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Monday, 22 April 2019 08:01 pm

Little-known textile designs of artist Avis Higgs brought to life

May 26th, 2018 | By | Category: Editor's Picks, Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

Marguerite Beere wears a skirt from the Laurie Foon Black Swan collection featuring the ‘Duckpond’ textile. The chair is upholstered in the ‘Heart Of The Bush’ print.

The late Wellington textile designer and artist Avis Higgs 1940s prints have been brought to life again.

Her daughter, Marguerite Beere, has chosen two unique designs to trial in a new short run fabric printing.

“I think it’s all quite interesting and was worthwhile promoting,” she says of her celebrated mother’s lifework.

“Being an architect I used to do quite a lot of office interiors and was quite interested in doing the textiles because of my interest in that.

“There’s all these designs sitting there which could be in storage in a museum and they might as well be used and out there.”

Avis Higgs, who died in 2016, is recognised for her paintings which have been exhibited at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, the Architectural Centre Gallery and The Dowse Art Museum and included in Te Papa’s collection.

However, in her early life she was head designer at STP (Silk and Textile Printers) in Sydney during World War II and designed around two prints a day.

“She got her ideas from the nature around her, from flowers, native flowers, from rock pools, the sea – she did sea scenes, like water skiers and mermaids.

“In fact, she created one of the first surfing fabrics.”

On her return to New Zealand she designed more textiles for her portfolio – including flowers native to New Zealand this time.

“Flowers always sold for dress fabrics,” Marguerite says.

“She also went to the Dominion Museum and reinterpreted some of the Maori designs.”

After Marguerite stumbled across a textile company capable of short runs, the process of reviving some of her mother’s never before printed post war designs began.

“I thought this is too good to be true – I rang [them] up and it all seemed to be quite easy.”

The next steps were acquiring a digital copy of the chosen designs, kept at MTG (Museum Theatre Gallery) Hawkes Bay, figuring out the fabric repeat, choosing materials to print on and deciding on scale and colour.

‘Heart Of The Bush’ and ‘Flax’ designed by Avis Higgs

“If it was a dress fabric you do quite a small scale, but for furniture it has to be a lot bigger.”

“It’s quite modernist and ‘Matisse-y’ I think,” she says of one of the designs ‘Heart Of The Bush’ used on chairs she’s recently had covered.

“The chairs were upholstered at The Living Room in Ngaio Gorge, they had them sitting in the window and had quite a few people come in and ask about them.”

The second design ‘Flax’ has been printed on 100% linen to be made into curtains in the near future.

“People who’ve looked at the fabrics, a couple of people have said they’d like the ‘Flax’ one for a skirt or clothing which is interesting.”

Now Marguerite is keeping an eye out for a potential collaborator on a boutique line of furnishings.

“I could do a couple more designs or I could do the ‘Heart Of The Bush’ one in a different colourway.

“The future, well it could be really big.”

This is not the first outing for Higgs’ designs in more recent years, following her “discovery” by design historian Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, and subsequent touring exhibition ‘Avis Higgs: joie de vivre’ in 2000.

The design ‘Duckpond’ was used in the Laurie Foon Black Swan collection in 2005, while five of six designs (including ‘Flax’) are still available as rugs in limited quantities from Dilana.

A 2015 art piece on the side of the MTG Hawkes Bay building references one of Avis’ textiles and a recent Persephone Books printing ‘The Godwits Fly’ by Robin Hyde has an endpaper featuring another.

Marguerite has also produced 14 cards in limited amounts that may be purchased at several stockists around the North Island.

Marguerite Beere with a sample of fabric featuring the ‘Flax’ design.

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