Colin McCahon’s Art School report and more

Monday, May 11th, 2015 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

MS-1177-045

MS-1177/045 – Colin McCahon’s report from his first year at Dunedin’s King Edward Technical College Art School 1937 described him as “one of the most promising students in attendance”!

Blog post prepared by Dr Ali Clarke,  Library Assistant – Reference

The Hocken has the honour of holding a large collection of personal and business papers of one of New Zealand’s greatest painters, Colin McCahon (1919-1987) and his wife Anne McCahon (1915-1993). They donated these papers to us some years ago, but the restriction on access has now expired, meaning researchers who visit the library can delve into this fascinating collection (one restriction does remain – access to personal letters written by people still alive requires their written permission). We’ve just finished repackaging the collection and adding it to our catalogue.

The collection dates back to Colin McCahon’s childhood, indeed earlier, as it includes papers of his mother Ethel McCahon (1888-1973), whose father William Ferrier was also a talented painter and photographer. There is a long sequence of correspondence between Colin and his parents, but most personal letters in the collection are ones received by Colin and Anne from family and friends. There are numerous letters from John and Anna Caselberg, Patricia France, Rodney Kennedy, Doris Lusk, Ron O’Reilly and Toss Woollaston, along with smaller collections (sometimes just one letter) from many other artists and writers.

There are also many ‘business’ letters in the collection. These include letters from galleries, societies and art dealers, together with other papers concerning exhibitions. There are a few papers relating to specific projects, including coloured glass work, the Urewera mural, and murals at the Otago University Library and Founders Theatre, Hamilton. Colin McCahon’s interest in theatre is reflected in items from drama productions he was involved with, including scripts and designs.

One intriguing series is publications owned by Colin McCahon. Among them are art books and various religious texts (some of them annotated). There are also a few reproductions of art works which interested him and clippings of illustrations from magazines.

MS-4251-252

MS-4251/252 – Colin McCahon’s copy of the Book of Mormon. There are also several marked versions of the Bible in the collection.

You can view the full list of this wonderful collection on our online catalogue Hakena at: http://hakena.otago.ac.nz/scripts/mwimain.dll/144/DESCRIPTION/WEB_DESC_DET_REP/SISN%20211004?sessionsearch]

To see the full list, click on the “View Arrangement” button on the left hand side of the screen.

 

Art in the Service of Science – Dunedin’s John Buchanan

Monday, November 26th, 2012 | Anna Blackman | 1 Comment

John Buchanan, Milford Sound, looking north-west from Freshwater Basin, 1863, watercolour 222 x 509mm. Donated to the Otago Museum by Peter Buchanan in 1898 and transferred to the Hocken Library in 1948. Hocken Pictures 7,445

It is always a surprise when encountering art works known from reproduction to discover how small they really are.  John Buchanan’s Milford Sound from Freshwater Basin 1865, is a modest in size but grand in conception.  It was made to show the wonders that lay over the Southern Alps, recently explored by James Hector of the Otago Geological Survey and went on display at the New Zealand Exhibition of 1865.

Sketches for the watercolour were made in November 1863 when the Survey’s chartered boat, the Matilda Hayes, was guided by Henry Paremata to anchor at Anita Bay at the entrance to Milford Sound.  Hector’s report to John Hyde Harris, the Provincial Superintendant, was serialized for the Otago Daily Times and conveys some of the excitement he felt:

“The scenery is quite equal to the finest that can be enjoyed by the most difficult and toilsome journeys into the Alps of the interior, and the effect being greatly enhanced as well as the access made more easy by the incursion of the sea …into their alpine solitudes.”

Hector’s sophisticated understanding of glaciation is evident:

“The sea in fact now occupies a chasm that was in past ages ploughed by an immense glacier, and it is through the natural progress of events by which the mountain mass has been reduced in altitude that the ice stream has been replaced by the waters of the ocean.  The evidence of this change may be seen at a glance.”

