The Art of early NZ Tourism "Selling the Dream" - Book Review

Selling The Dream: The Art of Early New Zealand Tourism
Published October 2012 by Craig Potton Publishing, by Peter Alsop, Gary Stewart and Dave Bamford.  400+ pages with nearly 1000 images and 11 essays. $79.95

Our verdict: This sprawling book is the essential sourcebook on early NZ tourism publicity.

The book is in two parts, a selection of illustrated essays followed by collections of NZ tourism and travel publicity material sorted by topic, such as "Sportsman's Paradise" and "Celebrations and Exhibitions", each with a short introduction.

Margaret McClure's essay on the development of early NZ tourism sets the scene, demonstrating how changes in tourism publicity material reflected changes in strategy and the balance between targeting domestic and international tourists.  Richard Wolfe places tourism publicity in its cultural context, using the material as a lens to understand the changing way that we view ourselves - and what we want to project to potential visitors as the essence of "New Zealandness".  Past president of the International Vintage Poster Dealers Association David Pollack offers a sense of what NZ designers were up against in their fight to attract tourists to NZ - both in terms of competing with global destinations and attractions but also placing NZ tourism posters in context alongside work from famous contemporaneous designers of the Art Nouveau, Bell Epoque and Art Deco periods.

Mark Derby from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage does a thorough job of examining the "poi girl, haka warrior" theme of much early publicity and justifiably laments what was "a remarkably limited vocabulary of Maori imagery".  Lee Davidson contributes a fluent and well structured essay on mountain tourism showing how the image of the rugged mountaineer was appropriated to attract tourists to resorts that were anything but "roughing it".

Art historian Gail Ross's first essay is a standout, she brings the world of the early NZ graphic artists to life in her lively description of training the "apprentice dream makers", her second essay on New Zealand Tourism Poster Stamps combines a well written potted history of NZ "Cinderellas" with a sharp appreciation of art and design.  In his essay Warren Feeney makes fascinating new connections between  fine art and commercial art in NZ and in passing highlights several enticing topics that seem to be crying out for further research.  Photography's enduring role in tourism publicity is discussed by Barry Hancox, with some hard work behind the scenes matching original photographs with the resultant poster. It was a revelation to realise that photographs from the Tourism department catalogue were "an essential and widely used reference for the graphic artists producing posters and other publicity materials".

The last essay is the second from an "outsider", in this case Nicholas Lowry from the vintage poster department of an American auctioneer who pinpoints what makes NZ poster design distinctive from other countries posters designed at the same time.  Lowry touches on some of waves of fashion for vintage posters that I wrote about when I tried to put the use of NZ vintage posters as decoration into some kind of historical context a few years ago.  Lowry offers a welcome note of criticism not seen often enough in "Selling the Dream",  however his critique of Leonard Mitchell's work because he dared to use colours that were not from "nature's paint box" seems unduly harsh.

The illustrations by topic are encyclopedic. "Selling the Dream" is the perfect sourcebook for designers to find visual inspiration and should be in every NZ graphic arts professional's library.  It is also an entertaining coffee table book that has been a pleasure to dip into repeatedly over the past few weeks to discover something new.

I did wish there were captions next to the images and the lack of an index means the reader is not easily able to find more images by a designer whose work appears under different topics.  But these minor grumbles are both forgivable and completely understandable given the enormity of the project that was written and researched outside office hours.

"Selling the Dream" is an inspiring example of private scholarship and research into the NZ arts that will give you many years of enjoyment - copies of the book are available throughout NZ at bookstores. NB: I have just been told that if you purchase directly from you will receive a 10% discount of the cover price plus free NZ delivery.

P.S. The trio behind the book have run a marketing master class with the campaign for their entirely self-funded book. This writer might happen to be the perfect target demographic for a publication like this but as someone who has worked at the commercial end of arts marketing for nearly 20 years I am in awe of the sheer number of tweets, reviews, launch invitations and carefully targeted advertisments that I have come across for "Selling the Dream".   Quite simply you guys have run an exemplary publicity campaign that deserves to be a case study for modern marketing in NZ - as well as selling the entire print run of the book of course!


  1. Great recognition of a great book!

  2. Antony, great to read such a thorough and probing review of our 'baby'. You constructively raise some valid issues to consider next time around. Overall though, I am pleased the book stands up to your scrutiny and standards, as I know that have been around this material for a long time and been a leading commentator on it, and progressive appreciator of it. So, thanks for your kind words about it and support generally. I hope other readers here are similarly enjoy the book too. Peter Alsop

  3. would like to make contact with Gail Ross. Can anyone help with work tel. no. or email. Its a query on Frank Weitzel. michael bogle, surry hills, sydney (in tel. book)