Sketching a past : Susan Downing, Sister Mary Genevieve

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

Post researched and written by Debbie Gale – Archivist

The exciting discovery of an accomplished watercolour sketchbook within the archives of the Dominican Sisters of Aotearoa New Zealand held by the Hocken, was first assumed to be the work of a pupil at one of the Dominican Schools.  Instead, it has been found on closer examination to be that of one of its Sisters, Mary Genevieve.

Front page & Text knitted

Hocken Collections, Natural history work book, Susan Downing, Upton Hall. Records of the Dominican Sisters of Aotearoa New Zealand. AG-264-A-019/002. To see detailed image, right click, open in new tab and zoom in.

The first ten Dominican Sisters arrived in Dunedin from Sion Hill Convent in Dublin in 1871, accompanying Bishop Moran.   Under the conditions of the agreement, those chosen to move to New Zealand needed to be qualified to teach in both ‘A High School’ and ‘A Poor School’.  Sister Mary Genevieve’s maternal aunt, Charlotte (professed as Sister Catherine Hughes in 1857), was part of this first contingent.  Indicative that the Sion Hill community sent some of its outstanding members to New Zealand, Sister Catherine had studied under a pupil of Chopin and was a highly gifted musician.  She was sister-in-law to Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, Irish Nationalist, journalist, poet and Australian Politician (8th Premier of Victoria 1871-1872).  Duffy married her sister Susan Hughes in 1846[1].

The High School, opened very shortly after the Sisters’ arrival in 1871, accepted pupils from all over Dunedin for pianoforte lessons, singing, harp lessons, painting, flower making, art, needlework and languages such as French, Italian, German and Spanish[2].

By 1971, the number of Irish sisters who came out to New Zealand had risen to 80.  Like the first contingent, most were from privileged backgrounds, daughters of wealthy landowners who had received an education.  Dunedin’s successful immigrants sent their daughters to the Dominican Sisters for two reasons – to receive a good Catholic education and to acquire the ‘accomplishments’ (cultural studies of music and art and modern languages)[3].

Susan Downing appeared to fit the mould of a Dominican Sister perfectly.  She had an educated, upper class background and she was accomplished in the arts.  These attributes are evidenced both through her beautiful sketchbook, and from information held by the Dominican Sisters themselves.

By accessing genealogy resources, making enquiries about Downing from the Dominican Sisters’ Archive and following up on clues in the sketchbook, we can piece together some of Susan’s early life in England.

England Census 1861:

Six-year-old Susan J. Downing is listed in the Downing household in the Parish of Birkenhead.  Her estimated birth year is 1855 and her birthplace is listed as Birkenhead, England.  She appears in the England and Wales birth index as Susan Jane Downing.

Father Samuel was born in Ireland about 1820, he was a physician, surgeon and general practitioner.  Mother Marianne was also born in Ireland about 1819. The family appears to be prosperous, with the household consisting of five siblings and two household staff whose occupations are listed as ‘domestic servants’.

England Census 1871:

There are two entries for Susan. She is listed within her household census, and also as a scholar at Upton Hall.

Upton Hall, then a Catholic convent school in Wirral, Cheshire, lies about 10kms away from Birkenhead. It was ‘designed to produce accomplished young ladies’.  This is where Susan would have begun her sketchbook, in 1876, at the age of 21.

Illustrations knitted

Hocken Collections, Natural history work book, Susan Downing, Upton Hall. Records of the Dominican Sisters of Aotearoa New Zealand. AG-264-A-019/002. To see detailed image, right click, open in new tab and zoom in.

The Downing household now has three domestic staff whose occupations are listed as ‘groom (domestic servant)’, ‘cook’ and ‘housemaid’.  Their immediate neighbours are an attorney and broker. William, the eldest son, is a merchant’s apprentice and two further sons a medical student and scholar.

No record of Susan is found in the 1881 or 1891 England census returns so we may assume that she had left England by this time. Susan’s personal record held by the Dominican Sisters indicates that she had been educated in Holland, France and in Dublin at the Dominican College, Sion Hill and arrived in Dunedin directly from Dublin in 1892.

