As soon as Napier’s new museum complex opened, the Friends of Te Papa were keen to go and take a look. A long weekend to do just that was organised for early May, when 40 Friends gathered for a round trip by bus, up through the Manawatu Gorge on Friday and home again over the Rimutakas on Sunday. On Saturday the bus driver had a day off while the Friends took to the footpaths of Tennyson Street, where the Art Deco Centre and MTG (Museum Theatre Gallery) Hawke’s Bay were just over the road from the Masonic Hotel. Only a block away was Mister D, our dinner venue the night before.
A powerful documentary about the 1931 earthquake was a sobering prelude to a sunny guided walk through inner-city Napier to view the buildings, many art deco, others influenced by Spanish mission and Frank Lloyd Wright, that went up remarkably quickly after the quake and fires. The human cost of the earthquake was reinforced by an exhibition in MTG. Christchurch wasn’t far from anyone’s mind. MTG is a neat name for three connected buildings which are almost as tricky to navigate as Te Papa. The newest is the recently completed gallery, which offers views of the coast along with exhibition spaces currently showcasing the work of two ceramicists, the simple colourful pots of Elizabeth Matheson and the endearing fantasies of Bronwynne Cornish. The theatre built in the 1970s is intimate and mellow, while the art deco museum houses an elegant reading room in addition to exhibition spaces. Director Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, curators and members of our sister organisation were generous in their welcome.
While inner-city Napier was at the heart of our tour, other visits were also remarkable. The magnificent Oruawharo Homestead in Central Hawke’s Bay dates from 1868 when it became a centre of upper-crust social life. By early this century it had fallen on hard times and was about to be demolished when it was rescued by Peter and Dianne Harris. They have also recently been gifted a small church, now relocated in the grounds and meticulously restored and converted into a function centre. The house itself, still being worked on, now benefits from being lived in and felt almost homely as we wandered freely through the rooms.
David Trubridge Design Studio and Showroom, Whakatu, was an unexpected highlight of the tour. His airy, contemporary style was a stunning contrast to the heavy Victorian grandeur of Oruawharo. We were invited to enter the workshop where components of his famous laminated bamboo lampshades are made and then marketed as kitsets. One Friend had already assembled a kitset at home and reassured us that it did take only 45 minutes to complete. Another bonus was the chance to stroll in the town centres of Hastings and Havelock North, admiring the public art set amongst the red and gold autumn foliage. Some of the sculptors such as Neil Dawson and Terry Stringer also have work in the streets of Wellington.
We were wonderfully refreshed by the meals we were served, from the ‘high tea’ lunch at Oruawharo, to the exquisite contemporary cooking at Mister D on Saturday and Black Barn Bistro on Sunday, to the excellent coffee and cornucopia of produce at the Hawke’s Bay Farmers Market. Our bulging bags of walnuts, quinces, mandarins, persimmons, rye bread, black pudding and golden beetroot were stashed under the bus, while for some there were more lasting treasures: an old chrome glasses case, a beret, a fine leather necklace, a eucalypt breadboard, a handful of pebbles from the beach.
Committee, Friends of Te Papa
Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. George Eliot.