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French cultural group celebrates 100 years in Wgtn

French cultural group celebrates 100 years in Wellington

Harold Beauchamp, father of one of New Zealand's greatest writers, Katherine Mansfield, is remembered in the Alliance Française of Wellington Centenary Exhibition celebrating 100 years of the French speaking group he co-founded in 1908. This April 22 - May 4 event at the Michael Fowler Centre honours French speaking citizens of Wellington, who responded to a letter in the Evening Post, 18 June 1908, and created the Cercle Littéraire Français de Wellington (Wellington French Literary Circle), which became the Alliance Française of Wellington in 1985 and now has over 1000 members.

The opening on April 22 will be attended by family representatives of three other co-founders: Phoebe Myers, Louis Duflou and Alexander Grant.

The exhibition, with text in both French and English, features aspects of the Cercle/Alliance history; annual events like balls, concerts, 14 July activities, and the Beaujolais nouveau celebration; French honours awarded to Wellington residents; shared French and New Zealand interests such as rugby; and ongoing Alliance activities such as French language classes for all levels and ages. In the "classroom" at the exhibition there are also simple language activities for children.

The exhibition brings together a folk costume from Alsace, ball gowns from the 1970s and 1980s, and black and white photographs from the 1940s-1960s of dramatic productions featuring local students of French, some of whom later became noted diplomats and academics.

One striking black and white photograph (1947) portrays the patriotic zeal of a group of French women in Wellington, knitting garments for World War II soldiers and orphans back in France. Another, from the 1950s, portrays well-known local French woolbuyer, Victor Vivequin, in the elaborate encrusted costume of the leading lady from Les femmes savantes. The leading lady had become sick and he had to play the role on the last night. According to the story told by his son, Pierre Vivequin, a member of the audience was so taken with the charm of this actress that he asked to be introduced after the show!

Eric Dorfman, concept designer, and his team at Eklektus Inc. have included a sound montage of excerpts from the Alliance's Oral History Centenary Project interviews, which provides a spoken insight into the lives of French-speaking people in Wellington and changes in New Zealand society since the 1930s.


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