Archive for the 'Melanie Lovell-Smith' Category

Stolen artworks

The interior of the Chapel of Futuna, showing the crucifix that was stolen around 2000 (click for image credit)

The interior of the Chapel of Futuna, showing the crucifix that was stolen around 2000 (click for image credit)

Last week one of our lovely colleagues just forwarded a link to this news story, ‘Sculpture found 10 years and 300km later‘, about a steel sculpture that had been stolen from outside an Auckland library and found, a decade on, somewhere near Ōhakune. Someone spotted it because it had been included in a photograph on a real estate listing! Earlier this year another colleague had shared a link to Interpol’s ‘Most wanted works of art’ poster (PDF, 709 KB), which I hadn’t come across before, and which led me to look further at their website, where you can see other images of recently stolen artworks.

All of this made me wonder about art thefts in New Zealand – the ones I could remember off the top of my head were Colin McCahon’s triptych ‘Urewera mural‘, the wooden crucifix from the Chapel of Futuna in Karori, in Wellington, and the statue of Pania from the Napier waterfront.

The ‘Urewera mural’ had been commissioned for the Āniwaniwa Visitor Centre building in the 1970s. For a bit of background, you can read about the debate between McCahon, the park board and Ngāi Tuhoe about the wording on the painting on the Department of Conservation website. The mural was stolen in June 1997, in what was seen as an act of protest by Tuhoe. The work was returned 15 months later as a result of negotiations between arts patron Jenny Gibbs and Tuhoe activists Tame Iti and Te Kaha.

After the painting’s return, conservation work was done at Auckland Art Gallery and it also toured a number of other North Island galleries. It was rehung in Āniwaniwa in 2000, but seven years later the building itself was closed and the painting moved back to the Auckland Art Gallery, where it still is today.

The crucifix from the Chapel of Futuna was made by sculptor Jim Allen specifically for the John Scott-designed chapel. It was stolen around 1999–2000, at the time the land around the chapel was being developed for housing and the chapel itself was being used as storage. Police discovered the crucifix on a rural property in Taranaki in 2012. It was reinstated in the chapel in March 2013, after restoration work by conservator Carolina Izzo.

May Robin with Pania (click for image credit)

May Robin with Pania (click for image credit)

The story of Pania made national headlines when it was stolen in October 2005. The statue, modelled on local girl May Robin, was presented to the city in 1954. Fortunately, the statue was found by police the month after it was taken, and was reinstated on Napier’s foreshore.

Many of the media stories about the theft of Pania also mentioned the theft of a Paul Dibble sculpture, which had been stolen from the grounds of a restaurant on the Kapiti Coast some weeks earlier. That sculpture, ‘Long horizon’, weighed around a tonne and the thieves appeared to have carefully planned how they were going to remove it. It too was returned within weeks – in this case because a man called the local paper saying he knew where it was but wanted a reward, which he received. Although the statue was returned and the informant later convicted of blackmail, the thieves were never caught.

Looking at these examples you have to wonder whether New Zealand art thieves have a particularly odd mindset – there seem to have been a number of instances where someone just thought: ‘Wow, that’s really big. It must weigh a tonne. I’ll steal that!”

These examples were just off the top of my head. I suspected there were probably other New Zealand art thefts out there, possibly of artworks that didn’t need heavy lifting machinery to move them! And I was right: a quick search of Papers Past revealed a number of pre-1945 art thefts. One of these didn’t have the happy ending that the above examples above had – Psyche, a painting by British artist Solomon J. Solomon, was stolen from Christchurch’s Robert McDougall Art Gallery in 1942 and was never recovered.

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, dum dum de dum dum de dum dum…

The National Library's file-box Christmas tree

The National Library's file-box Christmas tree

I was down at National Library the other day and lo, I came upon, not shepherds watching their flocks, but library staff constructing their Christmas tree. And very fine it is too – a great example of what can be achieved with file boxes, fairy lights, black ribbons and paper. Oh and some printouts of various Christmas cards that the library has in its collection. (Last year the library used a stepladder as their Christmas tree – very appropriate, I thought, as they’d just moved back in after the renovations).

