Faculty of Education, 2018
She sports a string of pearls, a practical black bag and a pink dress. Her coral-coloured lipstick and knowing smile provoke inquisitive glances from those that wander by. Her name is Mrs Josie Jones and, from her time spent at various abodes in Wellington, she has quite the story to tell.
Fibre art, which uses natural and synthetic fibres to create for the purpose of aesthetic pleasure rather than practicality, was originally heralded as ‘women’s work’ and merely a craft. During the 1960s and 1970s women around the world reclaimed the medium as an art form during the suffrage movement, using it as a tool to confront issues of equality, feminism and domesticity.
The Fabric Art Company was a comical and often irreverent Wellington-based group of eight young mothers who dared to challenge the status quo through their passion for working with fabric and fibre. Adhering to the feminist slogan of the 1980s, ‘Girls can do anything’, the group’s work regularly featured in art exhibitions around New Zealand.
In 1983, according to an issue of Art New Zealand published the next year, they broke gallery attendance records with their Stuffed Stuff Show, when over 15,000 people visited the exhibition at the Wellington City Art Gallery. Their art showcased the domestic realities faced by many home-makers and was acclaimed as a celebration of women by members of the group.
In 1984, Josie was brought to life at the hand of talented fibre artist, Jill Gunn, a member of the group. Josie was created for a piece called ‘Time out’ which was entered into the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts Fabric and Fibre exhibition. Each member of The Fibre Art Company created a character all of which sat on a park bench. The collective work took first place at the show and each character was sold individually, with Josie being acquired by a business man who worked in a city office.
Josie was housed in a glass case in a government building on the Terrace for many years before finding her way to the Faculty of Commerce at Victoria University. However, the Faculty didn’t really take to poor old Mrs Jones so she was passed on once more to the Gender and Women’s Studies programme.
Gender and Women’s Studies was founded by former MP, Phillida Bunkle, and later headed by homosexual rights activist, Alison Laurie. It was here that Mrs Jones was able to embrace her inner feminist and engage in her own form of silent activism. She became the keeper of a Salvation Army tambourine that became a symbol of homosexual law reform in 1986.
Gender and Women’s Studies at Victoria University became part of the Faculty of Education in 2010, and Mrs Jones became a member of the Faculty. She has since become a much-loved member of staff. When the Faculty was moved from Karori to Kelburn in 2016, Mrs Jones was taken along to the farewell party and offered a glass of wine by one unsuspecting and embarrassed waiter.
Affectionately referred to as ‘the guardian of the Faculty of Education’ by her minder, Lisa Terreni, Mrs Jones often sits outside the office blocks on Wai-te-ata Road. To quote Lisa, “Josie keeps an eye on the parking wardens and resists the patriarchy”. She enjoys the odd selfie and has become a popular attraction at the Faculty, so feel free to stop by for a chat next time you’re walking past.