These productions lead up to what Mary Annette still considers to be her greatest production, ‘The Miracle of Wool’. Staged in 1950 in partnership with Ballantynes, Christchurch’s leading department store, the production formed part of Canterbury’s centenary celebrations.
For the ‘Miracle of Wool’ Mary Annette drew creatively on the literature produced by the IWS, which in the face of increasing competition from new synthetic fibres, emphasized wool’s ancient history and universality. Stories from the history of wool - from the creation of the Bayeux tapestry to Rembrandt’s woollen painting smock - featured heavily in the IWS’s poster campaigns.
Mary Annette took inspiration for the ‘The Miracle of Wool’, from the IWS’s ‘Wool in National Dress’ poster campaign which featured peoples from 12 different nations across the United Kingdom, Europe, South America and the Middle East. The accompanying texts extolled the different values of wool to each culture.
In the ‘Miracle of Wool’ Mary Annette bought the campaign to life. At the centre of the stage she placed a six foot high, revolving globe, encircled with wool. Mary Annette who always played the role of narrator, dramatically opened the show with the following words:
‘Once upon a time, many thousands of years ago, the fleece was removed for the first time from the back of a sheep and wrapped round man to keep him warm… The fleece – the golden fleece – was wrapped around man to protect him and to keep him warm.
‘That was the beginning, the very beginning, of ‘The Miracle of Wool’ …’
As she spoke six models dressed in national costumes, courtesy of Ballantyne’s dressmaking department, emerged from two large books. As they joined hands around the globe, Mary Annette spoke of wool’s universality:
‘Wool knew no bounds, no prejudices of race, creed or colour. It proved that it belonged to all the peoples of the world, wrapping itself around them and serving them faithfully’ >[i]
Having set the scene, Mary Annette then shifted the story of wool from the past to the present. She introduced the 36 garments, each of which she used as a spring board to reveal another aspect of wool’s rich history, whether economic, health-related or scientific. As a lover of language, Mary Annette even explored the etymology of wool. A model wearing a pale blue woollen cocktail dress by French couturier Pierre Balmain, which demonstrated wool’s suitability for summer, opened the show. Garments by Digby Morton and Louis Levy were used to reveal the textile related origins of the words ‘sterling’ and ‘master-piece’. Peggy Allen’s printed cocktail dress offered an example of the importance of woollen fashion exports to the British economy, and a lace negligee by Rita Roberts showcased ‘one of the newest and most exciting discoveries of ‘The Miracle of Wool’’ [ii]It was woven with a strengthening thread of alginate rayon derived from seaweed, which was dissolved out of the finished fabric, leaving only pure fine wool’ [iii]
While wool’s suitability for every occasion and every season was a constant message, Mary Annette also tapped into her audience’s post-war sense of patriotism. She placed a special emphasis on garments which had been admired by Queen Mary at an IWS event in London, and highlighted a tailored suit by Charles Creed to demonstrate that although the Mother Country had been ‘badly shaken’ by war, England had ‘lost none of its artistry’. ‘Who else has Saville Row?’ she asked.
Mary Annette, however, also consistently returned to New Zealand’s role in this ‘miracle’, emphasising that while ‘wool is a common bond of all peoples throughout the world… it is specially so for us because wool is OUR story – the story of our progress and prosperity’ [iv]
Following the show, Mary Annette recalls being approached by a wool grower who said:‘Little lady, my family have been growing wool for generations, but I didn’t know until tonight that it was something to be so proud of’ [v]
[i] Mary Annette Hay, Script for ‘The Miracle of Wool’, 1951. Mary Annette Hay Archive. CA000915/001/0007. Te Papa
[iii] Miracle of Wool programme. Mary Annette Hay Archive. CA000911/001/0010/000 Te Papa
[iv] Mary Annette Hay, Script for ‘Inspiration of Wool’, Mary Annette Hay Archive, CA000915/001/0002. Te Papa
[v]Interview with Mary Annette Hay by Tony Mackle, 1991. MS 54/1991/1b, MU000100/2/50. Te Papa.