My Man gave me a fascinating book for Christmas, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Cloaks and Daggers (2014) by Daniel Falconer. Page after page is filled with exquisite detail on costume, weapons and prop designs and production for The Hobbit films. You might have deduced from my last post that I do love a bit of Middle Earth. I have also written posts on dwarven knitting in The Hobbit films.
Once I could wrest the book from my children, I was struck by the homage paid by the Peter Jackson to Tolkein’s reverence for hand creation. Alongside the normal costume department you would expect in a film like this, they employed potters, metal workers, cabinet makers, silversmiths, swordsmiths, cobblers, blacksmiths, knitters, jewellers, glass makers and saddle makers to create original props to dress sets and actors.
The Middle Earth world created by Tolkein, elevates making and crafts to the highest realms. Galadriel, one of the most powerful figures in Middle Earth, spins and weaves. She makes the cloaks given to the Fellowship in Lord of the Rings with her own hands. The Elves and the Dwarves have metal working as one of the highest art forms. In an 2005 conference paper, Tolkein scholar Ty Rosenthal noted that Tolkein had a particular reverence for textile works,
Míriel and Melian and Luthien, with their broideries and weaving, are the female equivalents of Tolkien’s talented smiths, Fëanor, Celebrimbor, and the dwarf Telchar.
Rosenthal’s paper goes on to show Tolkein’s athestic and values around craft are derived directly from the British Arts and Crafts movement that informed and infused his childhood.
The Arts and Crafts styling is evident throughout props and settings of The Hobbit films, from the Bag End interiors to the athestics of Rivendell. But more than simply styling, the ethos of hand crafting permeates the film.
A bronze foundry was set up to cast the metal pieces required by the film, the fabrics for the hobbit’s clothes were hand printed, every pipe in the film was hand carved out from timber and fully functional and the buttons on Bilbo’s waistcoat were hand cast acorns.
The work of individual New Zealand artisans is marked. For example, all the writing which appeared in the film from jam labels to the journals carried by the dwarves to the map of the Lonely Mountain were all hand written by graphic artist, Daniel Reeve. Master saddler, Tim Abbot made every single saddle. Beverley Francis knitted all the knitted items for the dwarves. Potter Ivan Vostinar produced all the crockery for the film including all the Bag End crockery and the beautiful vases and vessels at Rivendell and Mirkwood. All the glassware including the beautiful wine amphora of the wood elves was created by glass maker Lyndsay Patterson.
There seems to have been a deliberate attempt to employ New Zealand artisans wherever possible, thereby revitalising and supporting the continuation of traditional skills and trades. And in this, Peter Jackson is rather like a Renaissance Prince, his patronage of the arts and crafts sustaining and enlivening artisanal culture, at least for a time. Which is probably all to the good, as films seem to spend and make more than a Renaissance principality ever did.