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Archive for June, 2010

In March 1966, an essay by Colin McCahon was published in the journal Landfall in a series called “Beginnings”. It looks back over 40 years to his very early days in Otago and is often quoted, as it is one of the few written pieces by McCahon to be published.

In one section, he recalls some shops built next to his house in Highgate, Dunedin and of the influence of watching the signwriting being done on the window of the Hairdresser and Tobacconist’s store next door to Mrs McDonald’s fruit shop and dairy. McCahon writes that following this he “did a lot of sign writing. Our house was in white roughcast but the doors to various backyard ‘offices’ were of wood and offered surfaces well suited to poster painting.”

It crossed my mind that perhaps these little shops were still there and I had the McCahon house’s  Highgate address. I was very excited when I thought I’d found them, but the lovely people at the City Archives enlightened me to a newby researchers trap – the renumbering of streets. However the archivists were very happy to provide me with the following:

The McCahon house is apparently still standing, with some modifications, and is now XXX Highgate [several 100 numbers different the original address and at the far northern end of Highgate]. The shops which were beside it, with the owner’s house, have been demolished and replaced as far as we can determine. The information taken from the Valuation Rolls is as follows:

1923-4: Property bought by John K. McCahon
1926-7: William McDonald, the neighbour had a house and 2 shops on the site
1928-9: Annie McDonald occupant of neighbouring property with two shops
1929-30: McCahon house now owned by XXXX

Snooping further in the Stone’s Directories of the 1930s, in 1929 I found the first mention at this location of “Wm McDonnell, Hairdresser”. Gone again in the 1930 directory. Of course I gather you had to pay to be in the directory and with the crash of 1929 who knows what happened.

In the book “Above the Belt: A History of the Suburb of Maori Hill” by Jane Smallfield and Brian Heenan, there is a chapter on the ‘rise and decay’ of retail shops in this area and it notes that these small stores were still there operating as a fruiterer in 1961. Sadly there are no photographs to be found. I checked in the Hocken Collections and with Jane Smallfield and had no luck. Smallfield does clearly recall the shops when she lived in the area as a child though.

So I thought, as an exercise in crowdsourcing, wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could locate a photo of these shops – especially from the 1920s and with the signwriting in place that so impacted on McCahon. I mean somewhere there will be a photo surely. Maybe the descendents of the shops owners??

Oh and the white roughcast house is still there (and you can just see where the shops were next door – replaced by a newish house).


It must have been quite new when the McCahon’s moved in.

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Busy, busy , busy

I am working on some great stories for you all….

In the meantime, amuse yourselves with this:

Create your own still life online using John Baldessari’s In Still Life 2001-2010

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An update on my ‘Who Cares’ story regarding the old Dunedin Art Gallery at Logan Park.

There was a hearing regarding plans for it yesterday. It was written up in the Otago Daily Times here. I should have said in my other post, that the original building from the 1925 South Seas exhibition has already had its ‘wings clipped’ with several bays lopped off. The council wants to remove more bays and other additions to make way for expansion of the University Oval cricket ground. It seems that the compromise for doing this is the restoration of what’s left.

What is sad, is that as a Category 1 listed building, it should never have been altered as it has been, but I am all for making the best of what we have left now.  This is a lesson in getting buildings listed and the differences between category 1 & 2.

On this point, I have to note that the UFS building that I wrote about with its extensive cultural and interesting architectural history is not listed with the Historic Places Trust at all. I hope to remedy that.

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I have found when you are doing research (which a friend of mine likes to call ‘snooping’), you always end up on interesting little tangents that you have to leave out. So here are a few from the last week or so.

In 1936, Toss Woollaston mounted a significant exhibition of his work. This exhibition was seen by a young Colin McCahon and is widely touted as a major influence in his artistic life. McCahon also wrote about it in his ‘Beginnings essay in Landfall (March 1966). Woollaston had rented a shop in ‘Broadway’, Dunedin which was a 1930s version of the shopping Mall. Actually Broadway had been an arcade since it was built in 1861. It was rebuilt in brick, with a glass roof in 1875 and then replaced again in 1929 by a “spanish styled arcade of 30 shops”* .  There are photos around of the Victoria structure but not the 1930s one. To me the funny aspect is that the arcade was bought by the council and knocked down and The Warehouse was built on the site.