Sadly, no Irish census information for these years survives as the original returns were pulped during the First World War, probably because of the paper shortage.  She left Upton Hall at some point after 1876 and moved to Dublin, but without the Irish census returns it is difficult to pin dates down.

Moving to the other side of the globe:

Downing passenger list

Archives New Zealand Passenger lists from 1892 show that Susan made the long voyage to New Zealand at the age 37, by herself, on the ‘S.S. Kaikoura’.

The journey was not without incident. Both the Otago Daily Times (15 July 1892) and Hobart Mercury (11 July 1892) reported on the ‘Kaikoura’ embarking passengers of a ship wrecked on its voyage to Melbourne, as well as the terrible weather conditions encountered by its passengers:

On the 6th June at Cape Verde, Africa, the ‘Kaikoura’ embarked passengers of the liner ‘Port Douglas’, which had been wrecked on the voyage to Melbourne. The passengers also encountered ‘terrific seas’ and ‘rain, hail and sleet were frequent…traversing the Southern Ocean’. However, ‘The usual concert balls etc., were organised to enliven the monotony…they were entered into heartily by all on board’.  I wonder, did convent girl Susan join in these proceedings?

Received into the Dominican Sisters on 15th January 1893, Susan took the name Sister Mary Genevieve and was professed on 8 November 1894. Dunedin electoral rolls of 1893 and 1896 list her teaching at St Dominic’s Priory on Dowling Street. Records show she eventually reached the rank of sub prioress in 1910.  Her death is given as 19 September 1923 aged 69.

For all that we can piece together the recorded fragments of Sister Mary Genevieve’s early life; there are a few questions that will remain unanswered:

What made Susan decide to move to the opposite side of the world, on her own, at 37 years of age? It seems likely that she decided to follow in her Aunt Charlotte’s footsteps and join her as a Dominican Sister, but what was her spur? Her parents would have been in their 70s at this point, maybe they had died and she wanted a fresh start?

According to her death notice, her forte was music, and information from the Dominican’s own records describes her as an ‘excellent linguist, speaking and reading several tongues’.   There appears to be no mention of her artistic gifts, however, and her sketchbook remains sadly unfinished.  Did she simply decide to discontinue her art once she arrived in New Zealand, or maybe she was just too busy with her teaching and religious duties?  This seems a shame, when we consider how evidently she was once attached to her sketchbook, so lovingly crafted and cherished, a travelling companion on her long journey overseas.

[1] McCarthy, 19-20

[2] Collins, 78

[3] Collins, 81-82

Sources:

Collins, Jenny.  Hidden lives : The teaching and religious lives of eight Dominican sisters, 1931-1961: A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of requirements for the degree of Master of Education at Massey University, Palmerston North. 2001

McCarthy, Mary Augustine. Star in the South : The centennial history of the New Zealand Dominican Sisters. Dunedin St Dominic’s Priory, 1970

New Zealand Dominican Sisters Archives

Rombouts. Michael : Death notices in the New Zealand Tablet May 1873 to Apr 1996. Dunedin N.Z. : M.J.Rombouts 2000

Rombouts. Michael : Catholic death notices in the Otago Daily Times 1861-1950. Dunedin N.Z. : M.J.Rombouts 1998

Upton Hall School Census 1871. (Retrieved August 2015 ‘http://history.uptonhallschool.co.uk’)

Upton Hall School website (Retrieved August 2015, ‘http://www.uptonhallschool.co.uk/’)

England census returns (Retrieved August 2015. ‘Ancestry’)

England and Wales birth index (Retrieved October 2015 ‘Ancestry’)

New Zealand Tablet, 1923

New Zealand, Archives New Zealand, Passenger lists 1839-1973 (Retrieved August 2015. ‘familysearch.org’)

The Mercury, Hobart 11 July 1892 (Retrieved September 2015. ‘Trove’ http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/13295915)

Otago Daily Times, 15 July 1892 (Retrieved August 2015. ‘Papers Past’)

New Zealand Electoral Rolls, 1893, 1896

 

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.

