Tag: heritage

Vale Paul Dibble (1943-2023)

In September 1888 a tableau vivant titled ‘The Sculptor’s Dream’ was staged as part of an All Saints’ Ladies Guild Evening at the Theatre Royal in Palmerston North. Eleven members of the community, dressed in flowing garments, held poses resembling those of classical statuary. These included young women pretending to be sculptures of Flora, Grief and an angel. We know of this tableau from a photo included in a scrapbook compiled by Louisa Snelson (c.1856-1919). Her husband George Snelson (1837-1901), the first Mayor of the Palmerston North Borough Council, is posed seated astride a barrel in the character of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine.

At the centre of the tableau, Miss Eva Haynes appears as a statue of Justice, wearing a blindfold and holding a sword and scales. More than a century later in 1992, a blindfolded figure, this time holding a plumb bob and globe, was unveiled outside the Manawatū Art Gallery (Te Manawa Art Gallery) – Paul Dibble’s iconic sculpture Pacific Monarch. For the Palmerston North artist, this 4.4 metre sculpture represented the realisation of a long-held sculptor’s dream, to produce a monumental work of public art in bronze. Julie Catchpole, the gallery’s director, described Pacific Monarch as “possibly the biggest bronze ever cast entirely in New Zealand” (Manawatū Evening Standard, 21 December 1992). Its creation was made possible thanks to a bequest to Manawatū Art Gallery Society from the late Gertrude Raikes.

‘The Sculptor’s Dream’ tableau [Manawatū Heritage, 2007P_Pg82_EPN_0290]

The exhibition, Paul Dibble: Continuum is currently on display at Te Manawa Art Gallery (until 10 March 2024). Organised to commemorate the sculptor’s eightieth birthday, following the sad news of Dibble’s passing on 5 December 2023 this display also serves as a memorial tribute to a well-loved Palmerston North artist. The survey exhibition predominantly features sculptures from the late 1980s onward made from bronze, the medium that Dibble loved best and with which he has become most closely identified. He considered bronze a sensual material and sought, in his own words, to “make it sing.”

Dibble is renowned for undertaking the physically demanding and risky process of casting his bronzes himself, establishing his own foundry in Palmerston North. However, during his first two decades as an artist, the prohibitive cost associated with bronze, together with the limited financial support for sculpture in New Zealand, meant Dibble was obliged to produce the majority his art from other materials. After graduating from Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland in 1967, Dibble moved to Palmerston North in 1976 to take up a position teaching art at the Palmerston North College of Education. Part of the attraction of this role was that it allowed him to spend a couple of days a week working on his sculpture. The 1970s and 1980s was a period of intense experimentation for Dibble, during which he engaged with assemblage, conceptual and installation art.

In a 1978 news article, Dibble asserted that when it came to sculpture: “You can work in anything. As far as I’m concerned any material has in it a certain poetry. Even cheap material, rubbish even, have poetry there” (MES, 22 March 1978). At the time, Dibble was working on a large figure of Christ made of fondue cement for the chapel of Liston College in Henderson. This was one of several commissions for church art, including liturgical items such as candlesticks and tabernacles, that Dibble received during the early years of his career. The artist regarded these projects more as craftwork, but the income they provided helped fund the more creative side of his practice. In Dibble’s later sculpture the religious imagery that appears most frequently are references to the Garden of Eden and fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.

In 1981 Dibble created the multimedia installation Concrete in the Garden at the Manawatū Art Gallery. He explained that this art form was concerned with creating an immersive environment for the viewer: “Instead of making an object, you try to utilise the whole space as an expression of statement.” The impetus for Dibble’s installation was his dislike of the recently-constructed PNCC Civic Administration Building and what he considered the oppressive heaviness of its brutalist concrete form. Instead, his art work “recreated a light fragile space using thin metal rods” which established “the limits of his ‘garden’ and convey that all-important lightness – in an abstract way” (MES, 9 November 1981). Wax figures recline on strips of artificial grass, while brightly-coloured parrots are perched on the metal rods. The birds were a reference to Aotearoa’s location in the South Pacific and a nod to wooden parrots made in school woodwork classes. Ever inventive, Dibble had weighted the sheet-metal parrots with lead-filled beer bottle tops. This meant that the movements of gallery visitors caused the birds to sway gently, animating the space.