EDIT: The lovely people at the Hocken Collections have forwarded me some photos of Broadway in its 1930s incarnation. Worth taking a look at.

The next little reference was in the December 1940 issue of Art in New Zealand. I was searching for references to the Doris Lusk exhibition, but also found this in the notes from the 64th Annual Exhibition of the Otago Art Society.

“The paintings of Anne Hamblett are charming in their unusual and delicate colour…another young artist, C. McCahon, displays a strong constructive element – so lacking in many artists.”

I love this stuff.

*Paul Hayward. More Intriguing Dunedin Street Walks. Printed by Express Office Services, Dunedin (1998)

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A while back I posted about the old studio of Doris Lusk (and others) here in Dunedin. I don’t know why, although possibly due to my studio hunting back north, I thought I’d just walk in and the studio would be there, largely unchanged after 70 years. Well it wasn’t – although more intact than it could have been after such a long time.

Let me start at the beginning and clear up a mistake I made in my last post. The building is not an art deco one – the old lady has had a facelift along the way. The building was actually constructed in 1867 replacing a wooden structure that burnt down in a big fire that destroyed most of Princes Street. Tofields jeweller rebuilt a two-storeyed brick and stone building on the corner site. In 1873 Burton Brothers Photographers moved in, adding another storey and extending the building along Moray Place while the jeweller remained in the shop. Burton Brothers were one of the pioneers of photography in New Zealand and their alterations included one of the largest studios of the time[1], lit by huge skylight windows.

Burton Brothers were taken over by business partners Muir and Moodie in 1896 and the building became ‘The Great Postcard Emporium’ (see image below). The skylights and windows can be seen in this picture as well as the Victorian detailing of the building. Over time the postcard craze waned and the United Friendly Society Dispensary took over the shop on the corner while the studio remained active upstairs. The books Dunedin Then and Burton Brothers: Photographers by photographer and historian Hardwicke Knight have a great series of photos showing the evolution of the building to this point and details on the use of the building by Burton, Muir and Moodie – including the north facing roof being used for racks of printing frames.


Taken from Dunedin Then and Now by Harwicke Knight. Plate 19. (click for larger versions of all images)

Various photographers used the studio after Muir and Moodie. In 1937 the Stone’s Directory lists Crown Photographers occupying the studio floor[2] and in 1938 (in a lovely twist of history) the occupant is listed as Hamish Keith Photographer[3] – that would be Hamish Keith Senior.

During 1938 the studio was taken over by artist Max Walker and then Doris Lusk, Anne Hamblett (later McCahon) Dick Seelye, Mollie Lawn and Morris Kershaw. Curator and local historian, Peter Entwisle’s interviews with these key figures and others suggest that Rodney Kennedy, Patrick Hayman and Colin McCahon were frequent visitors to the studio[4]. During this period Lusk painted a portrait of Colin McCahon, seated at the windows and with the City Hotel in the background (no longer there) and apparently wearing Rodney Kennedy’s father’s waistcoat.

McCahon writes: “Doris Lusk. Portrait of C. McC. oil Unsigned & untitled. Late 30s in her Dunedin studio.Above U.F.S. Dispensary opposit City Hotel. c. 17 x 14 Blue Harris tweed coat by H.B. @ £3.3 (with pants)- waistcoat of R.E. Kennedy, Father- with turquoise blue spots”

The photo of Lusk in the studio under the ‘south lights’ was taken around 1940 when she held her first solo show in that studio[5]. The show was reviewed in the December 1940 issue of Art in New Zealand [6]. This group of artists seems to have moved out and dispersed after Lusk’s 1940s show and at the same time the building underwent some major changes.

