Book Review: As You Will – Carnegie Libraries of the South Pacific, by Mickey Smith

Available in selected bookshops. 

cv_as_you_will.jpgThis is a pictorial book, and something of a labour of love for the photographer Mickey Smith. She has already presented some of her photographs in exhibitions, and her travels to remaining Carnegie library buildings were no doubt personally rewarding. However, the result is a quirky and somewhat puzzling book, even with the addition of historical images.

The book has a very logical structure, beginning with the three Carnegie libraries that are still in use as libraries, followed by the majority which have been re-purposed, then the three that have been closed for earthquake reasons. Of the 18 libraries that Andrew Carnegie funded in New Zealand, six buildings have been demolished or destroyed by a disaster. So an historical image has been found for each to complete the task.

There is a brief foreword by Charles Walker, but this does not really provide a context for the book. So there is no narrative structure, other than the logic followed by locating the buildings and photographing the remaining functions and interior space. But why were there 18 libraries funded by the Carnegie organisation in provincial New Zealand, and only four in Australia, and one in Suva, Fiji? The latter is one of three that still performs basic library functions, and the only other examples are in Marton and Balclutha, of all places.

The photographic reproductions are very good, but most of the images are of rather mundane interiors, even for the libraries that have been re-purposed. The exceptions seem to be the ones that have become restaurants or bars, such as in Dunedin and Fairlie, and the Onehunga gastropub that provides the portrait in the cover image (presumably this is of Carnegie). The only other memorials for Carnegie himself seem to be in Hokitika and Westport, in two of the libraries that are now closed. It seems that the three libraries that remain in provincial Australia still have a library purpose or have added museums.

There are two puzzling aspects to the layout of this book. The first is that, while the library architecture is actually the key focus, this is always represented by the historical images of the library being opened. There are no contemporary shots of the library exterior, with the exception of the one in Timaru, and this is only because the façade is all that remains. The second puzzling aspect is the choice of images in a landscape format, which are placed in a vertical position in the layout, which makes them seem disoriented. Meanwhile, some of the larger images do appear across the spread of the layout in the usual landscape form.

Notwithstanding the quirky layout and the lack of captions this remains an interesting book, and directs us to the influence that Carnegie’s philanthropy had, if not in the creation of the mainly provincial libraries, then at least in terms of their distinctive architectural forms.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

As You Will: Carnegie Libraries of the South Pacific
by Mickey Smith
Published by te tuhi
ISBN 9780908995608


NZF Writers & Readers: Teju Cole – Blind Spot

Tara Black reviews Teju Cole: Blind Spot. Image copyright Tara Black. 

In his new book Blind Spot, Nigerian writer and international photography critic Teju Cole features his own photography for the very first time. He discussed this with Paula Morris.

NWF18 Teju Cole


Undreamed of… 50 years of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship, by Priscilla Pitts and Andrea Hotere

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_undreamed_of_50_years.jpgArt books, coffee table books, travel books. There are so many out there and they all blur together making it hard to select one. This is not a problem when you come to Undreamed of…50 Years of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship. It combines beautiful art, interesting background and a wealth of New Zealand artists and their stories. What more could you ask for?

The Frances Hodgkins Fellowship, established in 1966, supports artists by providing studio space and a stipend for a year. The first fellow was Michael Illingworth. Now it is an established part of the New Zealand art scene.

In 2016/17, the Dunedin Art Gallery and Hocken Gallery exhibited 50 years of work from the recipients of the award. This beautifully illustrated book commemorates the event and the artists involved.

The book begins with three superb articles on the importance of art, the establishment of the fellowship and its impact. I found each of these a work of art in itself. We have Hodgkins commenting on her own art:

‘This present line of work is good… I have got well into the spirit of the place & it is yielding up riches – undreamed of, at first sight…’

This was in 1930 from Flatford Mill where she had a studio and support to enable her to work without financial worries. It is this idea that gave rise to the fellowship, which enabled an artist to focus on their work. The link to the University of Otago was beneficial to the artist who had money and space to work. Julia Morison, Fiona Pardington and Heather Straka were inspired in their work by the Medical school and many artists had their work displayed by the University.

Priscilla Pitts looks closely at the impact of the Fellowship, while Joanne Campbell charts the founding of this award. Charles Brasch preferred to stay in the background but it appears from her research, that he played an important role in the creation and continuance of this grant. It was set up initially to nurture an identifiably national culture though in fact the first two recipients were English emigres. There were two occasions when the Fellowship was in danger from financial strife, as is often the case with awards dependent on sponsorship from outside. In both cases, a solution was found and 50 years of success suggests it will continue to flourish.

Finally, and this is the bulk of the book, come the artists. These are in alphabetical order and include photos, artworks and a biographical summary. In reality, it is a Who’s Who of the New Zealand art world. While the early recipients worked in the more traditional fields of painting and sculpture, the later years include installations, moving image and three-dimensional works. When looking through these pages, it becomes apparent that the selection panel got it right, time after time. The artworks are amazing and I am just disappointed the exhibition did not travel the country and enable us all to benefit from such a rich range of creativity.