Visitors to Continuum will see that New Zealand native birds remain an important theme in Dibble’s later bronze sculptures. The exhibition also features a video showing a restaging of his art work Return of the Daffodil (1997). This piece was itself a reimagining of Spring Transfusion (1979), one of several conceptual works produced by Dibble during the late 1970s that utilised coloured dye crystals and transfusion bottles, recalling a hospital intravenous drip. In both the 1979 and 1997 works, water from the transfusion bottle passes through plastic tubing, seeping into an expanse of canvas that is gradually stained yellow. As the canvas is rotated, the amorphous stains come to resemble the petals of a flower. Despite their starkly different media and aesthetic qualities, Return of the Daffodil foreshadows and complements the sculptures of kōwhai blossoms that Dibble began producing during the 2010s. The bronze petals of these native flower glister through the addition of gold leaf, emphasising both the beauty and preciousness of nature.

During Dibble’s early years in Palmerston North, his creative practice utilised such disparate media as fibreglass, Perspex, feathers, driftwood and – in sculptures like Impossible Dialogue (1988, Massey University) – cut and folded steel plate. At first glance, these multimedia creations seem far-removed from his elegant and sinuous bronze sculptures. However, Dibble transferred the same freedom and inventiveness found in his conceptual and installation art to his later bronzes. Throughout his career, his art has been characterised by quirky juxtaposition, forms that appear precariously balanced, an emphasis on contours, and a tension between flatness and the illusion of three-dimensional volume. Like Dibble’s installation art, many of his public sculptures are designed so that viewers can walk through and around them. All Creatures Great (1996), takes the form of an arch or gateway, beckoning visitors into the Palmerston North City Library. Such works take art outside of the gallery, allowing Dibble’s sculptures to engage with and become an essential part of their surrounding natural or urban environments.

Paul Dibble left the College of Education (by then part of Massey University), in 2002 to focus exclusively on his art. In 2005 he was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit and in 2007 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Massey University. By the final decades of his career, he had achieved international recognition, with overseas exhibitions and commissions for his work. Examples of his public sculpture adorn towns and cities throughout New Zealand, but nowhere more so than in his adopted hometown of Palmerston North.

All Creatures Great, Paul Dibble, photo by Heather Glasgow [Manawatū Heritage, COMM1488916484]

Erna Ferry: local legend

Erna Ferry’s music career began in the 1980s, and nearly forty years later our local star has earned a national and international reputation.

Born in Germany, where her father (a Scottish Black Watch soldier) was in charge of helping refugees and displaced people in the Ruhr after World War II; Erna’s family moved to New Zealand when she was three.

After her father passed, when she was eleven, her mother remarried, and they started a new life in Palmerston North.

Growing up in the city, she attended Palmerton North Girls High School and developed her love of music.

“I formed a group with two of my friends called the Bluejays. We sang together and dreamed about music,” Erna recalls of her early experiences performing.

While she was a student at Palmerton North Girls High School Erna ferry and two friends formed the Bluejays, her first foray into music. Image courtesy of Erna Ferry

Post secondary school, she travelled and spent several years living in Wellington, before taking off on a seven-year OE in Europe.

After seeing the world, she returned home, got married and had children, but never envisaged singing would ever be more than a hobby.

She credits a friend encouraging her to help with scenery for a local production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, in the ’80s, as the turning point in her life.

Her big break came when the show’s director, Robert Rimmer, stopped her one day and asked if she could sing.

In need of a vivacious blonde for the starring role, Erna was encouraged by her friend to audition.

“We were travelling to Wellington in a car and I sang ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’ to a tape of Tom Jones,” she recalls.

The director liked what he heard and wasted no time in casting her as the play’s lead.

What followed, was a whirlwind experience that she describes as one of the most terrifying, exciting and satisfying times in her life. Her commitment to the show continued behind the scenes. “I made the clothes my character wore, so I could keep them after the final show. They’re still in storage,” Erna laughs.

