Reverend Doris Tutill (b. 1916, Christchurch)

Diploma of Fine Arts, 1929–34

Interviewed by Ken Hall
August 2007

“The teachers would go and bring great baskets of things from the Botanical Gardens, and they would pick things out for us to draw – or we would pick some out ourselves. [...] And we studied the principles of design, and studied the principles of growth – how it all adhered to certain patterns and principles.”

I went straight from primary school to Canterbury College School of Art, and [enrolled at the Junior School]. I was there from between the ages of twelve and sixteen.

One funny incident after I'd left primary school occurred when I met up with [one of my old teachers]... She saw me and asked me what I was doing about schooling. When I told her, she said, 'Good God, child, you should've gone to university.'

We did three hours a week on English and arithmetic (or maths) and, strange to say, we dealt with metrics. But most of the time was specially devoted to art. We went right through from clay modelling – and we did geometry, which later developed into perspective, and a great deal of still life, studying under Cecil Kelly. I did most of my early work in embroidery and design under Florence Akins, who turned 100 this last year. She was wonderful. She gave everything to her students, and was totally self-sacrificial.

We did pencil portraits from life, under James Cook – a wonderful teacher. He taught me everything I knew about drawing from life. He was such a shy little man. I often wondered what happened to him.

We had Florence Akins right through, all the time I was there. She was a saint – passed all her skills to her students. Julia Scarvell, we had for one year for design. There was the modelling teacher, [Francis] Shurrock. We had Louise Henderson for embroidery one year. I liked her. I was fascinated by her, by her [French] accent, her big brown eyes. She and the other tutors there must have hated teaching young people for a year when they were such geniuses themselves, and wanted to do their own work. And we had Herbert Horridge for still life, I think.

The teachers would go and bring great baskets of things from the Botanical Gardens, and they would pick things out for us to draw – or we would pick some out ourselves. We were very fortunate. And we studied the principles of design, and studied the principles of growth – how it all adhered to certain patterns and principles. It's something I've followed, right through everything I've done throughout my life.

Another teacher was James Johnstone. He was a delightful person, very quick in his movements, and with bright blue eyes. I remember once when he saw us all talking a bit, and he made us learn about twenty verses from the Bible!

I remember too the first day that William Sutton – Bill Sutton – came to study. We were in the Old Armoury [Building], and I heard him talking quite excitedly to James Johnstone, and I thought, Here's someone that's not coming here just for the sake of coming. He's got something extra to bring. And he did. He was a wonderful person – yes, he was a fine person, Bill.

After we finished the first two years, or certificate, the first three years, not many went on. There was Isobel Boone and Hannah Taylor, but they didn't go on for long – just a year or two. I was the only one left then, and I suppose I had a bit of a complex about being the only one who had come through from the junior school, because others there had come from Nelson Girls' College, and they had done quite a lot of art studies there.

Another person who made quite an impression on me, and was a fine person, was [tutor] Cecil Kelly. I remember one time some students – these were senior students – locked him in the storeroom where they kept the decaying pumpkins and things – the things kept for still life drawing classes. He shouted and banged on the door and I don't blame him – it was a horrible thing to do.

He adored his wife [Elizabeth Kelly]. He always said she was a far better artist than he was. She died early [in 1946], and he was a broken man after that. He thought the world of his wife.

He also took us for landscape. He took us out on the riverbank – ooh, freezing, frosty mornings – icy. He had two sayings. One he always said was 'You suffer for art's sake'. The other was 'You treat your work lightly'. In other words, I think he meant that you don't get too fond of it.

He took us into the old Provincial Council Chambers – a wonderful place to work – and it was freezing too. The janitor took out a portable stove to warm it for us. We used to climb up out onto various parts of the roof. And it was wonderful to draw...

We did both oil and watercolour. Some of the plaster casts I did in oils. I remember doing one of a motorcyclist – a portrait in oils. Subsequently, though, I've always preferred doing watercolours.

I didn't have a lot to do with Richard Wallwork [head of the school], because he rather intimidated me, though he was intimidating, I think, because he was really a very shy man. He had come out here from England. I think his work was outstanding.

I didn't have much awareness of international or other New Zealand artists. There wasn't much in the way of a library there. When I finished art school I went home to England with my mother for a time. [Doris' mother was English, but she herself was born in New Zealand.] I've always felt that a part of me was in England... I've always felt that.

When I came back, I'd thought it would be wonderful to make a career doing portraits, but you couldn't do that then – though William Sutton did, for some of the time. I took up dressmaking: I had lessons in dressmaking, at the CMC Building. Then I had lessons in shorthand typing. I took several jobs in lawyers' offices: I worked in Duncan Cotterill's. I worked for the public typists – took minutes for Red Cross meetings... There was no time for art – it was a very demanding job. I did work for a while in Beath's doing some of their [advertising] artwork – I'm a bit hazy here. But the boss wanted his girlfriend in that position, so I was more or less required to leave, which I did. Before I left, though, he taught me to make parchment, and I made my own parchment for years. I used to do a lot of work for James Smith's in Wellington and Milne & Choyce in Auckland, sending hundreds of pounds worth of articles in parchment for them to sell – book covers and telephone book covers and so on. The decorative arts tradition never left me at any stage.

If I'd never gone to art school I'd have missed out on a whole lifetime of wonderful experience. Later, when I taught at St Margaret's, everything I had learnt at art school came with me. I can't think of life without it – I just can't. [Doris Tutill was head of art at St Margaret's from about 1954, for twenty-five years.]

I didn't have much to do with the art school socially, because the students who did the diploma (I didn't – I wanted to, but I also wanted to go on with my embroidery, and you couldn't do both), they used to do the art school ball, but I was never invited because I wasn't a diploma student.

Many people have told me how they liked my Maori whare and tiki design that was in the exhibitions [Simplicity and Splendour, Christchurch Art Gallery, 2004–05; Daughters of Design,Christchurch Arts Centre, 1999] and have been surprised by them. To be honest I had never much liked this design. I knew very little about Maori art, at least at that time, and when asked to do a design I didn't know what to do, and chose bright colours for it mainly because that was what was expected.

[Doris Tutill was ordained into the Anglican church in 1986.]