Dr Arthur William Baden Powell CBE (1901-1987) was a New Zealand malacologist, naturalist and palaeontologist, and a major influence in the study and classification of New Zealand molluscs.
“Native Animals of New Zealand” was published in 1947 and I assume he did all the beautiful illustrations himself – which I have to say had an influence on me at the time my grandfather’s cast off Rotring pens, that he used for marine architecture, became mine to experiment with.
Powell trained in printing at the Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland; which indicates he also designed this cover himself. This formal training, and his interest in conchology, set him on his life’s work.
It is a strongly late Deco-influenced design, beautiful in it’s simplicity of two striking colour blocks on a bright ground; yet still creating dramatic space. The silhouettes are flat and plain, yet somehow lend a wonderful hint of intricacy. The clear shapes seem to fit so neatly together as the eye moves about.
It is a great pleasure to me to look upon it and it is one of my favourite images of all time.
Powell was appointed to the Auckland War Memorial Museum as palaeontologist and conchologist in 1929, where my aunt also worked for twenty years. I used to visit as often as I could and would get special sight-seeing trips “out the back” where she would slide open drawers and show me odd bones, rocks, eggs and all sorts of curiosities. I adored it!
Coincidentally, in the staff room there were canvases produced in many colourways, Warhol style of the book’s cover lining the walls. I assume done by New Zealand pop artist Dick Frizzell, And why wouldn’t he choose it? It is as perfect an icon of design as you could find.
Addendum early November 2012: I dug up my original copy of ‘Native Animals of New Zealand’ hidden away in a box in the cupboard, so I finally scanned it and replaced the lesser-quality image. As far as I recall this was a late 1950s edition.
I’ve also added the cover of this very rare 1937-issued book by Powell ‘The Shellfish of New Zealand’. In fact I had never seen it before when I bought it for quite a nominal amount. When I received it, it had been previously sold for seventy dollars. I can assure you I paid a fraction of that so it was quite a bargain!
Addendum late Oct 2015: Another book by Powell I had not seen previously, also apparently published 1937, came up for auction recently. ‘Shells of New Zealand’ at first seems to be a modification of the cover from ‘The Shellfish of New Zealand’, but is actually a different book. In fact, two copies appeared within the same week. Weird things like that seem to happen quite often; something unusual, rare or not seen before at all appears in multiples. This publication was still being produced well into the sixties, and this is the 1967 reprint published by Whitcombe and Tombs Christchurch of the 1961 4th edition.