It reminded me of a great exhibition I’d seen a couple of years. ‘O Tannenbaum!’ was being toured by the Goethe-Institut, and was shown in Wellington at the Academy Galleries. It had some fantastic interpretations of Christmas trees, including one made from green pencil shavings, one made from a toilet brush, and a chocolate fondue fountain that was burbling green slime.

This made me wonder what else people had put up around town, and I began snapping photos as I went about my Christmas shopping in the weekend. This, thankfully, proved a distraction from the painful antipodean ritual of spending large amounts of time in the shops just as the weather improves, the sun comes out, and all my instincts are shouting ‘Go to the beach, you silly woman!’

So Christmas trees, according to Te Ara, were a German custom introduced to Britain by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, and gradually taken up in New Zealand. These days Wellington Christmas trees (at least in public spaces) fall into a number of categories, starting with ye olde plastic ones – either pretending to be real (that is, dark green) or, having given up on reality totally, in various unnatural hues: luminous pink, peacock blue or some interpretation of the corporation colours. There are various types of trees made from bare branches with lights and/or decorations. There are a number made from wood or possibly plastic, which fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. And then there are the others; like this one made from packing materials:

Creative Christmas tree, or pile of rubbish?: you decide

Creative Christmas tree, or pile of rubbish?: you decide

Or this one made from a magazine:

Creative use of magazines

Creative use of magazines

Wellington City Libraries continued the box theme, although theirs is more of a cross between an advent calendar and a Christmas tree.

Wellington City Libraries' Christmas tree/advent calendar

Wellington City Libraries' Christmas tree/advent calendar

There were also ones where my photos are so bad you can’t see them in amongst the reflections (I was snapping while shopping, shopping while snapping!) Amongst them are a nice one made from a bunch of painting canvases stacked in decreasing sizes, a very impressive knitted tree with knitted decorations and one made from chicken wire and rope lights.

And this fantastic one, consisting of a large green ladder, fairy lights, and a whole bunch of silver kitchen utensils: graters, colanders and cutlery drainers.

Utensils tree

Utensils tree

I have to confess that, although I am the office Christmas Grinch, I have a love of ‘proper’ Christmas trees that dates back to my childhood – they should be alive, they should smell of pine and, ideally, they should be hung with many old decorations, most of which have lost at least one part, if not more. I’ve often been in a minority as far as my family is concerned – we’ve had none, various native trees and one made from a garden trellis, plastic flowers, green beads and fairy lights, which I created as a joke one year, and which my mother keeps dragging out. She’s improved on it for this Christmas:

This year's Christmas tree

This year's Christmas tree

This year our ministry’s Christmas tree has been provided by our lovely receptionist Tere, who brought hers in from home. Maybe next year we could take inspiration from some of the creations above. I see a bright orange plastic fantastic (corporate colours), a pyramid of Cabinet greens* a two-metre pile of books (we do good books), or … any other ideas?

*Please note this is a joke!

Keep left!

Is it time to reinstate 'Keep left' signs on our footpaths, like this one in Dunedin's Octagon in 1926? (Click for image credit)

Is it time to reinstate 'Keep left' signs on our footpaths, like this one in Dunedin's Octagon in 1926? (Click for image credit)

Another wet, windy morning in Wellington and Lambton Quay is crowded with people trying to get to work and not drown in the process. On days like this, with everyone crowded under the verandahs, you really notice if the ‘keep left’ convention is working – that is the unspoken but generally accepted custom in New Zealand that when walking on a footpath you keep to the left-hand side.

When we had a meeting to decide on the images we would use in our recently published story on manners and social behaviour in New Zealand, it provided an opportunity for everyone’s favourite grumps to come out. They included: talking loudly on your cell phone in a public space; staff or customers who don’t say please or thank you; talking during the movies; and my pet one: not keeping left when walking!

