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Christchurch City Council Media Release 21 July, 1997

Angels & Roses

20 August-19 October

This exhibition celebrates the work of Frederick George Gurnsey who was, for almost fifty years, synonymous with the art of wood and stone carving in New Zealand. Barriers between art and craft are challenged and broken down in this wide-ranging selection of objects collected from both ecclesiastical and secular environs. Such barriers have tended to obscure the remarkable achievement of master craftsmen over the years. In this case, Gurnsey’s extensive versatility in style, whether working in wood or stone, ranges from the Gothic to Art Nouveau, from Elizabethan Revival to distinctive New Zealand idioms. This exhibition places Gurnsey’s carvings within both their artistic and social contexts and acknowledges the infinite hours the artist put into this labour of love.

One of eight children, Gurnsey was born in Wales in 1868. Emigrating from Britain to New Zealand in 1904, he taught at Canterbury College School of Art until 1923 during which time he spent three years as acting director. Among his pupils were W.T. Trethewey, Ronald Ranby, Kathleen Browne and Olivia Spencer Bower. Following this he worked as a free lance carver undertaking prestigious commissions throughout New Zealand, Canterbury and Otago in particular.

Although Gurnsey’s work is found in many churches and historically important buildings and monuments, it has not received the art historical attention that it deserves. His intricate carvings are recognised by too few, yet many locals will be familiar with the landmarks around the city and region on which his carvings appear.

Up until now this lack of recognition seems to be because of his personal modesty and the ambiguous artistic status of carving. Yet Gurnsey’s carvings have made a significant contribution to the artistic impact of some noted heritage sites in Canterbury and Otago. It is the technical excellence, his versatility and the wit and whimsical charm of his work that immediately sets Gurnsey apart from his contemporaries. Often present in the work of Gurnsey is his signature of the Tudor rose, an affectionate tribute to his wife, Rose Ellen. Always experimenting, Gurnsey was never happy with one style. New Zealand birds featured a great deal in his work, as did other references from the natural world and his most interesting work was produced in his later career. Although a predominance of his work was done in Anglican churches, Gurnsey was a free thinker and was not affiliated with any denomination.

For the first time ever, the remarkable achievements of this talented artist will be acknowledged and on display for all to see and enjoy in this extensive exhibition at the Robert McDougall Art Gallery. Angels and Roses can be seen at the gallery from 20 August to 19 October, 1997.

The Robert McDougall Art Gallery is Christchurch’s public art gallery which features regularly changing exhibitions of international and New Zealand historical and contemporary art. The McDougall Art Annex is one of New Zealand’s leading contemporary art venues. The Robert McDougall Art Gallery is located in Christchurch Botanic Gardens, behind Canterbury Museum. The McDougall Art Annex is across the road in the Arts Centre, Worcester Boulevard. Hours at both galleries are 10 a.m. - 5.30 p.m. (Summer) and 10 a.m. - 4.30 p.m. (Winter). Guided tours are available on request and admission is free.

21 July, 1997

ANGELS AND ROSES

Exhibition Fact Sheet

DESCRIPTION

This exhibition is a celebration of the work of Frederick George Gurnsey (1868-1953). Locating Gurnsey’s carvings into artistic and social contexts this exhibition is made up of four sections - metalwork and enamelling, domestic carvings, church carvings and sculpture. Over sixty objects gathered from churches, schools and historical buildings throughout Canterbury, South Canterbury and the McKenzie country are featured in the exhibition.

BACKGROUND

Although primarily churches, Gurnsey did work also for civic buildings, public monuments and private commissions. Most noted for his precision, Gurnsey refused to rush his carvings and was a perfectionist in his work which displayed considerable charm and wit. Because of the status of carving and the barriers between art and craft Gurnsey’s achievements have, until now, received little recognition. Rodin’s view that inspiration comes only by understanding the beautiful through slow progress and patience was shared by Gurnsey who created hundreds of wood and stone carvings. The exhibition aims to break down the often negative and elitest barrier between art and craft, between sculpture and carving. These barriers have tended to obscure Gurnsey’s remarkable achievement.

HIGHLIGHTS

Almost 60 objects featuring Gurnsey’s carvings from around Canterbury, South Canterbury, Otago and the McKenzie country.

Four sections of furnishings, metalwork and enamelling, domestic carvings, church carvings and sculpture.

A comprehensive illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition

An accompanying floortalk in the exhibition by co-curator Dr. Mark Stocker. Dr Stocker, a senior lecturer Canterbury University School of Fine Art, will also give a guided walking tour around inner city Christchurch looking at examples of Gurnsey’s work.

Self-guided walking tour maps of the inner city pointing out examples of Gurnsey’s work are available from the front desk at the Gallery

Daily free tours of the exhibition at the McDougall Art Gallery


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