Yoka van Dyk

Designs preserved in metal

Print blocks

From the Vaults is a regular Midweek feature in which a member of staff from the Whanganui Regional Museum discusses an item or exhibit from the museum’s vast collection. Front of house staff member Yoka van Dyk is a print maker – among other things – so it was appropriate she choose some Nancy Adams print blocks for this story.
The blocks were commissioned by the Department of Lands and Survey – the predecessor of DoC – in the 1980s and were made for illustrations in official publications about Egmont National Park, including a handbook and track pamphlets. They feature original art work by botanical artist Nancy M Adams.
Yoka saw them on display in the ‘new acquisitions’ section.  “They’re just exquisite little objects, just beautiful,” she says.
To accompany her story, Yoka brought along a burin, one of the tools that would have been used to make the print blocks. The burin is a fine chisel used for engraving designs on metal. “There are all different types,” says Yoka, “because you have different ones to make different lines. This point is very sharp with a sort of lozenge shape on the very end and it fits comfortably in your hand.” She demonstrated the use of the burin, keeping it low to remove a sliver of metal and show how varying depths of cut, using the wedge-shaped cutting edge, will produce different widths of line.
“These ones are very finely detailed and you have to be a very good drawer to be able to execute designs like this,” she says.
Both the skill of the engraver and the detailed designs of Nancy Adams are represented by the print blocks, which are made of brass, mounted on wood. Nancy Adams’ watercolours and drawings are widely known through reproduction in nearly 40 publications on native trees and shrubs, alpine plants, wild flowers and seaweeds that she has written and illustrated.
“Before, there were no books for the layman, really, only for botanical scientists, and with no pictures, so she jumped into that gap and started illustrating plants. And because she was a scientist as well, she could combine the two – her scientific side as well as her exquisite, articulate artistic side,: says Yoka.
Her father was an amateur horticulturalist, so Nancy  – born Jacqueline Nancy Mary Whittaker – grew up with Latin botanical names and a deep interest in plants. She joined the Dominion Museum in Wellington in 1959, eventually specialising in marine algae. She retired in 1987 as assistant curator of Botany and became an honorary research associate of the museum.
Quite a few of the print blocks are seaweed illustrations and each engraving is an intricate, detailed work of art. Engraving as a means of illustration was very common before the advent of photography and is still used for fine work.
“With drawing you really have to observe every minute detail, and interpret that. For her [Nancy], the real process was using the hand and eye,” says Yoka.
As well as working front-of-house at the museum, Yoka spends Mondays working at the Sarjeant Gallery. “I love working in the cultural hub of Wanganui,” she says.
Yoka came to New Zealand from Holland in 1987, intending to take a six-month break from her work as an artistic therapist. The country evidently appealed. She returned to her homeland in 2009, intending to live. She lasted 10 months and returned to New Zealand. An account of Yoka’s story and the nature of her work will feature in a future issue of Midweek.


Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek on 25th July 2012. Reproduced with permission from the publishers.


Museum preserves the written word


ManuscriptsAs a calligrapher, among other things artistic and clever, Yoka van Dyk chose some Elizabethan manuscripts for her Vaults story, manuscripts that were displayed as part of the Glass of Fashion Act 2 exhibition. Real ones and copies, the manuscripts exemplify the writing styles of the 16th century and, although in “English”, prove difficult for the layperson to decipher.
Among the real ones is a manuscript of the awarding of letters patent to the town of Totnes in Devon, England, by Queen Elizabeth. It is dated 1596 and is an unsigned copy of the original. “It was possibly a back-up copy,’ says Yoka.
There is also a 1577 commercial contract on heavy parchment with three red wax seals attached. And in another cabinet is a facsimile of William Shakespeare’s will.
The genuine articles are beautiful in their execution and design and it proves once again that our museum has a vast variety of treasures, atypical of your usual provincial institution.
The Totnes manuscript came from the collection of Charles Babbage, grandfather of an early Wanganui identity of the same name and the man credited with the invention of the first “computer” in the 1830s. This and other manuscripts passed into the possession of his Wanganui grandson and, eventually, via Mr Herbert Babbage, to the museum in 1923.
“A lot of people do genealogy,” says Yoka, “and will come across wills or deeds from their ancestors, written in this kind of secretary hand.” She says there are websites set up to teach people how to read that type of script, and others from days gone by. One such site is run by the University of Leicester – http://paleo.anglo-norman.org
“This handwriting, the secretary hand, was used through the 16th century into the 17th century,” she says, and pointed out that a word could be spelled a variety of ways in the same manuscript, spelling standards being completely unknown until a much later date. “There could be 20 different ways to spell a word which makes it complicated reading.” Even letters could change shape a number of times throughout the length of a document. Yoka says there was the secretary hand and the chancery hand, an Italian style cursive script developed from the Roman hand. “It was fast, legible and beautiful,” says Yoka, “but italic had one drawback; it was easy to forge.”
The museum has many such documents containing a range of writing styles, all of which interest the knowledgeable Yoka.
“I used to teach calligraphy and I’m a book person [book binder, writer, engraver] so that’s why I have a great interest in ancient manuscripts. I studied them a lot in Holland, going to the museums to see manuscripts.”
There’s a box of manuscripts that were presented to the museum in 1959, having been bought by the collector in the 1920s in London when they were still relatively easy to obtain. Hundreds of years old, some still bear their wax seals and are, with the right training, still quite readable. Yoka demonstrated the changing nature of writing over the years, and named each style of script. Words like Gothic and bastarda were added to the calligraphy lexicon as we studied well-preserved paper and expensive vellum.
“It’s something I’m interested in and I use it in my own books. The very act of writing is a personal thing and it’s something we do less and less. The very act, the flow of writing, is a special thing but how often do we sit down to write a letter?” asks Yoka. She says she finds calligraphy a meditative thing, slowing the thought process to “get to deeper layers”.

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek on 8th May 2013.  Reproduced with permission from the publishers.