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, 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 and in 1938 (in a lovely twist of history) the occupant is listed as Hamish Keith Photographer – 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. 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. The show was reviewed in the December 1940 issue of Art in New Zealand . 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.
Hardwicke Knight Burton Brothers Photographers
, John McIndoe ltd, 1980, pg 53
Stones Directory 1937, Pg 99
Stones Directory 1938, Pg 910
Peter Entwisle Artists in Dunedin. Memorializing Places Associated with Artists in Dunedin for The Dunedin Amenities Society Inc
. August 2005 (unpublished document)
Lisa Beaven and Grant Banbury Landmarks: The Landscape paintings of Doris Lusk.
Robert McDougall Art Gallery/ Hazard Press. 1996
Art Notes Art in New Zealand
. December 1940, vol xii, no 2 Pages 106-107
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