Sun, Feb 12, 2023 7:55 AM
The man who decorated Marlborough pubs and created cultural icons
Ōriwa Haddon wasn’t a Marlborough man but as Alex Stone discovers, this gifted Māori artist left his mark on our region with work found from Canvastown to Waikawa, as well as a gallery of his paintings found on the second storey of a Havelock pub.
Like so many New Zealand small towns, Havelock needs something big to promote itself. So, it proclaims itself ‘the mussel capital of the world.’ And indeed, the mussel barges dominate the channel to the harbour, the mussel factories hum day and night, puffing out random white smoke signals, and heavy mussel trucks roll over the smooth new tarmac just laid in the main drag.
But tucked away upstairs at the Havelock Hotel, is a collection of paintings by the little-known, but should-be-more-so, folk art painter Ōriwa Haddon.
Perhaps he’s the other big thing about Havelock.
Towards the end of his rich and full life Ōriwa Tahupōtiki Haddon was an itinerant travelling painter, often paying for lodgings at country pubs and marae with paintings instead of hard cash. While his wife and eleven children made do at home.
But the Havelock Hotel isn’t the only place in Marlborough where you can find Ōriwa’s work.
Also try the Havelock Town Hall directly across the main street, the Canvastown Memorial Hall up the road, Waikawa Marae, the Golden Bay Museum at Takaka, Founders Heritage Park in Nelson and Marlborough Museum.
Mostly, the museums have salvaged works from old pubs that were facing demolition. And there must be more out there.
Ōriwa was born Edward Oliver Haddon at Waitōtara, South Taranaki, in 1898, the eldest son of a Māori Methodist minister, Robert Tahupōtiki Haddon of Ngāti Ruanui, and his wife, Huihana (Susan) Haerehau Shelford of Hokianga.
Around 1919 Ōriwa and whānau went to the USA on a cultural tour. They presented an odd mix of lectures, theatre and vaudeville entertainment. Ōriwa lectured on Māori life and customs. On 12 September 1920 at Billings, Montana, he married the talented pianist in the concert party, Ruihi Moringa (Marianga) Reupena of Whanganui. They were to have four sons.
Ōriwa studied pharmacy and returning to New Zealand, he “may have practised briefly in Whanganui as a chemist”. But his career soon took a different turn when in 1922 the Methodist ministry took him on, as a missionary to the Solomon Islands. But his wife’s ill health kept them at Whanganui, with a focus on Māori ministry.
Here his story accelerates, as reported on the Te Ara website: “Moringa died at Pūtiki on 4 February 1926, and on 16 February, at Whanganui, Ōriwa married Maaki Rakapa Taiaroa of Ngāi Tahu. The marriage was arranged to join Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāi Tahu in kinship. Ōriwa and Maaki were to have four daughters and three sons. Ōriwa was appointed missioner to Kawakawa in 1926.”
By 1927, his father Tahupōtiki Haddon, was recognised as the senior Methodist Māori minister. He sent Ōriwa and Maaki to Rātana pā, with responsibility for running the school there.
It was around this time that Ōriwa started to build an artistic reputation.
The New Zealand Artists Annual, which published Ōriwa’s illustrated story Tiki of the dawn, described him as “our 1929 discovery”. Ōriwa was then commissioned to paint the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The painting was presented to the governor general, Lord Bledisloe in 1934 and hung in the Treaty House at Waitangi. However, the original appears to have been lost.
Methodist contacts were in effect when church minister Colin Scrimgeour became controller of the National Commercial Broadcasting Service in 1936 and Ōriwa got a job at radio station 2ZB in Wellington.
Ōriwa had his own programme, Ōriwa’s Māori Session, and also made contributions to others and to 5ZB - the travelling station, which broadcast from a customised railway carriage.
During the Second World War, Ōriwa enlisted in the air force. He travelled to the Pacific Islands and kept on painting and singing. His painting Māori mythology appeared in the 1944 New Zealand Artists in Uniform exhibition, and a pen and ink work, Hine Kohu and Uenuku, was included in the National Centennial Exhibition of New Zealand Art in 1940.
Then he found work from the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts and Publicity to produce oil paintings for the centennial celebrations.
Ōriwa was also involved with Labour Party politics. With his return to civilian life after the war, he joined a group of Labour-allied Rātana MPs in the preparation of what became the Māori Social and Economic Advancement Act 1945.
But in 1948, Ōriwa broke up with the Rātana MPs and left the Labour Party. He retired from politics and moved to Nelson, living on his painting.
He completed eight paintings for the Commercial Hotel, Blenheim – scenes from Cook’s landing to his present. A centrepiece depicted the attempted arrest of Te Rauparaha at Tuamarina, as part of the Wairau Affray in 1843.
Ōriwa almost slowed down when he retired to Utiku, just south of Taihape, where he painted murals on commission for the local Returned Services’ Association.
The website Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand wraps up his life story: “He died at Taihape on 17 June 1958 after a car accident, and was buried in the Māori cemetery at Ōkaiawa, Taranaki. He was survived by his second wife, who had not accompanied her husband on his numerous escapades, and eleven children.”
But his art lives on.
Steve Austin, director of Marlborough Museum in Blenheim is a serious fan of Ōriwa’s work. He reckons that Ōriwa should be better known, for he holds this pivotal place in our art and cultural history. “It’s important that we raise his profile. Haddon is really interesting partly because of his life before his career as an artist, and the life of his work after his death. He was very expert at conveying aspects of Māori culture – through performance, radio and painting. It all adds up to a significant body of work, and one with a distinctive context.
“He lived through the time of urban drift for Māori; walked in two worlds; and interpreted aspects of Māori culture to new audiences through different media at a time when the question of what it meant to be Māori and a New Zealander, in the modern world, was challenging. ”
Steve is interested in how Ōriwa sourced his art materials and imagery. It is thought that a brewery company paid for his artist’s oil paints. Many are painted on Pinex board, a medium not designed to last.
Marlborough Museum has a number of Ōriwa’s paintings – on display and being considered for conservation work. Steve says, “Each painting represents an important part of our emerging cultural understanding as a nation.”
Through his work with Marlborough Heritage Festival and Marlborough Museum, Steve has hosted tours of Ōriwa’s work, visiting the local halls. There is even a Facebook page dedicated to the artist: Oriwa Haddon 1898 – 1958.
Steve says, “Museums are finding ways to work with communities to promote awareness and understanding.” He has been liaising with Te Papa National Services and Marlborough District Council to ensure long-term plans for care and conservation treatment can be developed. Fragile paintings in halls used for private and community events need careful protection but awareness of their cultural value is the first step.
Ōriwa’s work has always been for the people, community and place, and in many ways, this contributes to his appeal today.