforts, were also key factors. The department’s 1925 report immediately noted plans to publish a journal, intended to serve as ‘a valuable medium for the education both of Railway staff and the public’. 3 Besides Coates, three figures would be central to the magazine’s own story: George Stewart, who was appointed founding editor in 1925 and who held the

role throughout its 14-year life;4 Harry Sterling, who led NZR as general manager and then chairman of the Government Railways Board between 1928 and 1936; and the journalist Pat Lawlor, who joined the staff in 1933 and who, with Stewart, developed it into a national ‘general interest’ magazine with an impressive peak monthly circulation of 26,000 copies. 5 At the time of its launch, Railways Magazine had few direct competitors in the market for monthly magazines. Shipping companies had long been major publishers overseas, but New Zealand’s Union Steam Ship Company – the biggest shipping line in the southern hemisphere – had only briefly published its own journal, Red Funnel, between 1905 and 1909. British periodicals remained popular, despite slow delivery by sea, and from 1923 to 1932 the Australian satirical monthly Aussie published a New Zealand supplement, edited by Lawlor. There were also some niche literary and art journals such as Phoenix, the Art in New Zealand quarterly and later the left-wing Tomorrow (1934–40).6 A much more popular monthly publication, Mirror, published between 1922 and 1963, followed the earlier New Zealand Graphic and Ladies’ Journal (1890–1908) as a quality periodical largely aimed at middle-class women. Soon, Mirror, and to a lesser extent Railways Magazine, would face another rival in the ‘everywoman’s journal’ New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, which was launched in December 1932 and, after weathering the Depression, quickly amassed a wide readership. Later that decade the short-lived Monocle and Woman To-Day (both 1937) entered the

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

afterlife

The closure of the Railways Studios in 1987 was just one event in a wider narrative of rationalisation and reform during the turbulent Rogernomics era. It was not the end of the story, however. A surge of interest in Kiwiana, a rail renaissance and a deeper exploration of the history of commercial art in New Zealand would later breathe new life into the Studios' archive and legacy.

National Park by Train Barry Ellis, 2016 Acrylic on board, 100 × 60 cm Peter Alsop Collection In the decades after the Studios’ closure, several forces combined to rekindle interest in railways, rail history and the art and publicity of the golden age of travel. In 2014, former Studios artist Barry Ellis began his own reincarnation of rail posters, creating an impressive series based on his own memories of locomotives and rail routes.

With most of their art heritage at the rubbish dump, and their Thorndon premises demolished, the Studios’ unwanted workforce drifted off into commercial signwriting and other roles. Some – like Ray Allan and Graham Winter – discovered what Sid Wiberg had told them all along: that the poster room of a major enterprise, with the next commission always turning up, was a different kettle of fish to chasing work, employing staff and balancing one’s own books.1 As the advertising scene evolved and prospered in the 1990s, embracing new technology and channels, the Studios’ practices and body of work faded from view, dismissed as part of the bad old days of state monopoly the neoliberal revolution swept away. The passage of time also eroded institutional memory, as key personalities from the Studios’ post-war decades grew old and died. As a new century approached, with fast-paced innovation and changing customer expectations, these were tough times for railways. Passenger journeys fell to a record low of 10 million in 1993 – in per-capita terms just 13 per cent of the 1924 total. The number of railway employees also slumped, from almost 22,000 in 1982 to around 4000 in 2001.2 As was now fashionable, privately owned Tranz Rail contracted out many functions that its predecessors had held in-house – including most of its advertising and publicity needs. For the private advertising companies who stepped in, firms like Colenso and the multinational Saatchi & Saatchi, these were boom times, part of ‘the glory days of big budgets and bigger egos’. 3

Newspaper and magazine advertising was still important, but it was not the sort of work that flamboyant personalities in hot-shot agencies wanted to create. The highest-profile campaigns now played out on television, with Telecom’s Spot the dog, the Fernleaf butter family and Toyota’s ‘bugger’ commercials becoming cultural icons.4 Many of these campaigns utilised multiple channels, ensuring a role and profitability for outdoor advertising. Saatchi’s Kim Thorp considered hoardings ‘the purest ad medium’ because billboard messages had to be ‘spontaneous, exciting and cheeky’ and convey information ‘quickly and cleanly – in just a few seconds’, ideally using no more than nine words. 5 Despite these buoyant times, the Studios’ successor, Primesite, didn’t last long. In 1991, Gwenda Godfrey bought it back from New Zealand Rail Limited during a wave of privatisations. Owned by an entity called ROA 91 Ltd, but continuing to trade as Primesite, it still controlled a third of the billboard market and soon expanded into Australia. By early 1993, however, scuttlebutt published in two industry magazines, Ad/Media and Rails, suggested the firm was in significant trouble, owing more than $4 million and facing legal proceedings in Western Australia.6 Godfrey’s poor health was a further catalyst for Primesite’s sale later that year, when it was purchased by Alan Davis Media, then the third-largest outdoor advertising company in Australia.7 Together with Davis, which promised to ‘repair the medium’s tired image’,8 other ‘aggressive new operators’

