Ngā Puhipuhi o Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection was initiated by university staff in 1947, who voted to set aside funds to enable original works of New Zealand art to be purchased and hung in the University common room.
Following their first purchase of Sam Cairncross’ Daffodils (1946) in 1948, the Staff Club continued to acquire original New Zealand pictures. In 1955 they bravely decided to buy a work by expatriate artist, Frances Hodgkins. The acquisition of Kimmeridge Foreshore (c. 1938) stretched funds, but provided a stunning addition to a collection that was fast becoming representative of twentieth-century New Zealand art. The Staff Club maintains a fund for the purchase of works of art to this day.
In 1958, Victoria’s Council made an annual grant of £100 available to establish a collection of pictures that would ‘eventually constitute a valuable historical record of the graphic arts in New Zealand’. (1) A Purchase of Works of Art Standing Committee was formed to suggest and approve acquisitions. As the first staff representative, Douglas Lilburn oversaw the purchase of a number of significant works including Colin McCahon’s Otago Landscape (1950) and Toss Woollaston’s Landscape with Fire (1960). Such purchases laid the foundations for a collection that featured works by contemporary New Zealand artists.
In 1961, Mr and Mrs T. D. H. Hall gifted 29 works of early twentieth-century New Zealand art. T. D. H. Hall was a law graduate of Victoria and later Chief Clerk of Parliament and his wife, Kate McKenzie, was the daughter of Professor Hugh McKenzie and also an alumna of Victoria. Their generous bequest featured watercolours by Petrus van der Velden, Sydney Thompson, D. K. Richmond, Harry Linley Richardson and Nugent Welch among others. This historical collection complemented the more recent works acquired for the Art Collection. With the exception of the gift of fourteen works by Trevor Lloyd (1863–1937) by his descendent and alumnus Peter John Lloyd in 2012, attempts to create a fully historical collection were quickly abandoned due to market realities.
A key figure in the history of the Art Collection is Emeritus Professor Tim Beaglehole. Tim became the staff member on the Committee for the Purchase of Works of Art in 1963, taking over the role from Douglas Lilburn. This committee was convened by R.S.V. Simpson, a member of the University Council (and later Chancellor), and its members consisted of the Director of the National Art Gallery, the President of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, and (from 1966) the University Librarian, who were later, in the mid 1970s, joined by a student representative.
Tim developed his interest in art from his father, J.C. Beaglehole, also an historian at the University and one of the founding figures in the early history of the Art Collection. His particular interests were further shaped during his postgraduate studies at Cambridge where he developed a taste for twentieth-century painting and sculpture he saw in museums and galleries, by listening to lectures by Nicholas Pevsner on the history of European art and architecture, and in particular, by enjoying Kettle’s Yard, the home and gallery of Jim Ede with its collection of works by Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi, David Jones, Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. Back in New Zealand and in his new role as lecturer in History at Victoria, Tim was also inspired by Frederick Page, Professor of Music who he claims, ‘taught [him] to use [his] eyes’, and a little later, by Peter McLeavey, who began selling works by contemporary New Zealand artists in 1966. (2)
For thirty years Tim was the Art Collection’s driving force, purchasing the work of new artists with an informed eye, a limited budget (never more than $10,000 per year) and using the Committee as sounding board. Tim largely drew on what was shown in Wellington. He added important works by leading and emerging New Zealand artists such as Helen Stewart, John Drawbridge, Don Binney, Gordon Walters, Milan Mrkusich, Richard Killeen, Pat Hanly and Philip Trusttum. His most important acquisition was undoubtedly the magnificent painting by Colin McCahon, Gate III (1970). In all he added more than 160 works to the Art Collection.
