Royal email a fitting touch for exhibition
The email from Prince Philip’s office last week was the icing on the cake for Claire Clark.
The Titahi Bay resident is the organiser of a stunning exhibition that opened at the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul on April 17. It features nearly 100 works by New Zealand servicemen stationed overseas in World War I.
A few days after opening night, as Clark was enjoying some downtime, the email from Prince Philip, who is the Admiral of the Fleet of the Royal New Zealand Navy, popped into her inbox.
‘‘I had been in touch with Prince Charles’ office and Prince Philip’s, as I thought this exhibition was something that would interest them, and was so happy to get replies from both their offices,’’ she said.
‘‘I sent a link from the opening night, with photos, to Prince Philip, and to get a letter of best wishes was truly, truly wonderful.’’
The idea for the exhibition came to Clark when she was sketching in London in 2013.
She saw the build-up to the World War I commemorations and wondered how Watercolour New Zealand – of which she is vicepresident – could be involved.
‘‘ A lot of how it would take shape came to me on the flight home [to New Zealand]. We had an exhibition for the Queen’s diamond jubilee in 2012 and I remembered the amazing atmosphere around that.’’
Grants totalling $33,500 were received from Lotteries – nearly all of what Clark asked for.
Finding works by New Zealanders who had served in World War I proved easier than she thought, mostly through word of mouth in the arts community.
Some incredible works have come to light, particularly rare watercolour paintings and pen and ink sketches by Lieutenant Esmond Atkinson and his brother, Lieutenant Hal Atkinson, of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and Corporal Ernest Casey and Sapper Sydney Higgs of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
The works by the Atkinson brothers, including international fleets at berth in Scotland and the Mediterranean, showed both skill and humour, Clark said. Casey is her favourite, though. ‘‘He was a gifted artist and he had a passion for merchant and naval shipping, so he fulfilled his dreams by going to war on a ship.
‘‘He experienced the horrors in France in 1916-17, but died in New Zealand in 1918, during the influenza epidemic.
‘‘ There are no known photographs of him and little is known of his family. I left an invitation to the opening at St Paul’s on his grave in Karori Cemetery.’’
The Casey collection of more than 20 works has been gifted by the owners to the National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy in Devonport. The Navy was very supportive as the exhibition came together, Clark said.
‘‘The outcomes in this whole process have been rewarding.
‘‘There has been two years of decent slog and a few hiccups along the way, but I’m so pleased with the way the exhibition turned out. I was lucky in many instances, but had a great team that worked very hard.’’
Cardinal John Dew, members of the artists’ families, students from the artists’ Wellington colleges and serving naval personnel turned up to the opening night.
The exhibition closes on May 3, but a national tour is in the works. Works by Watercolour New Zealand members are also displayed and for sale.
Claire Clark with members of a Gurkha company, in New Zealand for World War I commemorations, who attended the exhibition’s opening. From left, major Mark Shields, warrant officer Lalit Gurung, Claire Clark, captain James Harryman, corporal Sojit Gauchan.
Naval action off Coronel, Chile, by corporal Ernest Casey.