Sunday, 25 March 2018

Alva Martin Bartley- Architect of Landmark House Auckland

Alva consults the plans for Broadcasting House 

Today we introduce Alva Bartley, an Auckland architect influential during the interwar period.

The purpose of this post is to provide some biographical information and to clear up the question I get asked most often - was Alva a son of Edward Bartley?
The short answer is No. One of the implications of that fact I see as this- researchers may wish to reassess any assumptions concerning the influences on the architecture of Alva Bartley and Norman Wade. Just a thought.

Alva was born in Auckland in 1891, a son of Clement Bartley and grandson of Robert Bartley. As a 16 year old he passed the preliminary trades examination in technical drawing1 and three years later attained a first class pass in the South Kensington examinations. 2 At the end of 1910 he passed the Auckland Technical College programme in Architectural Design.3 Alva went on to study at Elam School of Art. 4 In 1917 he qualified 5 and married Alice Creamer.6He then embarked with the 30th Reinforements on 30 May of that year.7

There is much confusion in printed sources about Alva's pre-war study, which is why I am labouring the details in this early part of his story. Some commentators assert that Alva worked in the office of Bartley & Son before the war- the architectural practice of his great-uncle Edward Bartley in partnership with Alfred Bartley. If that is so no evidence has yet come to light. It is more likely a confusion around the identity of the A M Bartley working there - which was certainly Alfred Martin Bartley not Alva Martin Bartley. Alfred was indeed Edward's son and an architectural draftsman, but he was also an older man better known for his exceptional musical career than for design.

Alva may have had opportunity for further study while in Britain with our armed forces. His discharge documents are dated 29 July 1919 and he returned as associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects 8 We can estimate that date of return to New Zealand at late September 1919. The first tender advertisement for Alva Bartley and Norman Wade is dated October 1919, 9 from their presmises at the Brunswick Buildings in Queen St Auckland.10

Alva's business partner Norman Wade NZG 15 July1905

The Bartley-Wade partnership was a successful collaboration. Apart from the Power Board building, known as Landmark House, their designs include those for Radio NZ - the 1YA building and De Brett's Hotel. We take a closer look at some of those in later posts.

Landmark House 1929 Category 1 Historic Places Trust SGGSC 1104-8

1. ref NZH 23 Dec 1907
2. ref AES 7 Jan 1910
3. Ibid 23 Dec 1910 - note Malcolm Draffin also a classmate.
4. Ibid 2 July 1915
5 NZ Govt Gazette 1917
6. NZRBDM 1917/5858
7. ref AES 30 May 1917
8. WWI Attestation Sheets RB 56090
9. AES 22 Oct 1919
10. 174 Queen St. Both the Brunswick buildings and the Warwick Building next door were designed by Wade and Wade Architects and comprise two of the buildings making up the Canterbury Arcade.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Auckland Mahlstick Club established in 1885 & Edwin Bartley

Auckland Mahlstick Club 1893. APL Image 5-1673. Artists include: Leech, John (Harold); Abercrombie, F J, Pheney, R, Bartley, Edwin, Holland, J C, Carter, C M, Drummond, R A, Horsley, J, Wright, Walter, Gregory, G, Stuart, S, Leech, H, Bollard, W A, Yearbury, J, Ball, T, Wright, Frank, Felkin, W, Trenwith, M, Debney, R J, Drummond, T I

A change of emphasis this week. While I was researching the Auckland Industrial Exhibition 1898, featured in previous posts, I noticed the quality of the art submitted for that exhibition. Clearly the arts in Auckland were flourishing and confident in the late nineteenth century. Exhibitions were a significant platform for established artists but what of the young ones coming through? What were their opportunities? This post looks at their Auckland 'art scene' and one organisation in particular - the Mahlstick Club.

The Auckland Society of Arts was an active organisation, particularly after its reconstitution in 1880. So there was ample opportunity to exhibit locally but within the conservative context to the required standard, on conventional subjects. The only venues for the collegial exchange of new ideas and expertise were personal and social and, by extension, invisible.

