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Selwyn Ngareatua Wilson (1927-2002) Memorial Collection

Selwyn Ngareatua Wilson (1927-2002) Memorial Collection Grants Announced

Whangarei Art Museum – Te Wharetaonga O Whangarei is proud to announce over twenty thousand dollars in combined recent grants towards the conservation treatment and framing of 14 works by the artist from the NZ Lottery Environment and Heritage Committee and the Oxford Sports Trust.

The late Selwyn Wilson of Kawakawa, is distinguished for having been the first maori student in New Zealand to enrol for fine arts graduate study at Elam School of Art Auckland in 1945. Thirteen of these paintings and drawings in the art museum collection were from the artist’s National Art Gallery Scholarship exhibition in 1951. Praise and support for the collection acquisition has poured in from eminent artists and scholars throughout New Zealand. Graduating in 1952 with a Diploma in Fine Arts Selwyn Wilson became the first Maori arts graduate in the country. Arnold Manaaki Wilson followed him in 1954 with Honours in Sculpture.

Writing in support of the WAM funding grant application, Professor of Fine Arts at Auckland University Dr Jonathan Mane-Wheoki writes of these ( both unrelated) figures in art history ‘from these two absolutely foundational figures the whakapapa of the contemporary Maori Art Movement unfolded to become the significant strand in New Zealand life and culture it is today’.

One of the great figures of the second wave of young maori students Cliff Whiting ONZ wrote; ‘Selwyn Wilson and Katerina Mataira were both part of the groundbreaking Northern Maori Project in the 1950’s and are now considered vanguard artists of the Maori Renaissance…I believe this project will be an important vehicle to add to the research of the contemporary maori art movement in New Zealand’ And as if to underline the artist’s endearing modesty Kelvin Davis MP and Labour Spokesperson for Tourism wrote of his uncle and visits to the family home Taumarere;

‘if someone as closely related to Selwyn like myself can be as ignorant of his achievements, then the next generation of Ngati Manu and Ngapuhi will be totally unaware of the immense contribution he made both to our people and to the art world’.

Selwyn Wilson was key to a pivotal moment in our history, not only as an artist and ceramicist, but as a teacher. He was a mentor to many artists like Ralph Hotere; in Northland he taught art to Buck Nin, Kura Te Waru Rewiri and Chris Booth among others. In 1957 he was awarded the Sir Apirana Ngata scholarship to study at the Central School of Art in London. He was a life-long friend to Garth Tapper, who had entered Elam as a student at the same time, and while Garth was in London on a Carnegie Scholarship to study they were able to cement this lifelong friendship.

The paintings in this collection are all from his Elam graduate exhibition in 1951 and many are labelled as his National Art Gallery Scholarship Award exhibition paintings. They comprise figure studies, still life, portraiture and the nude, as well as some yet to be identified personalities of the period. Selwyn Wilson was also distinguished as the first contemporary maori artist to be included in any public art gallery collection when the Auckland Art Gallery acquired his work in 1948 and 1950 when he was still merely a brilliant student – an outstanding accolade in itself for an immensely modest man.

Scott Pothan


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