Most of the others in the meeting didn’t have the same problem about not keeping left as I do, and afterwards I wondered if it was that I am just peculiarly rigid about this, or whether (this is my current favourite theory) that I notice it more because I’m only just over five-foot tall, and so for many people I only enter their navigational equation when I run into them, at about chest height.

If you grew up in my generation, you might not have realised that keeping left wasn’t a universal human trait until you left the country and discovered other people walk on the right (and get really grumpy when you don’t), or expect traffic to stop for them simply by walking out on the road. (Try that in New Zealand! Or rather, please don’t.) It’s one of those codes that humans develop to allow them to live in close proximity with many other humans without snapping and growling (too much), but of course these codes vary from country to country and culture to culture.

They also have to be learnt, and in some cases written into legislation – we didn’t, as a nation, wake up one morning and say to ourselves, ‘Yes, from today we will walk on the left.’ In photographs dating from the 1920s you will sometimes see the odd sign exhorting pedestrians to KEEP TO THE LEFT – like the one above of Dunedin’s Octagon; or this later one in Manners Street, Wellington. (I’m not sure whether that sign had been there since the 1920s, or whether Wellington City Council reinstated it for the arrival of the US Marines). By the time I was growing up in the 1970s such signs had vanished, the custom having been firmly engrained through three generations of parents saying endlessly, ‘Keep left, dear’ as their children blindly and happily meandered down the street.

Busy lunchtime Lambton Quay in 1977. Without the 'keep left' rule it would be (even more) chaotic. (Click for image credit)

Busy lunchtime Lambton Quay in 1977. Without the 'keep left' rule it would be (even more) chaotic. (Click for image credit)

So why did New Zealand decide to do this? Well, a quick search of Papers Past (lovely Papers Past – which enables me to draw all sorts of wild conclusions that I possibly shouldn’t) reveals that keeping to the left evolved with the growth in motor traffic. Once it had been agreed that motorists should drive on the left, and the number of cars on the road increased, it became apparent that having pedestrians walking on the right (that is on the side closest to the road), with their backs to the traffic was confusing and dangerous, and not just with New Zealand drivers.

In 1914 Sydney brought in new regulations that insisted pedestrians kept to the left and seven years later the police were claiming that there had been a notable decrease in accidents. In 1917 the Ashburton Guardian reprinted a British article that reported the London Safety First Council found you were three times as likely to be killed in a traffic accident if you stepped off the footpath on the ‘near’ (i.e. right) side, than if you stepped off from the far side, and they were recommending that the ‘keep right’ footpath rule be changed to ‘keep left’.

By 1923 Christchurch and Whanganui also had ‘keep left’ by-laws, and in July at the Municipal Conference the cities agreed that there should be one rule and it would be keep to the left. Auckland brought in a new by-law to this effect in September 1923, and Wellington’s change came into effect in December. To help people follow the change, signs, such as the ones I mentioned above, were erected, and a chalk line was drawn down the middle of major footpaths, such as Lambton Quay, for the first day. There was also a proposal to paint a white line down the centre of the footpaths of Queen Street, Auckland – I haven’t yet found a photograph of this, but I would love to see one if anyone knows of one.

Did this go smoothly? Well, by October, in Auckland, the first prosecution had taken place, with Thomas Carty appearing in front of the police court for walking on the right-hand side of the Symonds Street footpath. (I suspect this had more to do with Carty’s subsequent behaviour – as he was also charged with obstructing a constable – than his original offence). An article about the first day of ‘keep to the left’ in Wellington said that ‘there was little or no confusion. In a few instances stupid people got on the wrong side and persisted in staying there’ but overall it was seen as successful. However, three days later the Evening Post was suggesting that either the council needed to paint one side of the footpath ‘a violent yellow and the other a vivid blue’, or they needed patrolmen, because Wellingtonians were forgetting or reverting to walking on the right. Nearly 10 years later, ‘Disgusted‘ wrote: ‘the people in the streets [of Wellington] are the worst controlled I have seen … and do not seem to know left from right’. Clearly a grump after my own heart.

