10 March 2010

Baxter goes to the Cook Islands

An original George Baxter print, Te Po chief of Rarotonga, was donated to the Library and Museum Society in 2008 by Ernie Ryder (of Tauranga, NZ), on behalf of his Cook Islands born son, Nicholas (formerly Taereau Tuakanangaro).
Ernie was in the library on a visit to Rarotonga and spotted a photocopy of the print. He managed to trace an authentic Baxter print (through the New Baxter Society) and presented it to us.
George Baxter (1804-1867) was an English artist and printer who is credited with the invention of commercially viable colour printing. His method involved using a metal plate (to print a black outline, shading and details) and up to twenty different blocks for each of the other colours needed. His work was used for prints and book illustrations but although it was popular and technically excellent he was such a perfectionist that the business was never profitable.

Baxter began his affiliation with the missionary societies in 1837.
"In the nineteenth century missionary societies were very active and wealthy enough to finance expeditions to all parts of the world. The reports of their activities were eagerly followed and famous missionaries achieved the status and hero worship afforded to film stars today... (T)he societies were able to follow up the interest aroused by the exploits of their famous men with his (Baxter's) coloured prints, which were a novelty since photography was not then in use." (George Baxter and the Baxter Prints)
During his Missionary Prints Period (1837 to 1847) Baxter produced what are considered to be his finest and most serious work as an artist and colour printer. John Williams, the representative of the London Missionary Society who brought Christianity to the Cook Islands in 1821, went back to England in 1834 to supervise the printing of the New Testament in Rarotongan. George Baxter knew Williams personally, and painted him while he was in England.
At that time Williams also published a "Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Sea Islands”.
The colour picture of Te Po appears at the front of this book and is now famous because it is the best rendition of a Cook Islands tattoo of that time. It was based on an original drawing by John Williams. The pose is a typical one but the only really clear parts of the tattoo are the turtle motifs on his knees - as a food item turtles were reserved for chiefs. (The library has a later edition of the book which does not have the Te Po picture).
The picture is titled Te po a chief of Rarotonga but it is more correct to call him Pa Te Pou Ariki (Takitumu vaka, Rarotonga). The Journal of the Polynesian Society says he is the 43rd Pa Ariki of the Takitumu tribe and was chief when the Gospel was introduced into Rarotonga. He died 1855 and was succeeded by his daughter Pa Upoko Takau Ariki.

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