Bitten by the performing bug, more shows followed including ’80s favourite ‘A Slice of Saturday Night’. The show proved to be a vital step in her music experience.

Cast mate Simon Bowden, introduced her to the world of jazz, showing her a song book of jazz standards.

“This was music I knew and loved. Many of the songs were the show tunes of the ’20s through to the ’40s that my parents listened to when I was growing up,” she says.

The experience opened new opportunities. Her cast mate convinced her, and another young musician, to form a band called ’After Hours’. This helped her hone her skills.

Juggling her family with her new-found career, the trio ‘After Hours’, carved out a reputation with shows across Palmerston North.

By 1993, when her jazz repertoire and reputation as a singer had grown in Manawatū, a friend entered her in a national Jazz Quest competition without her knowledge.

Erna took it in her stride. On the night of the competition, she performed until 10pm at a local restaurant with the trio, before her father collected her and drove her to Wellington for the first heat. Erna remembers arriving at midnight and having just enough time to take off her coat before she hit the stage.

“I sang three songs including ’Mack the Knife’ and won that week’s heat,” she says.

Three weeks later she took top honours at the Jazz Quest final. That was the point Erna realised she ‘had arrived’ and was part of the jazz community.

Later that year she joined jazz legend, Al Jarreau, on his New Zealand tour as the support act.

“I realised there was no money in jazz unless you were the one who was headlining, so I developed a multi-genre approach to my singing,” Erna says.

Her approach enabled her to turn her talents to performing at a variety of events from weddings to conferences, product launches, special occasions, and gigs at local bars and pubs.

In 1998 she met New Zealand jazz legend, Rodger Fox, at a festival in Whanganui. The meeting led to both a personal and professional partnership, that has spanned more than two decades.

“We were both single and we clicked personally and professionally,” she says. “Roger tricked me into putting out my first album. He secretly collected my charts from small groups and sent them to an arranger in the United States, who rearranged them and sent them back as Big Band charts,” she recalls.

With all the hard work done, she agreed to the project, and her debut album, Devil May Care, followed.

The success of this album led to a second CD in 2004, Big Blues, that drew its inspiration from her part in a World Blues review tour throughout New Zealand.

In the years that have followed, the partnership has flourished both personally and professionally, with national and international tours and recognition as a formidable force in the music scene.

Throughout it all, two constants have remained in Erna’s life – her passion for music and her connection with Palmerston North and Manawatū audiences.

While her career sees her travel far and wide, Palmerston North is still her home and the place where her music memories began.

Brazen Hussies: rebels with a cause

Aiming to shock and create conversations on frequently sensitive subjects, the Brazen Hussies were born from the challenge to be brazen and outspoken in the 1990s. A group of friends, self-confessed feminists and political thinkers, were keen to make a stand against politics and confront issues such as benefit cuts and the Employment Relations Act.

Since their first performance, outside the old Palmerston North Post Office for International Women’s Day, the group has never shied away from topical issues ranging from climate change to Don Brash speeches, to women’s health.

While their line-up has changed throughout the years, the nature of their music hasn’t. The Brazen Hussies parody popular songs with lyrics revised to highlight contentious issues and the politics of the day.

A fixture at most annual Palmerston North May Day commemorations, the Brazen Hussies have reinvented such classics as ABBA’s Money, Money, Money – with lyrics criticising the rise of capitalism and right-wing politics. Other politically themed songs in their repertoire have included, Sink the Corporate Pirates song, These Boots are Made for Walking, and What Shall We Do with the Politicians.

Dressed to impress the Brazen Hussies. Photo: Image courtesy of the Brazen Hussies.

With a strong social conscience, the group has always been focused on ‘the message’ and expressing their opinion through singing. Over their two-decade run, these solely female singers have enjoy thinking up new and interesting ways to shock.

“I’m sure some people squirm when we come along, and others think ‘what are they going to do next?’ But that’s good and it’s what we want. Singing has given us a powerful voice,” says original Brazen Hussies member, Jean Hera.

Early influencers: George & Louisa Snelson

In the early years of Palmerston North one couple helped to forge the foundations of our city, earning a reputation as its mother and father.