So, a mixed success, I would say, at first. However, I can’t find any current by-laws about this, (to be honest, I’ve only had a quick search of the major cities) which makes me think that either the by-laws did eventually become habit, or the councils couldn’t afford the prosecutions. Unfortunately, it means that I can’t fine people who continue to blunder down the right of Lambton Quay, so I will just have to continue to play chicken with them instead. If you get bowled over one lunchtime by something that takes you out around the knees, check what side of the footpath you’re on – if it’s the right, it was probably me!

Do the All Blacks miss mud?

So, this question came to mind as I was trawling through images to illustrate our just-published story: Sport and the nation.

I should preface all this by pointing out I haven’t been a rugby follower since I asked my headmaster at primary school if girls could play rugby and when he said no, I was like, ‘Well, fine, won’t bother with that then.’ So my memories of international rugby are very much based around things that were forced in front of me as a child and what stands out in my mind is the huge amount of mud everyone ended up covered in – like this:

John Kirwan and other muddy players during the 1987 Rugby World Cup (click for image credit)

John Kirwan and other muddy players during the 1987 Rugby World Cup (click for image credit)

Some of Peter Bush’s iconic rugby photos feature more mud than skin, and this 1965 photograph from the Otago Daily Times shows what the losing team does with mud, given half a chance:

Photograph by Peter Bush, courtesy of the Otago Daily Times

Photograph courtesy of the Otago Daily Times

These days, at the lower levels of rugby, players still sometimes end up looking like this:

A muddy club-rugby game (photo by Julia Vodanovich)

A muddy club-rugby game (photo by Julia Vodanovich)

But, looking through recent photos, that no longer seems true of rugby at the top levels. By half time in the last Super Rugby game I caught a bit of (Chiefs versus Crusaders) the players seemed to be heavily coloured by the sponsors’ logos painted on the field, but completely clean of mud.

I assumed that the lack of mud was because test matches are now played on artificial turf. But I was wrong – rugby apparently is not an artificial-turf type of game. The Cake Tin in Wellington appears to be actual grass – three types, apparently, on top of 7,930 tonnes of sand and 2,800 tonnes of drainage gravel. Other major stadiums, such as Eden Park and Christchurch Stadium, feature a mix of real and artificial turf, which are ‘Motz stabilised turf systems’ – whatever that is. Well, apparently it is a mixture of actual grass growing amongst a synthetic turf, which provides protection for the real stuff. It also seems to involve an infill layer, that looks to my eyes to be more sand than soil. (Should you want accurate information about this, complete with diagrams, I’d recommend visiting the Motz site.)

It would appear the lack of mud these days is a case of better drainage, more sand/less soil, some artificial turf and, I suspect in Dunedin’s case, a roof.

So do the All Blacks miss it? Presumably being tackled or diving for a try and being able to slide along the mud is easier than hitting something solid and stopping dead? On the other hand, presumably you don’t end up with a mouthful of mud.

The nearest comparison I can make is the difference between falling off a pony, via a lamp post, onto the road (ow, ow, ow) versus falling off a pony onto mudflats (less sore, but you got wet and damp and sometimes small crustaceans crawl into your clothes). On the other hand, it is easier to stomp up the road after the pony than it is slogging through ankle-deep wet sand after the pony. (Ponies taking off into the sunset always seems to be the inevitable result, not one usually seen in rugby, although I am (secretly) looking forward to the day when a Crusaders’ horseman charges into the stadium and falls off). I’m backed up in this (the difficulties of mud – not the horseman falling off) by a comment from Tiso Saolele of the Wainuiomata Rugby Football Premiers, who described running on a notoriously muddy ground at Lower Hutt as being like ‘running on sand’. (That article is also worth reading for the description of a scrum as ‘2000kgs of prime beef’).

