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Christchurch City Council Media Release 20 April, 1998


Robert McDougall Art Gallery. 6 May-21 June 1998

This exhibition comprises some of the most significant sculptures that Ria Bancroft produced during the three decades she was active as an artist in New Zealand.

Displaying a variety of media, the focus of the exhibition is on Bancroft’s work from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, although a space in the Gallery will look at some of her earlier work together with an installation displaying methods and process involved in her work.

Christchurch was the home for Ria Bancroft from 1962 until her death in 1993. Her life journey, a story in itself was quite remarkable and led her in many directions. Although her artistic ability, particularly in three dimensional work, was recognised as a child, she was unable to fulfil her ambition as an artist until the last three decades of her life. At the age of 54 and with a Diploma from the Academy of Florence, Bancroft left Italy where she had been studying, to come to New Zealand to begin a new life as a professional artist and to reclaim some of the time lost.

She gradually settled into the Christchurch art community as a new generation of post world war II artists were emerging with new ideas and a ready acceptance of international directions. The shortage or lack of basic materials and equipment for her art added fuel to Bancroft’s frustration’s at living in Christchurch and not Florence as did the virtually non-existent opportunity to cast her work in bronze.

Bancroft became a member of the Canterbury Society of Arts and in 1963 was invited to exhibit with The Group. Among the other artist members at the time were William A. Sutton, Toss Woollaston, Doris Lusk, Tony Fomison, Ida Lough and Pat Mulcahy.

Her first major commission was in 1965 when she was invited by the Christchurch City Council to make a sculpture to be incorporated in the design of the new ‘Horizon’ restaurant at Christchurch International Airport. She also worked in collaboration with wood artist, Pat Mulcahy for the University of Canterbury and the new New Zealand Broadcasting building in Rotorua. As early as 1964 Bancroft was invited to join the New Zealand Society of Sculptors and in the mid 1960s, she embarked on a number of sculptural projects that included religious subjects, a thread in her work that was to grow stronger as the years passed.

There was bitter disappointment when Bancroft’s design for the Stewart fountain in High Street was rejected after having been formally accepted. The favoured design by Laurance Karasek eventually failed and attempts to establish a replacement have foundered. McDougall Senior Curator, Neil Roberts speculates that had Bancroft’s design been honoured it would likely still be in place today.

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