George and Louisa Snelson are credited with founding and initiating many of the institutions and civic projects during the 1870s and 1880s in Palmerston North. 

George emigrated to New Zealand in 1863, from his home England, travelling to Wellington on 21 February on the Earl of Windsor. In Wellington, he was employed as a clerk by E. W. Mills, an ironmonger and general merchant.

It was there that he met his future wife, Wellington-born Louisa Matilda Buck. The couple married on 6 July 1865. 

In 1870 as the newly formed settlement of Palmerston was developed, the government began to make arrangements for the emigration of Scandinavians to the area. 

E.W. Mills agreed that George Snelson, who was by then his business partner, should go to Palmerston to open a general store and ironmongery.  

In mid 1871, the general store opened and Snelson was listed in the Wellington Almanac of 1873 as ‘Postmaster and Registrar’ and ‘ironmonger, general storekeeper, and land agent, Palmerston North, Manawatū ‘. 

The Snelson’s general store and ironmonger, circa 1878. This building was owned by George Mathew Snelson, the first storekeeper, auctioneer and land agent in Palmerston North. It stood on the western side of The Square between Coleman Place and Main Street west, the site now occupied by the City Library. [Manawatū Heritage, 2009N_Bc47_BUI_2315]

Early settlers to the township were often poor and had limited English.  To provide them with a better start, George offered credit on purchases while Louisa provided a letter-writing service at 6d. a letter. She also took in boarders and cared for children in the couple’s home. 

As the community expanded, and the town grew, Snelson’s name became synonymous with a wide range of civic undertakings. 

In 1876 he was elected to the Manawatū County Council, becoming its first mayor the following year.  He served four terms as mayor between 1877 and 1901 and was also borough councillor for most of the 1880s.

His civic duties during this time increased as took on new roles, serving on the Manawatū Highway Board (later the Manawatū Road Board) and the Wanganui Education Board, he was Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and a Justice of the Peace. 

Louisa was one of approximately 523 Palmerston North women who signed the Suffrage petition, submitted to Parliament in 1893.

While George’s success in local government is evident, his two attempts to be elected as a member of parliament, in 1879 and 1893, failed.

George Snelson was the first store-keeper, first Chairman of the Manawatū Road Board, first Chairman of the School Committee, first Chairman of the Hospital Board and first Postmaster but he is best remembered as the first Mayor of the Borough in 1877, and again in 1883. 

Poster by George W Shailer, circa 1890, advertising George Snelson’s campaign for re-election as mayor. [Manawatū Heritage, 2007N_Pi1_PEO_0339]

During Palmerston North’s formative years, the Snelsons’ campaigned to have land set aside for a school. George served as the first chairman of the schools committee in 1872 and a committee member for some years afterwards. 

As the need for a hospital grew, the couple led the charge for fundraising. The first hospital opened on 21 November 1893, George served on the Palmerston North Hospital and Charitable Aid Board from 1892 and was chairman for at least two terms.

While these activities alone would have consumed many people, George’s community spirit grew year on year. He was involved with the Palmerston North Volunteer Fire Brigade, spent time as the president of the town’s musical union, was a founding member of the Manawatū and West Coast Agricultural and Pastoral Association, held the vice presidency of the local acclimatisation society, was chairman of the domain board and an avid promoter of the establishment of the city’s esplanade.

George Mathew Snelson and wife Louisa Matilda Snelson are shown here in the garden of their Fitzherbert Street home. George was the first mayor of Palmerston North and he and his wife are known as “the mother and father of Palmerston North.” [Circa 1885, Manawatū Heritage, 2008N_Bur13_BUI_1838]

Supporting her husband, Louisa Snelson’s name was as closely associated as George’s with social and religious initiatives in Palmerston North. 

In the early days of Palmerston North, Anglican church services were held at both their home and store, and on 29 September 1875 she laid the foundation stone for All Saints’, the first Anglican church in the town.

Of particular interest to her was the welfare and education of local Māori. Such was her involvement; she was believed to be fluent in Te Reo and developed close relationships with local iwi. 

