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Noted historian donates Te Kooti paintings to Uni

Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Noted historian donates Te Kooti paintings to University collection

Emeritus Professor Bill Oliver has donated three paintings by the late Frank Davis to the University Art Collection.

The gift will be acknowledged tomorrow (Thursday, 9 August) at the inaugural WH Oliver lecture in the Old Main Building auditorium, Palmerston North campus, at 5.30pm.

Mr Davis worked as a lecturer in the former Palmerston North Teachers’ College (now Massey College of Education) art department from 1963 and headed the department from 1968 until his death in 1983.
His work was said to be outside the mainstream, often challenging contemporary ideas about New Zealand society. He had a close interest in things Mäori.

The works donated by Professor Oliver are concerned with the life of Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki, the resistance leader and founder of the Ringatu religion of Rongowhakaata iwi in Poverty Bay, and were painted in the 1960s. Two of the paintings were given to him by Mr Davis and one (he says he cannot remember which) was purchased from Bob McMurray’s bookshop in Palmerston North in the 1970s.
He presented them with the agreement of Mr Davis’s widow, Waana Davis.

The paintings are pictured below. The one on the left depicts Te Kooti preaching, the next is called Te Porere and, the third, The Murder of Biggs: Poverty Bay Massacre 1868.

Professor Oliver, from Wellington, a historian, poet and former editor of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, worked at Massey from 1964 to 1983. He was a founding Professor of History, founding Dean of Humanities and a member of the University Council.

The University Art Collection contains two other Davis works – New Zealand Landscape Transformed (c.1970), a series of six monumental panels located on level three of the Geography Building, and Untitled, a work presented to the University by the late Professor Keith Thomson a decade ago to mark the opening of Te Pütahi-ä-Toi, the School of Mäori Studies. It will be displayed along with the three newly-donated paintings in the Old Main Building’s staff common room.

Although his own studies, at Victoria (MA) and Oxford (DPhil), were of British history, Professor Oliver says there was not much choice when he went to university in the 1940s, because there was very little written New Zealand history to study. He is credited as one of the key people responsible for changing that with his subsequent research and writing.

The lecture will be by Professor Margaret Tennant, a historian, who is Dean of the Graduate Research School.


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