 

Picture/Poem – The Hocken Gallery 18 April – 25 July 2015

Monday, April 20th, 2015 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

Post prepared by Natalie Poland, Curator of Pictorial Collections

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Joanna Margaret Paul, Untitled [self-portrait], ink drawing, 299 x 229mm, acc.: L278. On deposit from the Estate of Joanna Margaret Paul. Hocken Collections Uare Taoka o Hakena, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

The exhibition Picture/Poem: the imagery of Cilla McQueen and Joanna Margaret Paul that has just opened in the Hocken Library’s gallery brings together the creative works of award-winning poet Cilla McQueen and respected painter Joanna Margaret Paul. The pair met in Dunedin in the late 1970s and during the following decade their lives continued to intersect.

Both artists have strong ties with the University being past University of Otago Arts Fellows. Paul was a recipient of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship in 1983 and McQueen was Burns Fellow 1985 and 1986. McQueen’s first poetry collection Homing In (John McIndoe Ltd: 1982), included a poem Paul titled “Joanna”. She penned a second poem dedicated to her friend after Paul’s untimely death in 2003. McQueen credits Paul, who was also an accomplished poet, with showing her that McQueen herself was a visual artist.

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Cilla McQueen, Self Portrait, 1991, ink drawing, acc 92/1462, pen & ink on paper, 298 x 210mm. Gifted by Cilla McQueen, Dunedin, 1992. Hocken Collections Uare Taoka o Hakena, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

 

 

 

 

 

The Hocken is home to hundreds of artworks by both Paul and McQueen, many of which have been gifted by them or in the case of Paul, her estate, who generously donated nearly 200 of her sketchbooks in 2008.

The exhibition focuses on works from the 1970s and 1980s, created while these artists were living in Dunedin. It includes twenty-eight artworks (predominantly works on paper), published work, musical scores, artist’s books and ephemera relating to the life and work of these two creative women.

Many of Paul’s works in this show have not been exhibited before. Most of the works are drawn from the Hocken’s extensive art collection but a small group of works have been borrowed from her Estate.

A double portrait by Paul (c.1970) recently gifted to the Hocken came from the collection of the late Michael Hitchings. The painting features Michael and his former wife, Maureen Hitchings. This couple, like Paul and McQueen, contributed to the shaping of Dunedin’s cultural outlook during this period. Michael was Hocken Librarian from 1965 to 1984 and Maureen ran the Dawsons Gallery where Paul exhibited in the 1970s.

The Hocken has a wealth of other material relating to both Paul and McQueen. The archives collection houses the literary papers of Cilla McQueen and the business records of Dunedin’s John McIndoe Ltd, the publisher of McQueen’s early poetry collections. There are letters from Joanna Paul to Deidre Airey, Ruth Dallas, Charles Brasch, Hone Tuwhare, Heather Murray and others, including to Cilla McQueen.

Despite working predominantly in different artistic fields their approaches have common features including an interest in juxtaposing pictures and poems and the visual arrangement of words on the page. In the 1980s it was not as common as it is now to create interdisciplinary work. In correspondence with the exhibition’s curator Natalie Poland, McQueen writes: “The works on display date primarily from the 1980s and show that both women were informed by experimental approaches that blurred the conventional boundaries between art, literature and music. Their pictures and poems celebrate the richness of the everyday experience and the local environment. The freshness of their drawings, use of collage and surprising combinations of images and text enliven ordinary language and convey a sense of living intensely in the present moment.” [Source: Unpublished memoirs, email to Natalie Poland May 2011, now in Hocken’s artist’s files.]

An artwork by McQueen called Sequestered (2009) was purchased by the Hocken in 2010. McQueen made it by scratching text onto a series of six outmoded computer floppy discs that contained a late twentieth century manuscript by McQueen. The texts, etched into the surface of the black circles, are partly occluded with red seal wax, an evocation of other modes of communication that are facing obsolescence – the tradition of handwritten letters.

1_Paul_Untitled_Hero_web

Joanna Margaret Paul, Untitled [The Stillness of the Rose] (detail), 1974, watercolour and pencil on paper, Hocken Collections, Uare Taoka o Hakena, University of Otago. Dunedin

One series by Paul makes its debut in Picture/Poem – Untitled (The Stillness of the Rose . . .), 1974-1980, comprises seven water-colour and pencil works conceived to be viewed as a single creative work. Curiously each separate piece of this work was created on the same day over a period of seven years. Each part contains a fragment from the poem ‘The Rose’ by American writer William Carlos Williams. This work was purchased by the Hocken just this year.