In 1907 she was invited by Erini Te Awe Awe to share in the unveiling of the monument of her brother Rangitāne chief Te Peeti Te Awe Awe, which stands in Te Marae o Hine / The Square, Palmerston North. 

Following George’s death. Louisa Snelson moved to Australia in 1903. She returned to Palmerston North several years later and continued her community service and fundraising up until her death in 1919. Photo by Bunting Studio, circa 1914 [Manawatū Heritage, 2013N_Pi291_006926]

By the late 1890s, times of economic depression and poor health changed the Snelsons’ fortunes. Businesses and land holdings around Te Marae o Hine / The Square were sold, and the couple moved to Hokowhitu.

Reliant on income from his local government appointments as coroner, borough valuer, and secretary to the cemetery board, the couple struggled through harder times and occasionally sought relief from their rates charges.

In 1901 George campaigned and was elected to the office of mayor, however his return to public office was brief, presiding over only eight council meetings before passing away suddenly on 31 October 1901.

His funeral on 4 November was a major municipal event; all the shops were closed, special transport brought mourners from Feilding, and flags were flown at half-mast.

Following his death, Louisa was left in a difficult financial position which resulted in selling her home and moving to Sydney in 1903. 

Returning to Palmerston North several years later, Louisa filled her remaining years fundraising for various community causes, giving art lessons, and selling her artwork. She lived in private hotels and with friends.

On 15 December 1919, she passed away while visiting friends in Whanganui.

George and Louisa Snelson are buried at Terrace End Cemetery in Palmerston North. George died 31 October 1901 and Louisa on 14 December 1919. [Manawatū Heritage, 2020P_IMCA-DigitalArchive_030234]

The passing of Louisa and George Snelson marked the end of an early chapter in the history of Palmerston North and the reign of a couple affectionally remembered as the Mother and Father pioneers of our city.

Regent Theatre Family Tour

Curious about the stories that lie behind the Regent Theatre’s beautiful facade? Join the family tour for an hour and discover many nooks, crannies and spaces that make this jewel such a wonderful theatre. The Regent Theatre was built by theatrical and film company, JC Williamsons, in the 1930’s, during the depression. It was designed by Charles Neville Hollinshed, one of the top Australasian theatre designers. In the 1990’s the theatre was saved from demolition by the people of Palmerston North. Come and see and hear our heritage. 

Tours will run on Sunday March 26th at 11am and 1pm. You’ll be guided by Dr Tania Kopytko and Regent Theatre Manager David Walsh. Meet in the Regent Theatre foyer, Broadway Avenue. Tour is approximately 1 hour (it can be a little longer depending on questions). 

Up to 30 people per tour. Children must be accompanied by adults and stay with their group at all times, due to theatre health and safety procedures.

David Warnock Medical Museum Display

Image depicts two glass display cabinets with historical medical equipment on display within. Two anatomical charts hang behind them showing human muscle structure, including optical nerve structure.

Has this display on the first floor of the City Library caught your eye?  The vintage medical equipment is on loan from the David Warnock Medical Museum.  Its collection features medical and dental equipment spanning more than 100 years, including items dating back to the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s.  To modern viewers, some items appear like bizarre torture devices, but when first produced this medical technology was cutting edge – quite literally, in the case of amputations and surgery.

The museum was established by ophthalmologist and dedicated collector, Dr. David Warnock, and is administered by a charitable Trust.  From June 2023, the collection will have to vacate its building at the Palmerston North Hospital.  You can read more about the efforts to save the museum and its nationally significant collection here – https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/131394602/palmerston-north-hospital-tells-medical-museum-to-pack-up-and-find-new-home

As part of Palmerston North’s Heritage month, the David Warnock Medical Museum will be holding an open day on Friday 17 March.  Seize the opportunity to view this fascinating and important medical history collection in its Palmerston North Hospital venue.

David Warnock Medical Museum Open Day
Palmerston North Hospital, Heretaunga Street, Gate 5
Friday 17 March, 1-4.30pm, entry by gold coin donation.

