Poetry event to offer glimpse of huge art collection

09 October 2018

Whanganui High School student Ben Power will be playing a musical interlude at the Poetry event held in the Sarjeant Gallery.

Poetry, visual art, music and Whanganui history combine in an event that is thought to be the first of its kind held by the Sarjeant Gallery, Sunday 21 October at 4.30pm.

Poet Airini Beautrais has joined forces with the Gallery to present a selection of readings from her latest publication Flow. The poems, which depict the environment and various stages of human settlement along the Whanganui River, will be accompanied by a slide show of images from the Sarjeant's permanent collection. 

An introduction by Curator of Collections Jennifer Taylor Moore will give a brief overview of the selected works and where they fit in the collection, and 17-year-old pianist Ben Power will play a musical interlude. Paiges will be on site to sell copies of Airini's book and refreshments will be available.

The event is the brainchild of Sarjeant Gallery Relationships Officer, Jaki Arthur. Arthur who has a background in books and writing in Sydney, and had the idea when reading Flow, as a way to get to know her new home-town.

"I loved reading it" says Arthur "they are the history, stories and scenes of Whanganui, the people and the river told as poems.

When I was reading Flow I realised that many of the poems corresponded to images that I have seen in the Sarjeant's permanent collection.

So, as I read my mind would automatically go to Frank Denton's Whanganui photographs taken in the early 1900's for example and the beautiful Dorothy Richmond paintings which depict the river in the early 1920's.

Whanganui is very fortunate to have the Sarjeant collection and to have a respected poet such as Airini here makes us doubly lucky in my opinion."

Beautrais will read twelve poems in two time slots and show images of twenty photographs, lithographs and paintings from the Sarjeant collection.

To choose the images she and Taylor Moore used the prize winning digital search portal on the Sarjeant website called Explore the Collection, which anyone can access, anywhere at any time. Taylor Moore also took Beautrais into the Sarjeant collection store.

"We had a lot of fun looking through the archives and the collection store, which really brought home to me how influential and valuable the Sarjeant collection is – what a range of works there are! That visit really helped me understand the rationale for the Sarjeant redevelopment project," Beautrais said.

She said many of the artists whose images she has chosen have lived in Whanganui at some point. Her presentation is also a way for the public to see works that have not been exhibited much. "There is a Joanna Paul drawing, Plato's Cave/Whanganui River. She lived here until her death and I thought that because I knew her personally, it would be nice to have her in there. It's a really beautiful drawing."

Other images include Ans Westra's Baxter Commune, Hiruharama (1972), Anne Noble's The gorge above Pipiriki (1982), Castlecliff Beach and Wanganui River by Frank Denton and Rape of the Whanganui, a painting by Jane Zusters.

Many of these images have not been publicly seen for a long time as the gallery is only able to display a relatively small number of collection works at any one time.

Arthur says "The redevelopment will allow the collection to be more accessible to the public than it has ever been before. It represents a significant proportion of New Zealand's cultural heritage and the redevelopment will secure and protect the collection"

It's the collection that underpins the central Government funding of the redevelopment. "Without the collection to protect, the Sarjeant would not have secured the $10million from the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage"

The seventy or so works currently on show at Sarjeant on the Quay are a tiny proportion of the huge collection.

It's our time to make sure the Gallery and its collection is looked after and enjoyed well into the future and remains - as Henry Sarjeant stated in his bequest in 1912 – a means of inspiration for ourselves and those who come after us.

By Helen Frances
Whanganui Chronicle 9/10/18