There is some debate about when the building had its facelift, but in the Hocken Collections I found the Miller & White Architects’ drawings regarding the work dated 1940. Here is a before and after elevation showing replacement of the Victorian details with 1940 deco plaster work including the U.F.S. logo.

More plans dated 1945 show the removal of the skylights and windows, replaced with a new façade and windows to match the rest of the building and a change in roofline. The floor plans show the former studio area now converted to a storeroom with doors and walls re-arranged and that is how it has remained.

BUIDLING PLAN IMAGE REMOVED
(Hoping to get a much clearer image with permission from the Hocken Collections)

I took these next photos of the exterior building as it is now and the interior shot after the current occupant kindly showed me around. The wooden floor is original and two large skylights installed with the 1945 change in roof elevation remain. There are many details intact indicating former floor plans and Victorian ceilings and old fireplaces in some parts. The smell of incense has replaced any traces of turpentine or photography chemicals, and I found no paint splashes (as there are in Phillip Clairmont’s former Waikanae studio/garage) but the bones are there and the beautiful light makes it easy to imagine the former occupants…

My camera refused to take a decent picture inside the studio – ironic considering its former use.

A huge thanks to all who helped me along the way with this detective work (research) especially Peter Entwisle, Elizabeth Kerr, David Murray from the Hocken Collections and the staff at the McNab room of the Dunedin Central Library – and my Twitter followers.


[1] Hardwicke Knight Burton Brothers Photographers, John McIndoe ltd, 1980, pg 53
[2] Stones Directory 1937, Pg 99
[3] Stones Directory 1938, Pg 910
[4] Peter Entwisle Artists in Dunedin. Memorializing Places Associated with Artists in Dunedin for The Dunedin Amenities Society Inc. August 2005 (unpublished document)
[5] Lisa Beaven and Grant Banbury Landmarks: The Landscape paintings of Doris Lusk. Robert McDougall Art Gallery/ Hazard Press. 1996
[6] Art Notes Art in New Zealand. December 1940, vol xii, no 2 Pages 106-107

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Me! Because art and history are important to me, I get hooked up in my research sometimes – and probably drive other people crazy. Oh well, here is another instalment in my “Art History of Dunedin” series. I was having a bit of a moan recently about historical sites being destroyed. Well as for the old Art Gallery Building at Logan  Park , it’s not as bad as it first seemed.

Here is a photo of the building as it was for the 1925-26 South Seas exhibition. The Gallery building is the long symmetrical brick one running from the far middle left of the picture, behind the building with the dome.


Part 1 of a 2-part panorama at the opening of the Dunedin Exhibition, 17 November 1925

It was built as an art gallery and after the exhibition was bought by the Sargood family and donated to the city as a new gallery. Over the years various additions were made until 1996 the gallery moved to current site in the Octagon in the refurbished DIC building.

The old gallery has most recently been used by the Sports Academy and Highlanders Super 14 rugby team. I’ve been told that the tenants and the land lord (the City Council) assumed the building would be bulldozed so the inside plaster work has been badly damaged, although the structure is meant to be sound. The current plan is the bulldoze all the additions and leave the original building standing with the 1970s entrance removed and old portico restored(Correct me if I’m wrong). This probably seems fair. The building is noted as a significant structure on the District plan and its location lends its self to some interesting possible uses, while retaining the heritage values. Lets hope!

But look – this is what happens when a former gallery becomes an indoor sports centre:

More photos here . NOTE: These photos were taken 2-3 years ago and I am told there is way more damage now.

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The experiment

Well, I almost blogged every day for the month of May. It turned out to be all about quantity not quality of course. Maybe I should stick to a more realistic regime like Giovanni.

One observation has been that social media like Twitter and Facebook detract from my blogging and when I am doing frequent blogging any of my more serious writing suffers. So I’m thinking about doing something a little different with this blog in future. Wait and see….

I will do a separate post about the Sèraphine Pick show that opened here last night at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, but I do want to note that indeed there were women wearing Doc Martens and, although just a bit of fun, the horse was the escape route.

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