Staff fondly remember Tim’s custodial commitments to the Art Collection, as he was the person usually to be found with hammer and ladder hanging pictures firstly in the vicinity of the Library and then increasingly around the wider campus. He particularly enjoyed winning over reluctant academics by leaving particular works in their company until they slowly grew attached to them. He was also involved in explaining the purpose of the Art Collection when it was exhibited in 1984 at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington, and again at City Gallery Wellington in 1994. Fellow academic John Roberts, a regular commentator on the arts in Wellington, described Tim as ‘the amateur of art immersed in the visual culture of the society by lifelong active interest’. (3)
After his retirement from his academic position in 1994 he handed over responsibility to the newly appointed head of Art History, Jenny Harper, who went on to assume responsibility for acquisitions until this role was assigned to Zara Stanhope, the inaugural director of Te Pātaka Toi Adam Art Gallery, the institution established in 1999 to professionally manage the Art Collection. Tim was a member of the steering committee that oversaw the establishment and construction of the Gallery and was a founding member of its Advisory Board as well as a trustee of the Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection Trust that was established in 2000 to oversee the care of the Art Collection, and the Victoria University of Wellington Funding Trust that was established at the same time to manage the invested funds from the controversial sale of a work by Colin McCahon (Storm Warning, 1980-1), which was set up to support an ongoing acquisition programme.
In 2006 Tim retired from these various roles, gracefully stepping aside with the satisfaction that the Art Collection, now numbering over 400 items, was in safe hands. He died in 2015 and his legacy is remembered in a plaque installed in the Robert Stout Building, and in the gift of a painting by Rita Angus, Mother Watching TV, Napier, 1969, through a bequest from the Beaglehole family.
In 2009 174 items from the Wellington College of Education Collection were formally accessioned into the Art Collection, as a result of the amalgamation of the College and the University. This collection was formerly housed at Karori in the buildings designed by Bill Toomath that have been substantially altered since the Faculty of Education was relocated to the Kelburn Campus and the site sold to Ryman Healthcare. This collection is notable for its focus on works by artists associated as visiting artists, staff and students of the College. It developed with funds fund allocated annually to the College’s Art Committee, as well as through gifts from staff and students, artist residencies resulting in the production of works in collaboration with students and staff; and the use of library fines as a kitty to be spent on works of art to enhance the campus spaces. The collection features works by Robyn Kahukiwa, Robin White and Ralph Hotere and is particularly strong in photography, holding works by Peter Blackman, Robin Morison, Anne Noble, Kenneth Quinn, and Ans Westra.
In 2010 the Art Collection was further enhanced by a gift of 15 works from the collection of art historian Gordon H. Brown. This gift consists of drawings and paintings by Joanna Braithwaite, Philip Clairmont, W. D. Hammond, Jeffrey Harris, Mary McIntyre, Don Peebles, Philip Trusttum, Olivia Spencer-Bower and Toss Woollaston. Further gifts of works by Melvin Day and Philip Trusttum attest to the respect in which the Art Collection is now held.
In 2021 with a major Museum Hardship Grant from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage provided through National Services Te Paerangi, the Collection catalogue has been checked and upgraded and is now available as a searchable database. An audio guide for works on the Kelburn Campus has also been made possible through this grant.
In 2022 a te reo name for the Art Collection was gifted by the office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor Māori. 'Ngā Puhipuhi o Te Herenga Waka' plays on the Māori name of the University and our marae as the mooring or hitching place of canoes. It extends this metaphor by referring to the collection as the puhipuhi, the feathers that are used to adorn, draw attention to, and enhance the mana of waka, people, and weapons. This name acknowledges our commitment to caring for and sharing the knowledge and mauri held within the artworks in our collection in a way that upholds their mana.
Now numbering more than 600 items Ngā Puhipuhi o Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection has grown to become a nationally significant collection of modern and contemporary art by some of Aotearoa’s best known artists. With the professional management of Te Pātaka Toi Adam Art Gallery, the collection has diversified with the addition of photographs, moving image, installation and conceptual art works. These can be found in the public spaces of all the University campuses. The Art Collection is also regularly utilised as the basis for exhibitions at the Adam Art Gallery, and as a resource for teaching.
Currently the Art Collection Trustees are:
Associate Professor Tina Barton, AAG Director, ex officio
Dr Sandy Callister
1) Council Minutes, 12 August 1958, quoted in Rachel Barrowman, Victoria University of Wellington 1899-1999: A History, Victoria University Press, 1999, p. 297.
2) Tim Beaglehole quoted in Victoria's Art: A University Collection, published 2005 by Te Pātaka Toi Adam Art Gallery at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, page 10.
3) New Zealand Listener, 15 Dec 1984, p. 61.