Chief Post Office and its exciting future

Mayor Grant Smith, a self-titled ‘history-buff,’ has been a member of Heritage New Zealand for over 40 years. On Thursday 2 March for Local History Week, he presents on a topic dear to his heart, Palmerston North’s Chief Post Office. Not only did Mayor Smith open his first bank account at the Post Office Savings Bank – his future wife, Michelle, worked upstairs in the Telephone Services Department.

The Chief Post Office was one of the nation’s grandest when built in 1905. It was proudly opened in June 1906 by Prime Minister and Postmaster General, Sir Joseph Ward. The Chief Post Office served the city and wider region well over the decades, until New Zealand Post finally vacated the building in 1988. Subsequently, the grand old place housed various bars and night clubs, restaurants and function centres, before falling into disrepair.

Mayor Smith will highlight the past glory of this city landmark and its future as a soon-to-be central city hotel. He was instrumental in connecting with the new owners, the Safari Group, a New Zealand building and development company. They will restore the original Post Office structure, combining and constructing a new 86 room Wyndham Hotel at the rear of the site.

2nd Floor Central Library at 12:30pm-1:30pm.

Bus trip to Woolshed Café, Sanson

Experience a unique audio guided heritage walk (approximately 90 minutes in duration). Comprises of seven authentically restored New Zealand houses, inside and out, 1860s-1960s.

Saturday 4 March, 9.00am-12.30pm. Cost $10 (bus fare and tour)

Starting in 2012, Woolshed Café owner Alan Parker has spent a lot of time collecting and restoring period homes. The homes were unwanted and to be demolished. Alan has meticulously researched the history of each period and learnt building skills to restore the houses to their former glory. The first was an art deco house and the project grew from there. The earliest example is an 1860s colonial cottage. Each house is authentically furnished with memorabilia, down to the wallpaper of the appropriate era.

Alan hopes to add to the collection, although finding affordable houses has become more challenging.

There will be time to have morning tea at the Woolshed Café after touring the seven houses.

Wire Happy: the Shannon objectors’ camps 1942-1946

Lesley Courtney is the former City Archivist and Heritage Team Leader. Still passionate about our local history, on Wednesday 1 March for Local History Week she will present a talk written by Margaret Tate, on the objector camps that were created near Shannon during WWII.

When conscription was introduced for men aged 18 to 40 during WWII, an appeals board was also created to deal with those who objected. Overall about 40% of the men who appealed became ‘military defaulters’ and were detained in camps for the duration of the war. The Shannon camps, former flax milling sites with buildings and the possibility of useful work, were opened in 1942 and eventually housed almost half of all the men in detention in New Zealand.

This talk will focus on the people, camp life and the impact of the detention on the local population and the men and families involved.

2nd Floor Central Library at 12:30pm-1:30pm

Engineer Corps Memorial Centre Museum

NZ military engineers – known as “Sappers” or The Corps of Royal NZ Engineers (RNZE) – have served Aotearoa, the Pacific, and communities and conflicts worldwide for over 180 years. From major horizontal and vertical construction projects to combat engineering and munitions search and clearance, to humanitarian aid, disaster relief and provision of basic utilities; they make a huge contribution. For further information on NZ Sappers, visit their site.

The Engineer Corps Memorial Centre (ECMC – Library, Museum and Chapel), at Linton Military Camp, records the history of the Corps from the early 1800s to the present day. With 80% of the collection on display at any one time, visitors can view fascinating artefacts such as military engineering equipment, and displays, such as the Engineer Tunnellers (WWI) display, of key milestones and events in the Corps’ history. It’s a dynamic collection with ongoing projects being undertaken by the museum (volunteers) staff. New displays are established, and current ones refurbished. Model making, extensive scanning and digitising of archival material and photography is carried out, with interactive and electronic displays being introduced.

Engineer Tunnellers (WWI) Display

The museum and library are an excellent resource for military engineering and history, professional and technical engineering, and early New Zealand history. The good news is that you can visit the museum as part of heritage month, with tours on the morning and afternoon of Friday 24th March. Registration is required to assist group transportation and gain access to the secure Linton Military Camp.

A koha of $5 per person would be appreciated and will go towards the RNZE Charitable Trust and ECMC development.