To mark this year’s 20th anniversary of Special Collections, the curators have selected some intriguing items for the Twenty at 20 series. Here is number 19.
Tracing Auckland artist Alison Pickmere
Alison Blomfield Pickmere was an Auckland painter and printmaker who exhibited in group and solo shows from the 1940s-1970s. When the luxury InterContinental Hotel opened in Auckland in 1968, four of her oil paintings hung in its lounges and 150 of her colour-etchings in its guestrooms.1
Her works are held privately and in institutional collections, including here at Waipapa Taumata Rau.
Pickmere (1909-1971) was initially discouraged from becoming an artist, and worked for some years as a secretary, and in interior decorating, and wrote articles for the modernist magazine Home & Building.2
She eventually attended Elam School of Art from around 1936 when in her late 20s. A long-time member of the Auckland Society of Arts, Pickmere served two stints as its secretary in the 1940s and 1950s. She took further art courses in London and Sydney in the 1940s, and in Wellington with Paul Olds in 1963. Perhaps most significantly for her later art practice, she learnt colour etching in 1963 from renowned printmaker Stanley Hayter at his Atelier 17.3
Some of her semi-abstract landscapes and bush scenes were inspired by the coasts of Northland and Auckland, including around Huawai Bay, Mahurangi where her publisher-bookbinder husband Terry Bond had earlier built a bach that had been a magnet for artists and writers such as Eric Lee-Johnson and Rex Fairburn.5
This brief sketch about Pickmere was easily compiled using gallery and artist ephemera files, an art reviewer’s archive, and art yearbooks and journals held in Special Collections, plus monographs, digitised newspapers and booklets, and online biographies from elsewhere.
These are the kinds of archival and published sources we regularly point researchers to, but in this instance I wanted to know more about this fascinating, innovative artist after coming across one of her colour-etched prints for sale.
Pasted to the etching’s backing board was a biographical note and description of her work, torn from an unknown publication. I found its source in a Fine Arts artist’s file: it was the catalogue for her 1966 joint exhibition with Kees Hos and Peter and Theo Janssen, in which the etched print was listed and priced at eight guineas, unmounted.6 And a cryptic inscription on the backing board was explained by a catalogue in Pickmere’s artist’s file: it had been lent by a friend and fellow artist for a retrospective exhibition of her work in 1974.7
So ‘intriguing item’ no. 19 is the catalogue from a 1965 joint exhibition Pickmere had with potter Doreen Blumhardt at Kees and Tine Hos’ influential New Vision Gallery. It adds a sliver of information about Pickmere’s exhibition history, helps contextualise her work and provides a snapshot of Auckland’s gallery scene. Its design, colour and texture also wonderfully evokes the era.
The process of gathering snippets of information like this from many places also reinforced my appreciation for the throughlines and interwoven nature of the collections in this and other institutions around Aotearoa and beyond, and how they complement each other for the benefit of researchers.
Jo Birks, Special Collections
1 Etchings on display, The Press, 7 May 1968, p.3. Retrieved from Papers Past.
2 Lloyd-Jenkins, D. (2005). New dreamland : writing New Zealand architecture. Auckland, N.Z. : Godwit.
3 Thwaites, I. & Fletcher, R. (2004). We learnt to see: Elam’s Rutland Group 1935-1958. Auckland: Puriri Press.; Cape, P. (1974). Prints and printmakers in New Zealand. Auckland N.Z. : Collins; P, 1960 – 1972. Beverley Simmons research papers, MSS & Archives FA 2009/01, 1/15, Special Collections.
4 Pickmere, Alison, 1909-1971. Mahurangi Blue Trees, print, 1965. University of Auckland Waipapa Taumata Rau Art Collection.
5 Pickmere, A. (2004). Friends in the wilderness, in D. Holman and C. Cole Catley (Eds.), Fairburn and Friends, 82-87. Cape Catley.
6 Auckland Society of Arts; Auckland Festival. (1966). Peter & Theo Janssen : glass concrete & bronze; Kees Hos & Alison Pickmere: colour etchings. Auckland: Pelorus Press. Tāmaki Paenga Hira.
7 P, 1960 – 1972. University of Auckland Beverley Simmons research papers, MSS & Archives FA 2009/01, 1/15.
Feature image: Detail from Alison Pickmere and Doreen Blumhardt exhibition catalogue, 1965 New Vision Gallery. Beverley Simmons research papers, MSS & Archives FA 2009/1, 1/2.