On the eve of ANZAC Week 2015 in Wellington the Chiefs of the Army, Air Force and Navy and a contingent of Gurkha Officers joined watercolourists for the Opening of WW1 in watercolours at 'Splash' at Wellington Cathedral of St Paul. It was an event that touched the heart, shone a spotlight on four WW1 servicemen from Wellington, and brought together many parts of New Zealand’s society from the Diplomatic Corps, government, Defence, colleges, churches and the Arts. Everyone had a role and collectively we delivered both an event for the ANZAC commemorations and showcased New Zealand’s talent amongst both our WW1 and contemporary watercolourists. The exhibition would receive over 3,500 visitors viewing the war art and 'Splash' and sell 76 watercolours representing sales for half the exhibiting artists.
Campaign medals, 'Splash' and swathes of navy blue silk veiling artworks provided colour at the Opening. The ceremony began with a procession and the marching in of flags to remember the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) of WW1 accompanied by the flag of the Royal New Zealand Navy. Family members and students of Wellington and St Patrick’s Colleges unveiled WW1 artworks for the first time in 100 years and school scarves were draped beside college old boys. I shed a tear as two years of planning came to fruition, when the Dean of Wellington The Very Reverend Digby Wilkinson and John A Cardinal Dew Archbishop of Wellington spoke the names and blessed the artworks of Corporal Ernest Casey NZEF, Sapper Sydney Higgs NZEF and Lieutenants Esmond and Hal Atkinson RNVR. From the balcony mournful notes of the Last Post rang out, a silence, then Reveille.
Guest speaker Rear Admiral David Ledson (Rtd) spoke of the four men, their endeavours to source pens, paper and paint to record their WW1 experiences and that through this exhibition three WW1 naval art collections by Casey and the Atkinson brothers were discovered. No such collections had been expected as New Zealand did not have a navy in WW1 and he took pride in announcing that the Casey watercolour collection has now passed into the collection of the National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy.
Nancy Tichborne, Patron of Watercolour New Zealand, announced that May Iremonger and Adrienne Pavelka were the joint winners of the Watercolour New Zealand Supreme Award and opened Splash. That evening guests praised the ceremony, the ambience and the specialness of being in the Cathedral for Anzac commemorations.
Visitors expressed appreciation for the rare opportunity to view originals of WW1 war art and prints of Official war art by Nugent Welch and George Butler and of Gallipoli by Horace Moore-Jones. Messages of best wishes and congratulations for the success of the exhibition were received from Their Royal Highnesses The Duke of Edinburgh and The Prince of Wales who are both watercolourists. The glossy 32 page commemorative catalogue WW1 in watercolours and ink generously published by the Royal New Zealand Navy was popular with visitors. The 1914-1918 themed Postcards to the Front by New Zealand and international artists in their matching frames attracted interest and half the postcards sold. While 'Splash' sold paintings on every theme it was noticeable that ‘Red is for remembrance’ and iconic WW1 themes appealed to buyers. Early sales included Rosemary Mercer’s delicate tapestry of crosses, Adrian Cave’s military band (in red), Phillip Markhams’ moody Fiordland with a tiny navigation light (red) and several studies of poppies. All the watercolours in 'Splash' glowed across the Cathedral as the layout of the exhibition was designed for openness and to retain grand views through the Cathedral.
The exhibition had a national internet profile and was a popular WW1 listing on Eventfinder.co.nz until April 2015 when interest skyrocketed as the Wellington City Council’s Anzac Week advertising commenced and pushed total viewings to 48,800! National promotion was already underway with items in Air New Zealand’s inflight magazine Kia Ora, AA Directions and MindFood magazines and TV One News. Stories appeared in local newspapers and on Stuff. Minders recorded visitors from across the North Island and Cathedral staff reported conversations with many new visitors drawn in by the exhibition and musical events. I am heartfelt in acknowledging the exhibition sponsors and the support of the WW1 artists’ families, Heads of mission for Pakistan, South Africa and Turkey, David Ledson, Ronnie Pace, WW1 Splash Exhibition Team and the Volunteers and Minders of Watercolour New Zealand who supported and manned the exhibition.
MSc, Dip Bus Tourism Management Exhibition Manager