The Chills and Shane Cotton – Somewhere Beautiful

Monday, June 3rd, 2013 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

Post prepared by Amanda Mills – Music/AV Liaison Librarian, Hocken Collections

Somewhere Beautiful by The Chills and Shane Cotton

New Zealand Music Month has finished yet again! While overall Hocken Collections had a quiet month, music wise, this year we played a significant part in the launch of The Chills new live album Somewhere Beautiful, held on May 31st. The recording is not your typical album release. A triple LP set in a double gatefold cover (45rpm speed, on heavy 200gram vinyl); the live album is housed in a 24” portfolio box, with original diptych prints by renowned artist Shane Cotton. Cotton’s artwork for the package is called Rolling Moon (after The Chills’ song), and the prints are mixed media, with metal foil and additional materials. Each print is unique, with different lyrics from Somewhere Beautiful silk screened onto the images. These will be collectors’ items – only 150 have been produced, and are a wonderful example of how art and music interweave, especially as Martin Phillipps’ (The Chills lead singer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter) lyrics’ are vivid with imagery, and ripe for interpretation.

 

Rolling Moon by Shane Cotton

The launch for Somewhere Beautiful was a gathering to celebrate both the work of Martin Phillipps and The Chills, and Shane Cotton, and this extraordinary collaboration.  All were in attendance (including Chills members Erica Stichbury, Oli Wilson, James Dickson, and Todd Knudson), and both Phillipps and Cotton spoke about the work. Phillipps also played a solo four song set where he performed ‘Pink Frost’, ‘Male Monster From the Id’, ‘House with A Hundred Rooms’, and new song ‘Molten Gold’ to an appreciative crowd.

Display of Chills material in the Hocken Foyer

Hocken Librarian Sharon Dell and I also collaborated with Phillipps and his manager Scott Muir to produce a postcard to commemorate the event, using an iconic piece from Phillipps’ collection. We were lucky to be able to use the leather jacket, immortalised in The Chills’ song ‘I Love My Leather Jacket’ for the postcard image. We felt very fortunate to be included in such a wonderful event!

 

The Liquid Dossier. Nick Austin 16 February – 13 April 2013

Monday, February 18th, 2013 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

Bringing together a disparate collection of paintings and sculptures and combinations thereof, The Liquid Dossier showcases works that Nick Austin created during his 12 months as the recipient of the 2012 Frances Hodgkins Fellowship at the University of Otago.

Previous works by Austin referenced socks, fish aquariums and spider-webs and were inspired by formal structures derived from concrete poetry, ideograms, puns and crosswords. In The Liquid Dossier Austin adds the concept of the McGuffin, an object of desire that drives a narrative plot but which is ultimately unimportant to its resolution, to his art making tool box. The McGuffin in this exhibition is both the dossier of the exhibition’s title and something ineffable in each of the show’s works.

Bearing a keen interest in the tactility of language and the often-strange relationship between material and object, The Liquid Dossier also dwells on the Hocken’s function as a repository of papers and pictures. In the past year Austin’s inquiry has broadened to encompass the institutional structures of the library, archive and gallery.

Simultaneously concrete and elusive, Austin’s work is always open-ended and inconclusive. As with the contents of a dossier, the works in this exhibition are loosely bound to each other in a manner that draws our attention to overlooked or absent items. As a result his works trigger fluid, accidental associations and digressive meanings rather than convey any fixed or predetermined ideas. The disjunctive space between the titles of Austin’s individual works and what is visible in them delays the inference of meaning and creates a distance that enables poetic qualities to develop.  Austin likens his work to a poetry collection that dramatises the mysteries of the creative process.

Nick Austin, Homesick, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 1450 x 1850mm. Image reproduced courtesy of the artist and Hopkinson Cundy, Auckland.

Blog post prepared by Natalie Poland, Curator of Pictorial Collections

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

 

The Hocken will take the Kushana Bush exhibition on a national tour

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

Kushana Bush, Pieta (detail), 2011, gouache and pencil on paper


In an unprecedented move, the University of Otago’s Hocken Library will take works by 2012 Frances Hodgkins Fellow Kushana Bush on a national tour that will include the Pah Homestead TSB Wallace Arts Centre in Auckland. The Exhibition,All Things to All Men: Kushana Bush continues at the Hocken Gallery until 14 April before opening at the Pah Homestead TSB Wallace Arts Centre, Auckland, on 23 April.

