Collection Tarot

Behind the scenes

One of the things I've really missed in these post-earthquake days is contact with collection works in the storage areas.

As you'll know from previous posts, those areas have been undergoing refurbishment, and art works are gradually being returned there after having been temporarily stored in our exhibition areas. It won't be for some time yet, but I'm looking forward to the day when we can wander freely through these spaces again, and not just for purely professional reasons. The stores always amaze me for their uncanny ability to throw up the perfect work at any moment - not necessarily the one you were looking for, but one that takes your ideas in a different direction, lifts your spirits or just gives you a much-needed art infusion. Without physical access, we've been making do with virtual, via our Collection Online (though 'making do' sounds a bit stingy in the face of the slick and multi-layered searching this feature provides). It's not possible to get face-to-face with the art of course, but in terms of serendipity, the random selection of works thrown up when you first begin your online search gives almost as good as its real-life counterpart.  So, in the heart of winter, surrounded by leafless trees, saturated lawns and dormant flowerbeds, here's what I got this morning - a garden view of radiant vibrance from Pat Hanly.

Patrick Hanly

New Zealander, b.1932, d.2004

Inside The Garden

This work is from the Canterbury Public Library's collection of original art works. This collection was started by Ron O'Reilly (1914-1982), who was appointed City Librarian in 1951. He had a keen interest in philosophy, literature and New Zealand art and developed personal friendships with many artists including Doris Lusk, Olivia Spencer Bower, Colin McCahon and Toss Woollaston. During his time in Christchurch he was deeply involved in the local art scene. He arranged many exhibitions in the library one such being McCahon's The Wake in 1959. He liaised with other galleries in arranging the loans of paintings for other exhibitions, and for a period was art critic for the Press and picture buyer for the CSA Gallery. In 1953 the Library started its hire service of framed art prints, a selection of 80 reproductions which was confined to works by artists of importance in the history of painting, both old and modern masters.
Shortly afterwards the Library's collection was augmented by two substantial gifts, one from the Redfern Gallery, London of 34 original lithographs by British artists and the other, 39 prints from French cultural funds. In 1955 the City Council approved extension of the picture loan service to include original art works by local artists. The maximum purchase price was to be 19 guineas and because of this limitation the artists were often persuaded to sell their work at reduced prices. The prospect of having one's work on such public display was also an inducement to the artist to sell at a reasonable price. By 1960, 50 original works had been acquired. The paintings were selected by Ron O'Reilly at exhibitions, galleries and by visiting the artists in their homes.

In 1981, when purchasing ceased, the collection consisted of 297 works. 155 of these were gifted to the Robert McDougall Art Gallery in 2001.
Adapted from "Library Treasures: New Zealand art works from the collection of the Canterbury Public Library, exhibited at the CSA Gallery, 9 February to 5 March 1989".

Donated from the Canterbury Public Library Collection, 2001
Reproduced with permission

In a 1969 Art New Zealand interview with Hamish Keith, Hanly described how his work from this time was fuelled by a revelation about the potential inherent in even the simplest of subjects: '[E]verything had its own importance, its own incredible and meaningful reality, so anything you turned to, that whetted your visual appetite, you could develop. There was no image at the end. It was a continuing process, an expanding one, always opening out.'