I am not sure I will still be here to celebrate 100 years of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship, but after reading this book, I am sure it will occur.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Undreamed of…50 Years of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship
by Priscilla Pitts and Andrea Hotere
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9780947522568

Dawn Chorus: The Legendary Voyage to New Zealand of Aesop, the Fabled Teller of Fables, by Ray Ching

Available in bookstores nationwide.

To understand an object, animate or inanimate, cv_dawn_chorusobserve it closely. To understand more deeply, sketch or paint it. By this measure and method of understanding, Ray Ching has a deep knowledge of the birds, trees and water courses of his country of birth, Aotearoa New Zealand.

Ching’s ‘passionate and wondrous’ rendering of the avian inhabitants of this and other countries is well known to the bird- and art-loving world. Previous books such as Raymond Ching, the Bird Paintings (1978) and New Zealand Birds (1987) have established his reputation. In recent years, Ching has begun an exploration into the classic Aesopian fables, retold and transplanted to the Antipodes. From this exploration came the 2012 book, Aesop’s Kiwi Fables. Now comes Dawn Chorus.

Dawn Chorus is the love child of several glorious unions. Ray Ching is responsible for the idea and design, the shaping of the fables, the handwritten script (reminiscent of Hotere’s), and the paintings. His wife Carolyn Ching has created the story ‘The Voyage,’ which describes the fabulous journey undertaken by Aesop’s spirit, guided by an albatross to the Land of the Long White Cloud. The news of his coming precedes him; the birds of these islands begin to assemble; there is to be a great concert in his honour. Self-appointed as court artist for this kingdom of birds, Ray Ching has then recorded the details of the various scenes (Pitt Island tuis, freshly bathed, unusually communal kingfishers, a slightly unwelcome mynah, the celebrated kakapo choir) with an expert technique.

dawn_chorus_artworkThe verisimilitude is staggering, but what elevates the artwork is the vibrancy, the style, the drama and graphic excitement. Hues, gleams and shadows substantiate the ambiguity of matter. Water eddies and ripples from a seal’s oily head in brush strokes. Beaks have texture.

Dawn Chorus is placed before a librarian, who swoons and, when she comes to, swiftly orders a copy for the Oamaru Public Library. Dawn Chorus is placed before a child, who protests.

“That is not a painting. Is it?”
“It is.”
“It can’t be.”
“It is.”
“How did he do that?”
“He practised heaps.”
“How good was he when he was five?”
“Probably pretty good.”
“Can I try?”

An hour later in front of the child there is a watercolour tieke, southern saddleback, announcing a start to proceedings. An albatross (‘from southern oceans they come, great birds with beaks of unexpected hues.’) A weka with an ankle twisted in the attempt to eat a bunch of juicy grapes. To watch the child’s concentration is to catch a microcosmic glimpse of Ching in his studio, also perhaps chewing his pencil or brush. Echoes of John Ruskin travel down the ages, Teach them to observe, to draw, to learn how things work, how they are, and hence how to love them! This is where art, society and ecology collide.

In his introduction to Dawn Chorus, Ray Ching outlines the process he uses in painting these birds and landscapes. In his studio in in the west country of England, he paints from study skins and mounted taxidermy specimens. To set them in their homeland habitat of southern rainforests, rivers and mountains, he commissioned a series of photographs, undertaken by Auckland photographer Robin Lock, who consequently traveled the islands of New Zealand, finding the birds, plants and places needed for paintings. The birds are alive again.

dawn_chorus_2The final part of Dawn Chorus is committed to the re-imagined fables; ‘Aesop lived amongst the animals of Aotearoa New Zealand for some long while and was able to leave more than one hundred fables concerning their ways, fifty of which, hitherto unseen, are included here.’ What results is the condensed verbal and graphic wisdom of Aesop and Ching, both having employed metaphor and myth to illustrate that which may be necessary for the survival of all creatures, including humans. For example:

‘A young saddleback said to his mother: “Teach me a trick that will help me escape when I am foraging for food and taken unawares by a ferocious stoat.” The other replied, “There are many tricks for escaping stoats and other enemies. But best of all is to stay safe on this island, so they neither they see you, nor you them.” (It is best to avoid low company whether they come in peace or not.)’

Ray Ching and his collaborators have allowed their imaginations to roam and forage, making bounteous use of a multi-lingual fluency: visual, verbal, maori, latin, musical, comic. There are ‘Parts’ but no boundaries to this book; it is a manifestation of the creative spirit, an intensely observed and realised gift to us and our senses, a gift, a gift!

Reviewed by Aaron Blaker

Dawn Chorus: The Legendary Voyage to New Zealand of Aesop, the Fabled Teller of Fables
by Ray Ching
Published by Bateman
ISBN 9781869538910

Ray Ching’s collection opens at Artis Gallery in Auckland today, from 16-21 December. Images above taken from the listing about this exhibition.