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September 11, 2017 | by  | in Visual Arts | [ssba]

Nā wai te momotuhi?



Joseph Churchward was born in Samoa in 1932 and is from the ‘āiga Sā Anae and the villages of Faleasi’u and Tufulele. As a child he traced curves in the sand and in 1946 he came to Wellington; two years later he received an Art Distinction Award in Lettering from Wellington Technical College.

He passed in 2013, having designed over 570 typefaces over the course of his life which have been used all over the world. Despite living through the transition to digital type-design, Churchward argued for the superiority of hand-lettering, as a computer fails to reproduce the subtle arc of the curve. Photographed by David Bennewith, and gifted to him, Churchward’s french curves — manual tools used in the (re)production of type — were used in the design of all his typefaces.


Joseph Churchward's curves. Photograph by David Bennewith, 2013

Joseph Churchward’s curves. Photograph by David Bennewith, 2013.


They traced the curls of the koru of the Churchward Māori typeface that heads this issue. While his french curves were essential to the production process, as Bennewith, also his biographer, states: “But a curve cannot completely account for the hand that operated it, as Joseph’s varied explorations of the alphabet demonstrate. I have a vivid image of the very particular way Joseph would flick his right wrist as he described a pen stroke. Sixty years earlier, this same wrist (and hand) had accidentally smashed through the glass panel of a swinging door at Wellington Technical College — a horrific end to a friendly chasing game. Joseph’s nearly severed hand was reattached to his wrist, but the tendons were permanently shortened, resulting in restricted movement in his drawing hand and a loss of feeling to parts of it.”

The elegance of his font designs echoes the whanaungatanga that exists between Māori and our tuakana in Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa. It reflects the long time relationship with kaupapa Māori, and was created in the early 1980s during the time of the land marches. Here with this article we mihi to Joseph and his work, Te Ao Māori reflected in a tiny and unknown corner of the world.


About the Author ()

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