Bringing Lyttelton’s Past to Life

– By Sarah Johnston (Client Services Co-ordinator – Radio, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)

Historic figures from Lyttelton’s past have been brought to life in a new exhibition of 23 compelling portraits, accompanied by archival sound recordings from the RNZ collection at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.

 Artist Julia Holden used current Lyttelton residents as models for the portraits – first creating the costumes, hats, wigs and (on occasion) clay, for the hair, before painting directly over everything with house paint, then photographing the results. You can listen to Julia talking to RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan about the project here. 

 

The Nurse: Nona Hildyard (Laura MacKay) – on display at Lyttelton Health Centre
The Nurse: Nona Hildyard (Laura MacKay) – on display at Lyttelton Health Centre

 

The finished photo portraits are then hung in various locations around Lyttelton, which relate to either the subject or the sitter. The port town’s museum was destroyed in the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes and the project, which is called Lyttelton Redux, aims to help the museum maintain visibility in the community while it operates without a physical building or exhibition space.

A map and audio walking tour of all the portrait locations are available until the end of March 2017 via a free app.

By downloading the app you can listen to the sound recordings and view each of the portraits, making the exhibition accessible to everyone, even if you can’t make it to Lyttelton.

As well as archival audio relating to the historical figure (courtesy of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision) all of the modern-day sitters also contributed recordings, including members of Lyttelton’s well-known music community.

 

The Sheep Stealer: James McKenzie (Adam McGrath) – on display at Lyttelton Police Station
The Sheep Stealer: James McKenzie (Adam McGrath) – on display at Lyttelton Police Station

 

Excerpt from The Romance of Lyttelton (1953, ref. 159065)

 

Adam McGrath, singer with folk band “The Eastern,” was the model for “The Sheep Stealer”– a portrait of the Scottish immigrant James Mackenzie, who infamously stole 1,000 sheep in 1855 and hid them in what is now known as the Mackenzie Country. Mackenzie was imprisoned in Lyttelton after his arrest and his portrait appropriately hangs in the town police station. Adam McGrath recorded a folk ballad about Mackenzie and his dog for the app. This portrait hangs alongside “The Sheriff of Lyttelton: Henry J. Tancred (Sgt Dave Knowles)” at the Lyttelton Police Station.

 

The British Naval Officer: Robert Falcon Scott (Marlon Williams) – on display in London Street Dairy.
The British Naval Officer: Robert Falcon Scott (Marlon Williams) – on display in London Street Dairy.

 

 Singer Marlon Williams posed as “The British Naval Officer,” doomed Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott, whose expeditions set off for the South Pole from Lyttelton in the early 1900s. Marlon recorded the 19th century folk ballad, “The Wayfaring Stranger” to accompany his portrait, which hangs in the London Street Dairy –where he worked for several years as a student, before finding international singing success.

Other portraits include Wheke, tipuna of Ngāti Wheke (the hapū of Kāi Tahu based at Rāpaki), World War I nurse Nona Hildyard, and New Zealand’s first female MP Elizabeth McCombs – who is portrayed by her great-grand-daughter Carolyn McCombs.

 

The Member of Parliament: Elizabeth McCombs (Carolyn McCombs) – at the Lyttelton Community Library
The Member of Parliament: Elizabeth McCombs (Carolyn McCombs) – at the Lyttelton Community Library

 

Today in New Zealand History – September 13, 1933 – First woman MP (ref. 34503)

 

Julia Holden will be doing a live “performance painting” using the same techniques, as a special event connected with the National Portrait Gallery’s current exhibition, Leo Bensemann & Friends: Portraiture and The Group. This will be at 1pm, Saturday 11 March at the National Portrait Gallery in Wellington.

 

Audio clips from Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision sound collection, all rights reserved. To enquire about re-use of these items please contact sound@ngataonga.org.nz

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