The exhibition, Bush’s first solo (single-artist) exhibition at a public gallery, comprises thirty-one delicate gouaches, all created last year during her tenure as the 2011 Frances Hodgkins Fellow at the University of Otago. This is an amazing feat considering the very time consuming method of applying gouache requires a high degree of precision.

Drawing on the passage in the Bible – To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some (1 Corinthians 9:22) –  the title of the exhibition puts forward a utopian notion that art can service the needs of everyone who views it. Often captured in deliberately awkward or sexually intimate poses, her ordinary folk reveal a wealth of human sensibilities and spiritualties. These intricate gouaches suggest proximity between everyday life and the spiritual realm, a feature she shares with the British artist Stanley Spencer, whose work she admires. The everyday activities that Bush’s figures perform invariably take on a ritual-like aspect.

Inhabited by a multi-cultural cast of actors, Bush’s cosmopolitan images are rich mosaics of cultural difference that unsettle Eurocentric art histories. Her satirical and often disarmingly intimate gouaches bring together constituent elements from all over the world. Many portray domestic scenes or characters engaged in daily activities including bathing, gardening and worshiping.

Bush paints exclusively with gouache (pronounced ‘gwash’), a medium first used in the 13th century in illuminated manuscripts and Persian miniature art. It is a water-based paint which has either an extremely high level of pigmentation or a chalk-like substance suspended in it. Gouache has an opaque character and, depending on the colour used, can appear very vibrant.

Visit Channel 9 online and get a virtual tour of the exhibition: http://www.ch9.co.nz/node/16967

Read the ODT feature by Charmian Smith online:
http://www.odt.co.nz/entertainment/arts/198702/artists-world-inspiration

Blog post prepared by Natalie Poland, Curator of Pictorical Collections

Ore Struck – celebrating the sesquicentennial of the discovery of gold in Otago

Friday, May 20th, 2011 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

20 May 2011 marks 150 years since Gabriel Read discovered the payable gold that led to the Otago gold rush in an area now known as Gabriel’s Gully near the Otago town of Lawrence. This momentous discovery and the gold rush that followed rapidly transformed the face of Victorian Dunedin. This exhibition, which explores the use of gold in contemporary art and photography, has been mounted to commemorate this sesquicentennial. Artisans and artists have been awe struck by this highly malleable and alluring precious metal for thousands of years.

At a time of economic hardship when the price of gold is soaring, the contemporary art and photography included in this show encourages us to look beyond the monetary worth of this precious metal and to value gold for its physical properties and symbolic associations.

The show includes more than forty artworks and photographs that either employ gold as a material or colouring, or take gold mining as their subject. There is a focus on work by artists with strong associations to Otago such as Cilla McQueen, Ralph Hotere, Mary McFarlane and Russell Moses. Other artists that feature in the show, and well known for their use of gold in their work, are Tony Lane and Max Gimblett. Photographers with work on display include Ben Cauchi and Marti Friedlander, who use the early photographic process of gold toning as well as Peter Peryer and Peter Evans who have both captured the open cast gold mine near Macraes Flat in East Otago.A small number of historical items including a fifteenth century Book of Hours from, an 18th century Russian ikon, late nineteenth century gold-toned photographs by Rev John Kinder and an album of photographs of Chinese miners who worked in various Otago goldfields, provide a historical context for the contemporary works.

David O. Robertson and the Port Chalmers Garrison Hall Mural

Saturday, May 14th, 2011 | Anna Blackman | 1 Comment

Few people had heard of the nineteenth century artist David Ogilvie Robertson before an extensive 20 metre long mural, painted by him in 1892, was uncovered last week in Port Chalmers during the demolition of Garrison Hall. According to an article in the Otago Daily Times published on 3 October, 1892, the wall hanging was completed for a Japanese-themed carnival of music and stalls. The linen mural depicted a Japanese scene from the island of Kinsu that included a bridge leading to a temple, adjacent islands and several trading junks.