The head of Milford Sound was the ideal place to recuperate from the arduous six month sea journey from Port Chalmers:

“Two hours sail brought us into a fresh water basin, where we anchored, and next day, as I intended to remain here some time, a large tent was put up on shore, and everything in the yacht taken out and overhauled…”

Ever observant of life in the natural realm, Buchanan has depicted the Sound without the Matilda Hayes evident, but with frolicking dolphins and birds in residence.  Hector describes the novelty of the surrounding smorgasbord of stones, speculating optimistically on the possibility that there might be gold in the hills:

“The geological structure of the mountains around Milford Sound is more complicated than in any other part of the West Coast that I have examined.  The prevailing rock is syenitic gneiss, associated with schist, greenstone, porphyry and felspathic schist, succeeded towards the lower part of the Sound by fine grained gneiss of newer age, felstones, quartzites and clay slates.  No metallic ores were observed, but several might be expected to occur among the last mentioned group of strata, if a locality were found to have been traversed by fissures in which vein-stone could form.”

Hector had earlier that year explored an overland route to the West Coast.  He provisioned in January 1863 in Oamaru, laying in three dozen boxes of sardines, vinegar, mustard, curry and sauces as well as 3 bars of soap, five pounds of tobacco and a case of Geneva [genever, a spirit distilled from a mash of grains and flavoured with juniper berries – the original “Dutch courage” drink.]”

On this trip, John Buchanan took his share of the supplies, and camped in the Matukituki Valley for four months to botanise in the beech forest in the lower Matukituki Valley and the open tops of the mountains above the valley.  Useful research for his 1865 New Zealand Exhibition essay “A Sketch of the Botany of Otago” was undertaken, and he prepared a vegetation map of the area.  On 2 March 1863, while climbing the 2339 metre peak Mt Alta, near Wanaka Buchanan discovered a lovely flowering plant at an altitude of 6000 feet (1828.8 metres).

John Buchanan, Southern part of Lake Wanaka, 1863, watercolour 189 x 250mm. Donated to the Otago Museum by Peter Buchanan in 1898 and transferred to the Hocken Library in 1948. Hocken Pictures 7,446

After three glorious summer months spent roaming in the mountains above Lake Wanaka as well as exploring the Matukituki Valley, Lindis Pass and Waitaki Valley, Buchanan packaged up his findings, and sent them off to Joseph Dalton Hooker at Kew.  Buchanan lists this material as “328 species of which 110 are alpines from above an altitude of 3000 feet, the highest  7500 feet”.  Hooker rewarded Buchanan’s diligence by naming the Mt Alta plant Ranunculus buchanani in his honour.

Buchanan also painted a one-third life-sized version of a magnificent flowering specimen of Ranunculus lyalli, the Mount Cook lily.  This plant had been described in its non-flowering state by Hooker, and named for its discoverer, David Lyall (1817-1895), surgeon and naturalist on the HMS Acheron.  Hooker described it in Flora Novae-Zelandiae as “…the monarch of all buttercups…the only known species with peltate leaves, the “water-lily” of the New Zealand shepherds.”

John Buchanan, Ranunculus lyalli, Hook. fil. (Wanaka Lake) 1863, watercolour, pen and ink, 686 x 425mm, exhibited at the New Zealand Exhibition, Dunedin 1865, exhibit 876 (9) with the title Ranunculus lyalli, Hook. fil. new species. One third natural size. Donated to the Hocken Library by Professor Geoff Baylis in 1963. Hocken Pictures 20,327.

Buchanan was one of many plantsmen to supply Kew with material from the colonies, and how this was treated is the subject of a lecture by science historian Jim Endersby from Sussex University, who will give the provocatively titled talk “Imperial Science: the invention of New Zealand’s plants” at the  Hutton Theatre, Otago Museum on Thursday 29th November at 5.30pm.

An exhibition of John Buchanan’s work will be on display in the Hocken Library Gallery from 22 November to 9 February 2013.  Linda Tyler will give a floortalk in the exhibition at 10am on Saturday 1 December 2012.