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TRAVEL POSTERS


New Zealand Railway Tours 1889, 83 × 56 cm Auckland Libraries, NZ Map 6573 New Zealand Tourist Excursion Tickets 1888, 85 × 55 cm NZRLS Collection These two designs, promoting ‘excursion tickets’, are the earliest pictorial posters by the Railways Department known to exist. Typical of their era, they included detailed information that made them suited to close viewing, rather than a simple striking message seen from afar. Around this time, poster work was gaining attention thanks to new developments in illustration. In 1890, for example, the Evening Star noted (2 December): ‘The great advance in coloured lithographic work in the colonies is strikingly illustrated by specimens of work now exhibited in the window of Messrs J. Wilkie and Co. . . . Another specimen is a one-sheet double demy poster for the New Zealand Railways Department, showing views of lakes and mountains.’ It is possible this description relates to the poster shown left, whose dimensions broadly match the double demy size (57 × 90 cm). One or both of these posters may also have appeared overseas. In 1894, the ‘Anglo-Australian’ writer in the Lyttelton Times (18 October) noted that ‘the New Zealand Government has for some time past exhibited a touristmap poster at quite one hundred of the principal railway stations in England, which poster, owing to its attractive design, cannot fail to command special notice’. The writer also noted – evidencing a wider poster drive from this period – that the New Zealand Shipping Company had issued ‘a large and artistic poster’, which alongside ‘widespread attention’ (including ‘exhibition at a thousand different railway stations’) had been requested by nearly a thousand overseas schoolmasters for teaching about New Zealand.

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The department referred to this ‘exceptionally fine series of posters’ in its 1933 annual report, having also used two of the images in Railways Magazine in late 1932. Franz Josef Glacier, by Edgar LovellSmith, was a rare example of Studios work signed by an artist, which may suggest it was a contract job, Lovell-Smith being a well-known expert in drawing maps. The department noted that the series had received ‘much approbation by the public, and, as over twelve thousand copies have been sent overseas, these should assist appreciably in drawing visitors to New Zealand’. The department also noted its obligation to display overseas posters in exchange for promotion of New Zealand at the principal stations of other countries. Waitomo Caves 1932, 100 × 60 cm Peter Alsop Collection Chateau Tongariro 1932, 100 × 60 cm Peter Alsop Collection Mt Cook 1932, 100 × 60 cm Peter Alsop Collection Rotorua 1932, 100 × 60 cm Peter Alsop Collection Franz Josef Glacier 1932, Edgar Lovell-Smith, 100 × 60 cm ATL, Eph-E-TOURISM-Franz-1932-01

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Napier Carnival 1933, 88 × 58 cm Archives NZ, R18837553 An old note attached to MOTAT’s holding recorded the woman as Stanley Davis’s wife Timaru for Me and You No later than 1935, 88 × 57 cm Seen in Railways Magazine, April 1935 ATL, Eph-E-TOURISM-1935-01 Timaru by the Sea No later than 1936, 88 × 57 cm Seen in Railways Magazine, January 1937 Peter Alsop Collection Opposite: See New Zealand by Rail Advert in ‘The Three Scenic Gems’ 1929, Mt Cook Motor Company Peter Alsop Collection

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TRAVEL POSTERS


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BROCHURES


Although digital technologies played an increasing role in publicity production in the Studios’ latter years (and photography from much earlier), there were still examples of hand-drawn and hand-painted art and design. These brochures date from 1982 (Hocken Collections, S19-580b and S19-580a). An original design (top right and detail opposite), found in the collection of NZRLS, was painted at a considerably larger size (about 60 × 25 cm) and carried a fold-down transparent sheet with the lettering, to mimic the final envisaged design. Following pages: Locomotive A424 crossing Stillwater Bridge east of Greymouth, 28 August 1961, Richard Croker (photographer), Richard Croker Collection.