So, whether the All Blacks miss mud is possibly an unanswerable question, but if anyone out there has an opinion, I’d love to hear of it.

Doesn't this image just fill you with nostalgia? (Photo by Julia Vodanovich)

Doesn't this image just fill you with nostalgia? (photo by Julia Vodanovich)

Happy Easter (unless you’re a rabbit)

Chocolate Easter rabbits and eggs in a basket

Chocolate Easter rabbits and eggs in a basket

Last night I noticed that the glow of the almost full moon had been joined by the glow from the large illuminated cross attached to the Mt Victoria radio mast, so there must be a Christian festival approaching soon. Given that the supermarkets are pumping out the smell of spiced buns rather than mince pies and their shelves are bestrewn with glittery glowing eggs, chickens and bunnies, I’m picking it’s Easter.

The commemoration of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection has been observed in New Zealand since the mid-1800s. In the northern hemisphere, it had been grafted onto pre-Christian traditions of celebrating the arrival of spring (or so I was always told), which doesn’t work so well on this side of the globe. If you’re not a winter lover, then you too might feel that actually what we need is a funereal celebration to get us in the right mood for the cold and dark to come.

However, it’s always a holiday! For most people. And there are the traditional things to eat and do. Mostly eat - hot cross buns and chocolate and more chocolate and even more chocolate. The range of Easter eggs available in the shops has hugely increased over my lifetime, but one that is now missing is New Zealand-made Cadbury crème eggs. I remember when they hit the shops in the 1980s - having a dribbly, gooey, unbelievable sweet filling was so different from either the hollow or marshmallow filled ones that had been standard before that (at least in our house). Apparently (and sadly) Cadburys no longer make them in their Dunedin factory - they stopped in 2009, and the crème eggs you now see are imported from the UK. Not everyone was happy about this, with some people complaining that the British eggs weren’t as good and a couple of Facebook campaigns were started up to try and reverse the decision (without any success so far).

Other egg-related traditions - nothing like a good Easter egg treasure hunt. I remember with great fondness a family friend who probably did the best Easter egg treasure hunts ever. They roamed over acres of land, and one year I remember it involved catching the donkey to get the next clue, or possibly an egg? Thinking back, it must have been a clue, as that donkey would have eaten anything remotely egg-like put in front of it, behind it or on top of it, tinfoil or not.

So hot cross buns, eggs, hens and rabbits. The symbolism of hot cross buns seems straightforward enough, and eggs - resurrection/rebirth/birth - there’s a link there, and from there to chickens - ok the endless question of who came first the chicken or the egg, similarly there’s a logic that I can see, but rabbits?

Rabbits?!?!

According to some, rabbits are the symbolic remnants of a festival held to honour Eostre, a northern goddess whose symbol was the hare (or rabbit). Others have suggested that rabbits are seen as a sign of fertility, (hence the phrase “breeding like rabbits”) and that is why they are associated with spring and therefore Easter. However, I got frightened off looking into this further by the number of intense (and frankly scary) debates out there in webland as to whether Eostre is linked to Easter at all, whether the holiday does or doesn’t have pagan links, where rabbits come into this, and whether it matters at all.

Here in New Zealand one of the more pragmatic ways we’ve dealt with Easter and rabbits is to spend the long weekend shooting them. According to Wednesday’s Otago Daily Times this year more than 400 hunters are expected to spend 24 hours from Friday to Saturday hunting the pests. (As you can see from the entry on rabbits in New Zealand they have been a pest pretty much since they arrived in the country). The hunt has been running since 1991, is organised by the local Lions Club as a fundraiser, and tallies of dead bunnies have ranged from a record 23,949 in 1997 to the low of 3,694 in 2001.

Luckily for small children everywhere, none of those shot so far have turned out to be an oversized white rabbit with a basket of Easter eggs. Happy Easter!