Juliet Peter: Where the Line Leads

1 September 2018 – 20 January 2019

“Very early in life I discovered the fascinating marks that a pencil could make on paper. Drawing became my delight – and it still is.”

– Juliet Peter

Delightful observations of character and place, from rural Canterbury to bustling 1950s London.

New Zealand painter, printmaker and potter Juliet Peter (1915–2010) was a keen observer of character and place. From the rural Canterbury farms on which she grew up and later worked as a wartime land-girl to bustling 1950s London, and later the bush-clad, bird-filled suburb of Ngaio, Wellington where she lived and worked for much of her life, she depicted the world around her with delightful candour and economy. Peter honed her distinctive style during her years as a staff artist for the Education Department, and some her most memorable Listener and School Journal illustrations are included in the exhibition.


Her Own London

Her Own London

I laughed at your note. Our packing was not done until the last minute of the 11th hour, and when we at last got onto the train we could only think how lovely it was to do nothing and think about nothing. However, by now we realise we are really going to England. After 17 days at sea, out of sight of land, N.Z. seems as if it was in another universe.

Untitled [Rider with dogs and man in sleeping bag]
Juliet Peter Untitled [Rider with dogs and man in sleeping bag]

Juliet Peter was made principal illustrator for the School Publications Branch of the Education Department in Wellington in 1947. Her fluid, stylised black and white drawings became well-known to a generation of young New Zealanders. Peter left the department in 1951 to study at the Central School of Art and Design in London. In the following year she married fellow artist Roy Cowan, whom she had met at School Publications. In London again in 1953, Peter also studied lithography and pottery part-time at the Hammersmith College of Building and Arts and Crafts. In New Zealand, Peter remained one of the School Journal’s most prolific designer/illustrators. Her work strongly influenced the publication’s visual character until 1960 through hundreds of line drawings and dozens of two-colour cover designs. Her later artistic output was principally in ceramics.

(Beneath the ranges, 18 February – 23 October 2017)

North Canterbury Pastoral Scene
Juliet Peter North Canterbury Pastoral Scene

Juliet Peter was born into a farming family in mid- Canterbury. She spent her childhood at Anama station near Mount Somers until the early death of her mother, and her teenage years were spent in England with her older sister and brother and an aunt. Returning to New Zealand, she studied painting at the Canterbury College School of Art from 1936–40 and graduated in wartime. For the war effort, Peter joined the New Zealand Women’s Land Service to become a ‘Land Girl’ at Rydal Downs near Okuku. The Land Girls’ life at Rydal Downs saw Peter engaged in almost every aspect of keeping a mixed sheep and grain farm operational, including most of their own food production. Remarkably, Peter also found time to record something of their everyday activity through a series of paintings and pen-and-ink sketches.

(Beneath the ranges, 18 February – 23 October 2017)

October London
Juliet Peter October London

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”.