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The January 1930 cover (right) featured the ‘Commerce Train’, which references a November 1929 multi-day trip for businesspeople through the Auckland province. The department’s promotional booklet is also shown below (Archives NZ, R19600148). Organised by the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, the first Commerce Train toured for nine days, focused on attracting ‘representatives of leading city commercial interests intent upon gaining knowledge of the country they serve’. The magazine reported that this first excursion took ‘60 leading businessmen and visited factories, farms, mines and scenic resorts’. The touring party also included Canadian and US trade commissioners. With similar aims to the Commerce Train but with international trade more topof-mind, a five-week tour for ‘Empire Farmers’ took place in February–March 1930. On the February 1930 cover (far left), a composite image of primary production underscored the tour’s ‘comprehensive nature’. As reported in the January magazine, tour members came from the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa and Australia to appraise farming conditions and view ‘the principal scenic attractions’. An official reception was held at Parliament. The department also produced a 32-page booklet (opposite) featuring Māori decorative patterns on the cover (Archives NZ, R19600148). The 1930 annual report recorded praise from South Africa that the booklet was ‘first class’, with high-quality illustrations and educative text. A letter reproduced from the leader of the Great Britain group (opposite) recorded that the trip ‘surpassed all our dreams’ (Patea Mail, 17 September 1930). Following pages: This photo by the National Publicity Studios gives a good appreciation of the work of powering a steam locomotive (Archives NZ, AAQT6539/41 A15475).

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‘Your magnificent magazine . . . not only gives much useful information, and is well published, but it is a source of great publicity for New Zealand; and, after-all, today publicity is one of the greatest factors in our modern life. New Zealand is on the other side of the world, therefore she must advertise in order to keep the country amongst the foremost in the world. Your valuable magazine is always read with interest by us all.’ LORD STRATHSPEY, JULY 1935 Lord Strathspey was quoted under the headline ‘Overseas appreciation of railways magazine’, in Railways Magazine in October 1935. The detail opposite is from the magazine’s February 1927 cover (see full cover page 237).

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ADVERTISEMENTS


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The advertisement on the left is an example of one of several collaborative campaigns run by the Railways and Tourist departments and appeared in the Free Lance Christmas annual in December 1929. The image was unsigned, although a signed version in a different colour palette published in the popular monthly magazine Mirror in December 1928 confirms the designer as Leonard C Mitchell. The artwork for the bottom image – a relatively rare example of the Studios profiling a Māori woman – is seen photographed in an NZR scrapbook album (ATL, PA1-f-057). The advertisement appeared in Mirror in December 1932. The department used the image of the young boy (below) many times, often with the signature of Railways Studios. The unsigned version appeared in Mirror in December 1931. The advertisement opposite appeared on the back cover of the Christmas number of the Weekly News in 1940. It has not been definitively linked to the Studios but – like other joint campaigns – it was possibly prepared under its direction, and in this instance was designed by Winton Bristow. All images are from the Peter Alsop Collection.

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ADVERTISEMENTS


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BILLBOARDS


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BILLBOARDS


The Petone clothing brand was a key client of the Studios and the subject of many poster and billboard designs. The design for Now on Active Service (top right, Peter Alsop Collection) was probably prepared for a billboard, but also led to a poster that can be seen in a 1945 John Pascoe photograph of a display on Wellington’s Thorndon Quay (right) (ATL, 1/4001963-F). In the four-sheet poster, the position of the women has been switched and a different top slogan has also been used. The detail opposite comes from the top left sheet of the poster (Peter Alsop Collection), the sole sheet to have survived. The other Petone designs above, part-coloured, are held in Archives NZ (ABIN W3806).

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BROCHURES


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RAILWAYS STUDIOS Peter Alsop, Neill Atkinson, Katherine Milburn and Richard Wolfe RRP: $70.00 ISBN: 978-0-9951338-3-9 PUBLISHED: November 2020 PAGE EXTENT: 384 pages FORMAT: Hardback SIZE: 265 × 250 mm

FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO ORDER https://www.tepapa.govt.nz/about/te-papa-press/history-books/railways-studios

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Look Inside: Railways Studios by Peter Alsop, Neill Atkinson, Katherine Milburn and Richard Wolfe  

On the 100th anniversary of its creation, this book celebrates Railways Studios – the design studio of the New Zealand Railways – and its ro...

Look Inside: Railways Studios by Peter Alsop, Neill Atkinson, Katherine Milburn and Richard Wolfe  

On the 100th anniversary of its creation, this book celebrates Railways Studios – the design studio of the New Zealand Railways – and its ro...

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