Blog post prepared by Linda Tyler, Director, Centre for Art Research, The University of Auckland, P B 92019

Auckland DDI 09 923 9977

 

A Whole lot of Rain at the Hocken

Thursday, September 8th, 2011 | Anna Blackman | 1 Comment

Ralph Hotere’s imposing artwork Rain (1979) will be familiar to a generation of University of Otago humanities students because it was commissioned by the university in 1979, and, once adorned the foyer of the original Hocken Library building (now known as the Richardson building). The work’s title references a poem written by the much loved New Zealand poet – the late Hone Tuwhare. Excerpts from Tuwhare’s poem ‘Rain’ are stamped and scrawled across the bottom reaches of the artwork’s three, unprimed canvas lengths.

The evocative five-metre high banners were removed from their original site in 2007 after concerns over their deteriorating condition. The building’s windy foyer and sunny aspect had led to major degradation of the thin paint pigment deployed by Hotere. The first stage of restoration work, carried out by Auckland paintings conservator Lydia Gutierrez, was completed in July and the banners have now been installed in the foyer of the current Hocken Library building at 90 Anzac Ave, Dunedin. Further paint consolidation will be carried out early next year.

The Hocken’s mezzanine floor enables visitors to experience this work ‘up close and personal’ and from a range of different aspects. Before Rain could be hung a special steel rigging had to be engineered and erected across existing roof trusses. While the three banners are lightweight, the perspex backing panels erected to support the fragile work weigh some 70 kilograms.

Next time you enter the Hocken Library look skyward and be entranced by the beauty of Rain! Read what the Otago Daily Times published about the rehung banners here.

Natalie Poland, Curator of Pictorial Collections

Two new exhibitions at the Hocken Gallery

Monday, May 3rd, 2010 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

Two new exhibitions have just been installed at the Hocken Gallery. The touring exhibition ‘The Labour of Herakles’, a show of 8 etchings and 12 lithographs by Christchurch-based printmaker Marian Maguire, will tour for a further two years after it finishes here on 17 July. In this series of works Maguire casts the Greek hero Herakles as a pioneer in New Zealand’s nineteeth century landscape. Appropriating well known pictorial imagery has long been a feature of Maguire’s practice. Here is a photograph of Artcrew installing the Maguire show.

The accompanying exhibition ‘Forever After’, drawn mainly from the Hocken’s collections compliments the touring show by exploring the work of artists who have copied, adapted and re-purposed historical art. This image shows me (the Hocken’s Curator of Pictorial Collections) brushing dust that has gathered in the drapery folds of a Brucciani cast, after the famous Greek statue Venus de Milo. The copying of such sculptures provided the basis of drawing classes at art schools in New Zealand from the late nineteenth, through to the early decades of the twentieth century. The exhibition includes a Greek amphora from the Otago Museum dating to c. 550BC, a fabulous copy of Nathaniel Dance’s 1776 portrait of Captain James Cook, a sampling of Joseph Banks’ Florilegium series and two contemporary portraits by 2008 Frances Hodgkins Fellow, Heather Straka. Straka’s paintings are based on an eighteenth century drawing by Augustus de Sainson of Nataii, a Maori chief from Bream Bay.

You Can Now Browse the Hocken’s Founding Pictures Collection Online

Friday, April 2nd, 2010 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

To mark our institution’s centenary we have made the founding art collection of the Hocken, Dr Hocken’s picture collection, available online via the University of Otago Library’s Digital Collections.


The showcase offers a representational sample of the pictures that Dr T. M. Hocken gave in trust for the people of New Zealand. At the time of his death in 1910 he had amassed 437 pictorial items, a collection of more than 4,000 printed volumes, as well as photographs, manuscripts and maps. Collectively these items are the Hocken Library’s founding gift. Dr Hocken’s abiding interest in the history of Southern New Zealand continues to shape what the Hocken collects today and preserves for the future benefit of researchers.

Visit Digital Collections:
Digital.otago.ac.nz

It you haven’t visited the site before have a look a some of the other material in our collections view ‘A Showcase of the Hocken Collections’. Most of the images that appear here are the result of two digitisation projects undertaken by the Hocken’s Pictorial Collections staff between 2007 and 2009 and funded through the generous assistance of the University Library.