In 2010 an album comprising paintings, sketches and photographs of marine paintings by Robertson, a former Port Chalmers resident, was donated to the Hocken’s pictorial collections. The 60-page album titled ‘Rough Sketches and Photographs of Oil Paintings by D.O. Robertson’ contains paintings of Japanese scenes, maritime paintings, photographs of the West Coast Sounds and ship paintings, pencil sketches, caricatures and clippings from late nineteenth century newspapers that feature reviews of his art.

Robertson was the son of the accomplished Scottish-born maritime artist Captain Thomas Robertson who first visited Port Chalmers in the 1850s. His second trip was to deliver Pirate, a 280-tonne steamer to a Dunedin company and in 1862/3 he made Port Chalmers his home. For reasons that remain unknown, Captain Robertson moved to Japan in 1871 at the age of 51 and took his son with him. Upon the Captain’s death in 1873, Robertson, then aged twenty-five, returned to New Zealand. This experience of Japan or a later pilgrimage to his father’s grave at the foreigner’s cemetery in Yokohama, may have inspired the theme of the Port Chalmers mural.

David O. Robertson attended the Otago School of Art where he was a contemporary of David K. Hutton, Nellie Hutton and Frances Hodgkins. He was awarded a first class certificate in drawing from the school in 1896. The Union Steamship Company commissioned him to paint pictures of the ships in their fleet, for display in the Company’s Wellington office. He exhibited his paintings at the Port Chalmers chemist shop owned by his brother-in-law, William Elder, and at the atelier of David De Maus, a photographer and one-time mayor of Port Chalmers.

The Hocken holds three oil paintings by Captain Thomas Robertson, whose reputation as a maritime painter surpasses that of his son’s, including one that features the Otago Harbour.

To find out more about the discovery of the Garrison Hall mural by Robertson visit http://www.odt.co.nz/print/159378

Miranda Looks Back – a reminiscence of John Gully

Monday, September 6th, 2010 | Anna Blackman | 1 Comment

Myrtle Lee was born in Taranaki in 1876. Her father was the educationalist Robert Lee, and her grandfather the painter John Gully. Lee studied at the Slade School of Art, London, and became art mistress at Heathfield School, Ascot. In the 1950s she wrote ‘Miranda Looks Back’, an unpublished book of illustrated childhood reminiscences written for children. In one chapter Lee recalls her impressions of her grandparents’ and their house at Nelson in the 1880s:

Our grandparents lived across in the other island and we all loved to go and stay with them in their large gabled wooden house with a verandah all round and a big rose garden. I slept in a wee fairy-tale bedroom up in one of the gables.
They both seemed incredibly old but I think now it was their solemn ways and clothes, and because I was so young.

There was a mystery about them – especially my grandfather, who disappeared all day and was not to be disturbed. He appeared at meals. There he sat with his white whiskers and his kind eyes with their heavy eyelids like my mother’s. I scarcely took my eyes off his face and wondered what he did all day.

I knew what grandmother did. She bustled about the house seeing to old May who did the housework. Seeing to the gardener who produced the fruit and vegetables. Seeing to her sewing parties. These latter were made up of legions of good women doing good works for the poor. They sent off crates of strange and useful garments for Dr Barnado’s Homes in England.

It wasn’t exactly a house for children – we had to be so very good, and what was worse, we wanted to be. Were they not the mother and father of our mother? Yes, and so gentle and kind. These quiet old things living in a sleepy hollow of a town were the same doughty pioneers who landed on a rough beach some 50 years before.

One never-to-be-forgotten day I was exploring the rather rambling house and found a door, usually shut, wide open. There was no one in it. It was full of light which came from a skylight, and big French windows with shutters opened into a rose garden bright with the sun. There among the roses was my grandfather. But it was the room that caught my attention.

So that was it – a studio! My grandfather was an artist. I stared at the unfinished picture on the easel, at the paintboxes and the brushes, at all the lovely paraphernalia, and I crept away, most satisfied, for from that house I knew what I was going to do when I grew up.

[Lee, Myrtle: Reminiscences entitled ‘Miranda Looks Back’. Misc-MS-1997.]

Blogpost researched and written by David Murray, Assistant Archivist.