After the ASA exhibition of 1885 four artists responded with a solution of their own. The Auckland Mahlstick Club 1 was formed by  Thomas Ball ( first president), Thomas L Drummond, Mr Felkin and RJ Debney. Una Platts dismissed this group as 'a congenial group of ASA painters'.2 I submit they were more than that. They also had the support of a group amongst the old guard of ASA members, including Edward Bartley, Mackechnie and Peyton.

These older men were very aware of the potential a free, relatively 'classless' society offered here. Ideally, in New Zealand every person could improve themselves by the study of the liberal arts. They were 'liberal' because traditionally they were only available to the free man and not the slave. These men were interested in accessing knowledge for mutual improvement. They were practical people able to apply the latest technology and innovation in artistic expression as easily as engineering. The application of photography, projection and microsopy in their art is relevant here.

It may seem strange to a 21st century mind that such issues as the 40 Hour Working Week and free universal education should be playing out in the art world but they did- and still do, though today we tend to perceive the issues as more financial than philosophical.

Mahlstick Club membership was originally limited to 12 members. They laid an emphasis on black and white work – drawing and sketching in pen, ink, charcoal and chalk particularly. 3 Members gathered in each other’s house for sketching practice and to exchange ideas and information about art matters. They were young and emerging artists for the most part.

This was not a splinter group off the ASA but an enrichment group. They remained members of ASA and supported that society's exhibitions with a regular, high quality body of work.
The Club quickly gained the support of Frank and Walter Wright of Wright's Studios in Auckland. These men were Edwin Bartley's tutors. It is likely they introduced him and others to the 'inner circle' of this emerging art community. Its emergence was rapid too.4

The positive influence of the Mahstick Club on the study and practice of art in Auckland was acknowledged at the time.  After an exhibition of their work at an Athenaeum conversatione held in the Museum Institute 30 November 1886,5 the Society of Arts then took up their black and white theme  in their own exhibition in 1887, to which the Club contributed a number of drawings.

At the opening of that exhibition Mr Mackechnie, the president, not only reinforced the importance of sound drawing skills for artists. He laid emphasis on the wider applications of practical art training, referring to drawing skills as ‘the right hand of the workman and the mainstay of a technical education. If we are to have local industries and manufactures among us our people must have instruction in the art of drawing to acquire freedom of hand and facility of execution.’6
It helps us to understand that concerns over the lack of practical art, design and technical training facilities in Auckland formed the background to these remarks.

By 1891 the Mahlstick Club had over 20 members. A weekly life drawing class was held along with regular sketching expeditions. They now met in larger rooms with a more formal meeting structure.
NZH 8 Aug 1891

For the young ones coming through a goal was acceptance into the Cantebury art school. At this time the best teaching and most progressive climate was found in Christchurch. There a sister organisation, the Cantebury Palette Club, was soon formed with ex-pat Mahlstick Club members such as Edwin Bartley at its core.
A regular exchange of work between the centres formed an enriching inter-provincial dialogue. Works were loaned for exhibition in both centres. A strongly New Zealand voice was beginning to emerge now. The focus of attention was on place- their place and their time- rather than on European historical motifs as inspiration. There was less inclination in this Mahstick group to view the 'indigenous' place or person as a picturesque 'other' - a tendency of colonial period art discussed by Rebecca Rice in her 2010 thesis found here

The Mahlstick Club continued into the pre-war years, by then itself so 'establishment' an institution that papers presented to its meetings were published in full by the daily press.7 So the Great Wheel turns would you say?

1. A mahlstick is a piece of artist's equipment - a light stick with a padded leather ball at one end, held against work by a painter to support and steady the brush hand.
2. Una Platts, 'Nineteenth Century New Zealand Artists: A Guide and Handbook' 1979 Avon House page 163. Digital Copy here
3. Ref NZH 31 Oct 1891
4.Edwin Bartley is one example of the young men and women establishing their art practice in the 1880s and 90s. His career is covered in a previous post, found here.
5. Ref AES 26 Nov 1886, NZH 03 Dec 1886
6. Ref AES 20 Oct 1887
7. Ref AES 1 Aug 1908