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Internationally re-known sculptor to be celebrated

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Media Release

Celebrating a Wanganui treasure

The life and work of Wanganui’s Joan Bullock Morrell is about to be showcased with the December launch of a book about the internationally-recognised sculptor.

Joan Bullock Morrell: Sculptor, written by Wanganui-based author Valerie Cowan, is a lavishly-illustrated book which examines Joan's inspiration for each of her sculptures and takes the reader through the creative process of sculpting. Joan is recognised as being at the forefront of sculpting in New Zealand – a medium she has pursued since the 1960s.

Valerie Cowan is no stranger to telling the stories of extraordinary New Zealanders. Her previous books include Pigs and Me: Tales of the Bygone Bush, Goodness Gracious Me: Pioneering Stories from Five Nzers and Bridging the Centuries. To write Joan Bullock Morrell: Sculptor, Valerie spent countless hours listening to and interviewing Joan. The result is the impressive story of an artist who in her eighties continues to work and has her work in private collections in Europe, Asia and North America. Her sculptures have also enchanted visitors to Wanganui’s public spaces including Kowhai Park and Virginia Lake.

The images of Joan's sculptures in this book, published by Steele Roberts Aotearoa Limited, have been taken by Wanganui photographer Leigh Mitchell-Anyon. The Cords That Bind Us (1996)

About Joan Bullock Morrell

Born in Wanganui in 1928, Joan received the New Zealand Commemoration Medal in 1990 in recognition of services to the country. In 1995 she was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal. She has been commissioned by Wanganui to produce sculptures for the community and currently she is working on a commissioned James K Baxter sculpture for Wanganui’s Guyton Street. Joan has a private gallery on a Wanganui property which is open to the public when requested. The gallery showcases approximately 60 sculptures. Among the many busts she has created are those of the famous, including James K Baxter, Sir Arthur Porritt, Kate Sheppard, David Bellamy, Jack Lovelock, Mother Teresa, Prince Charles and Sir Peter Blake. ‘I don’t ever draw what I am going to make. If I did then it would be done and I wouldn’t need to make a sculpture. I just have it in my head and I do it. I can see it in my mind better than I can draw.’

Joan is also a writer, having published six books of poetry and several children’s books. She says sculpture in her discipline, writing her indulgence.

Art historian, writer and curator, Dr Edward Hanfling, in the foreword to Joan Bullock Morrell: Sculptor, says the book has been lovingly and expertly compiled by Valerie Cowan, and will introduce a wider audience to the accomplishments of this ‘utterly serious and committed artist.’

He says: ‘Since the 1960s Morrell has devoted herself single-mindedly to her medium and to the making of art, putting this above all extraneous issues to do with the art world and the art market. Because of this, she does not seem to have encountered the problem, faced by other New Zealand artists, of how to reconcile local and personal concerns with the influence of rapidly shifting international styles and trends. Her style is one that has evolved naturally from an underlying belief in the enduring tradition of sculpture. And she has felt free to do what she wants within the demands of technique and quality exerted by that tradition. The style is built not so much on conventions or mannerisms, as on full-bodied human qualities: humour; emotion; empathy; honesty; intuition; close observation; the communication of urgent or universal ideals.’

Dr Hanfling writes regularly for Art New Zealand, and is editor of the Journal of New Zealand Art History. He has written extensively on New Zealand abstract painters such as Ian Scott, Roy Good, as well as Gretchen Albrecht.

About Valerie Cowan

Valerie Cowan now lives in Wanganui, the city where she was born, although she has spent many years in Christchurch, Palmerston North and Malaysia.

Listening to stories from the past has always been an interest of hers. Valerie was offered her first publishing opportunity after presenting some of her stories at a writing course.

Valerie says her stories are about 'ordinary' men and women who turned their hand to anything and everything. “These are people who relied on themselves, picked themselves up and tried again after knockbacks –with humour, courage and downright Kiwi ingenuity,” she says. Valerie is a trustee on the Whanganui Literary Festival Trust.

Valerie describes Joan as a ‘living New Zealand treasure’ and said the intention of the book was not only to shine a light on Joan, but also to explain the process behind each piece and what they mean to her. ‘Joan’s creativity is part of her character. She has the courage and confidence to let go of the negative and work on the positive, allowing creativity to flow within her.’

- Joan Bullock Morrell: Sculptor will be launched in Wanganui on Wednesday 11 December. Pre-orders are available at $55 (RRP $59.95, plus p & p). For more information:


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