WORDS Kim Newth PHOTOS Sarah Rowlands

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Akaroa Art Gallery’s small team of volunteers is gearing up this month to launch the most prestigious art exhibition ever to be hosted there. Featuring iconic New Zealand landscape paintings, on loan from the Kelliher Art Trust, the exhibition opens to the public on Saturday, October 26. It will include works by some of New Zealand’s most celebrated artists including Rita Angus, Douglas Badcock, Peter McIntyre, Austen Deans, Toss Woollaston, Michael Smither, Stanley Palmer, and Dick Frizzell.

Established by arts patron Sir Henry Kelliher in 1956 to capture the grandeur of New Zealand’s scenery and seasons, the Kelliher Art Award grew to become New Zealand’s premiere art prize. The Kelliher Art Trust collection includes not only Kelliher prize-winning paintings but also contemporary works commissioned by the Trust.

“This is only the second time in 63 years that a selection of paintings from the Kelliher collection has been shown in the South Island,” gallery president Bryan Tichborne says. “It is a big honour for us as a small community gallery to host this event that will give local people and visitors alike a once in a lifetime opportunity to see these 16 outstanding works.”

South Island artists will be among those represented with southern landscapes included in the line-up. Some were inspired by the beauty of Banks Peninsula itself, for example, ‘From Lighthouse Road near Akaroa’ by Robert McDowell and ‘Lyttelton Harbour’ by Peter Mardon. The exhibition will also include a work by Akaroa-born artist Richard McWhannell.

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Bryan says it was ‘a friend of a friend’ scenario that led to a connection being established with the Kelliher Art Trust, which then turned out to be very open to working with a small community not-for-profit art gallery.

“They were very appreciative of the fundraising work we’ve been doing over the past three years for the new Akaroa Health Centre. We’ve given $20,000 towards that so far. Every year, we also write out a cheque for a local student wishing to pursue tertiary education and we have regular exhibitions to support local artists.”

Bryan is married to well-known watercolour artist Nancy Tichborne and they both travelled to Auckland to meet with Trust Collection Curator, Christopher Johnstone, to help select works for this special exhibition.

“We think it will generate a lot of interest including from cruise ship visitors and people coming down here from the North Island for the weekend. This will likely be the only time many people will ever see this unique and distinguished collection.”

Housed in an historic building, officially known as The Orion Powerhouse, the Akaroa Art Gallery space is well-lit and equipped for the event and volunteers will be rostered on throughout.

The Kelliher in Akaroa’s opening night is on October 25, before opening to the public from October 26 to November 17 and it is open 10am to 4pm. Entry is five dollars, (school students free) and the Kelliher Trust will match this dollar for dollar (in doing so, doubling funds raised for Akaroa Health).

Visitors to the exhibition may also wish to explore Akaroa’s other attractions, including dolphin watching, great cafés and restaurants, plus local artists’ studios, such as Nancy Tichborne’s.

In DetailJoshua Brosnahan