illustration

Marjorie H Mills, needlewoman and artist

A recipe book, recently discovered in an obscure box in the Museum, was given to “Win” by Marjorie H Mills in 1935. This information is inscribed on the flyleaf. The book itself is titled The Red Recipe Book and is a commercially produced indexed book for recording recipes and household hints. Bound in bright red buckram, the index titles are printed in red or blue ink: Small Cakes, Pastry, Baked Puddings, Jams and Preserves, and so on.

3. Nurse

Glamorous nurse in Invalid Dishes

What is fascinating about this quite ordinary mass-produced recipe book is that each index page has been individually and appropriately illustrated in sophisticated watercolours and inks by the giver, Marjorie Mills. The Queen of Hearts sweeps haughtily past a minion in the Pastry section (remember those tarts). A very glamorous nurse is the subject of the Medical Hints; design and palette is distinctively art deco, giving a clue as to when it was created, further ratified by the date on the flyleaf. A wan creature in a purple robe trimmed with swansdown languishes in a luxuriously appointed bed in Invalid Dishes. In Jams and Preserves a beautiful young woman, dressed in a large flowery apron and incongruous red high heels, carries a basketful of newly harvested fruit across the grass; she is encircled by small dancing plums, apples and peaches.

4. Jam maker

 The jam maker is surrounded by dancing fruit in Jams and Preserves

In addition, this lovely little book has a home-made fawn linen cover with a hand-made applique design of a blue vase holding a spray of red berries with a sun behind it. No recipes have been written into the book.

1. Recipe book with hand-made cover

 Recipe book with cover hand-made by Marjorie Mills (ref: 1986.74.1)

Why was this book so beautifully and lavishly illustrated? A clue is in a small hand-painted card found tucked inside the recipe book which depicts a bride dressed in white holding a bouquet of pink roses, with the words, “With best Wishes / for Future / Happiness / from / Marjorie. H. Mills”. This personalised wedding gift, to a friend or a relative, epitomises the talent of Marjorie Mills.

Marjorie Hinemoa Mills, it turns out, was a deeply respected artist, embroiderer and business woman. Born in 1896 in Wellington, she moved as a teenager, with her family, to Feilding and went to Feilding District High School. Marjorie was taught embroidery by her mother, and later attended Saturday art classes where she learned drawing and painting. Her talents in embroidery were extended and enriched, and after leaving school, she started working for the Alcorn sisters in Wellington, designing embroidery patterns. The Depression meant an end to her employment in 1930, but Marjorie bounced back to open a needlework shop in Palmerston North in 1934 with a business partner, Irene Esau. They called the business Millesa, a combination of part of their surnames. By 1938 she had moved back to Wellington to open her own needlework business which became immediately popular.

2. Woman baking

 The first page shows a woman busy baking in Block Cake, plus the title of the index; take note of the currants with legs, running around the kitchen floor

In the 1950s Marjorie sold her business and went abroad, attending a two-year course at St Martin’s School of Art and travelling extensively to see the art of Europe. Returning to Wellington, she opened another needlework business which proved just as successful as her others.

All this time, she was designing, painting, drawing and embroidering, frequently exhibiting her works in shows run by the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. She moved to Blenheim in the 1970s and taught art, later moving to be nearer her family in Dannevirke, where she passed away in 1987.

 

Libby Sharpe is Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

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The Tickner Envelopes

R A Tickner was a great correspondent. He was also handy with a pen and ink. In 1919 he was writing regularly from Hornchurch in Essex, England, to members of the Downes family living in Helmore Street, Whanganui. Tickner later married the sister of Sydney Herbert Downes and Thomas William Downes, the well-known Whanganui author, artist and historian. By the early 1920s, Tickner was writing to his family back in Hornchurch, so we can date his migration to New Zealand fairly accurately. This information can be gleaned from the date stamps and addresses on the envelopes.

3. Tickner Envelopes Montage

 Montage of the Tickner Envelope Collection. Ref: 1989.15.

Why is this at all interesting? It is because Tickner decorated, in great detail, the envelopes that contained his letters, sent between Hornchurch and Whanganui. His drawings depicted temporary events or fashionable styles, a lot of it tongue-in-cheek. His elaborately drawn and inked envelopes were gathered up by the extended family in both Hornchurch and Whanganui, and mounted in three frames. They were donated to the Museum by the daughters of Mr and Mrs Sydney Downes.

Letter writing was an important part of the social structure of the day. Families were on the move to find work and houses, in both Europe and America, and many other parts of the world. Long distance telephone calls were very costly, so trunk calls and telegrams were used only in dire emergencies. Letters kept families and friend in touch.

2. Tickner Envelope Xmas Pudding

Decorating envelopes had become something of a folk art tradition by the 1930s and 1940s, in the United States. Its roots, however, go back to the 1840s in England when postage stamps and envelopes were first used. A prepaid postal wrapper decorated with a coloured printed image was the forerunner of the modern envelope. And it became fashionable to hand-decorate plain envelopes with flowers or animals or woodland scenes.

In the 1860s, the American Civil War gave rise to another sort of printed decorated envelope. Both Confederates and Unionists employed fairly unsubtle propaganda to eulogise their causes or point out the duties of fighting men or merely wave the flag, all on the front of commercially produced envelopes.

1. Tickner Envelope Roman Guards

Current affairs and popular culture influenced many envelope decorations. During World War II, for example, many USA servicemen decorated their envelopes with comic training camp scenes, often targeting officers or NCOs, the food or the latrines. The mid-1970s saw a new outbreak of decorated envelopes in the USA. The envelopes themselves might be made of  silk or satin or patchwork cotton pieces, or denim or oilskin, and then were decorated with feathers, photographs, plastic cut-outs, embroidery, newspaper cuttings and occasionally, even sweets. Whatever the era, or the fashion, decorated envelopes became part of popular culture of their day and were collected by aficionados, just as stamps or postcards were collected, and just as the Tickner envelopes were.

 

Libby Sharpe is the senior curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.