Tue, Jan 30, 2024 4:00 PM

A woman of tenacity and talent


Paula Hulburt

Kathleen Margaret Moorhouse, affectionately known as Peg, was far from the frail, elderly woman I’d been expecting.

Opening the door to her Sunshine Bay home, Peg beamed widely as she welcomed me in.  A bundle of vivacity, with her hair pulled back in a bun atop her head, she looked much younger than her given years.

Just days shy of her 102nd birthday, she laughed as she shook her head, telling me she had no secrets of longevity to reveal.

“I’m not quite sure how I’ve done it,” she pondered. “I never expected to still be here.”

Born in 1917 near Ashburton, her mother had died when she was just four years old. Peg grew up in Christchurch with her cousin the painter and potter Margaret Anderson at Risingholme, a grand old house that was later gifted to the city.

As a young debutante, Peg Moorhouse posed for a portrait which later graced the walls of her Sunshine Bay home. Photo: File/Marlborough Weekly

The memories of life there still made her smile.

“I remember turning 16-years-old and getting a cup of tea and then a piece of bread and butter in bed like the rest of the household.

“I wore my hair up for the first time and changed into a velvet dress and, later, got to try a sip of sherry. I didn’t like it.”

It was easy to imagine the young 19-year-old who caught the eye of her husband Len. At 33-years-old, his attentions, she says caused “a bit of an uproar” at home.

“The night he proposed we went for a walk in the garden, and he asked me to marry him. I hesitated slightly as I didn’t quite expect it and he threw me over his shoulder and said I could stay there until I said ‘yes.’ “I only kept him waiting for a few seconds,” she chuckled.

In 1937, the pair were married, Peg in a family heirloom veil. In 1963 she and Len moved to Marlborough’s Sunshine Bay. But six years after he retired as head of NZ Breweries, Len died suddenly aged 66-years-old.

“I still miss him,” Peg explained.

Len and Peg Moorhouse were married in 1937. Photo: File/Marlborough Weekly.

Following Len’s sudden death, Peg sought solace in her family, her four children and in her talent. Accepted to exhibit at the inaugural Wearable Art Award, in 1987, spurred her on to experiment.

She created award winning damask table runners, napkins and wall hangings. Trained in damask weaving at the famous Saterglantan College of Handicrafts in Sweden, Peg’s unique designs won her many fans.

The inaugural recipient of the Marlborough Living Cultural Treasures award in 2012, Peg was always humble about her success.

But as she talked about taking a call from Te Papa for a possible exhibition of her work, there was a resonance of quiet pride.

Colourful works of weaving adorned the walls of her home, and a huge loom imported from Sweden in 1992 took pride of place. It was somehow only fitting that one of New Zealand’s most celebrated weavers should live in such an inspiring place.

Peg Moorhouse captivated those she met, not just for her talent as an artist but for her fortitude and love of life. Photo: File/Marlborough Weekly.

Her gaze was drawn to the water beyond her living room window as she watched the ever-changing view somewhat pensively before turning and smiling.

“I just got up and got on with it, you can’t dwell on the bad times. I’ve had a full life and I’m grateful for it.”

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