MY CHOICE: Nicola Williams / July 2021
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MY CHOICE: Nicola Williams / July 2021

July 2021: Nicola Williams, chairman of the Sarjeant Gallery Trust

Each month a member of our community is invited to browse our online collection and select six of their favourite artworks. Each ‘My Choice’ selection, together with personal responses to the works, will be available to view on the Sarjeant Gallery website for one month at a time. The July 2021 My Choice has been selected by Chairman of the Sarjeant Gallery Trust Board Nicola Williams MNZM, and is available to view until 31 July 2021.

As well as 3 years working for a finance company and merchant bank, Nicola Williams worked in the NZ fishing industry for 18 years in a family company based at Castlecliff, Whanganui. The company was sold to Sanfords Ltd in 1994 and since that time Nicola has managed a number of family investment entities as well as involving herself in community projects and local politics. She was a trustee of the Wanganui Life Education Trust, a founding member of the Wanganui Arts Festival and Blooming Arts Festival, Chairman of the ERUPT Lake Taupō Festival Trust for 8 years, a Corporate Patron of the Sarjeant Gallery since 1994, and a long term supporter and benefactor of numerous NZ charities. She has also involved herself in a number of election campaign teams, a delegate for the National Party in the Taupō Electorate and served as a Councillor on the Taupō District Council for one triennium. Nicola has acted as Chairman of the Sarjeant Gallery Trust since 2014 and along with Greg Anderson, Sarjeant Gallery Director, has spearheaded the capital raising for the Sarjeant Gallery Redevelopment Project. She was awarded an MNZM in June 2019 for her efforts.

Nicola’s Choices:

Wi Taepa, Ipu “Waka”

“I first encountered Wi Taepa’s work in an Exhibition of pre-eminent Māori artists held at the Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt in 1999 when Tim Walker was the Director there. It was the first time I had encountered a group show of Māori artists.

Funnily enough though I had visited the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York a few years earlier and was lucky enough to have an introduction to a senior curator there. She was so overcome when I told her I was from Aotearoa. She told me about the opening ceremony of Te Māori in 1982 and how spine chilling it was to hear the Māori people burst into waiata in that incredible atrium area. She told how people were moved to tears by the performers and that it was an unforgettable experience. I felt very moved by her words and that of her colleagues. It made me feel proud to be a New Zealander.

The artists at the Dowse exhibition had mostly been part of that outstanding Te Māori exhibition that toured the US in the early eighties. I was blown away. I purchased Wi’s piece in this exhibition, Rūaumoko, son of sky father Ranginui (Rangi) and earth mother Papatūānuku (Papa), who is thought responsible for all violent stirrings beneath the earth. The work was stored in Diana Handley’s Karori home until its’ eventual transportation to my then home at Kai Iwi, Whanganui. During the trip Ruaumoko’s right buttock was damaged. Wi came up from Otaki to repair him and Wi and I have been friends ever since. I love his work.”

Frank Denton, Drop Scene

“When I became Chairman of the Sarjeant Gallery Trust I asked Gallery Director Greg Anderson, “What is the point of difference of the Sarjeant Gallery Collection?” His response was…our photography collection which is one of the very best in the country. In fact he has had groups from North America and Europe who have travelled to New Zealand, to Whanganui, to the Sarjeant specifically just to see the photographic collection. In one case a collector was making assertive effort to negotiate the purchase of a photographic work but was informed in no uncertain terms that being part of an important public collection, it was not for sale! In the 1920’s the then Mayor Charles Mackay commissioned Frank Denton, a Whanganui photographer of note who had international connections, to assemble quality photographic works for an exhibition. At the time photographs were probably not commanding premium prices and Frank was able to buy well. Like many Whanganui people I have a love for our moody and mysterious river, the mighty Whanganui. It wanders through awesome terrain from the Mountains of the Central Plateau to the Sea. This picture is of the Drop Scene, one of the most well known and most photographed vistas. However today we cannot see the “Drop” like it was in Frank’s day as the river has changed over time. I always feel happy and at peace when I am up there.”

Bill Hammond, Living Large No. 5

“Bill Hammond, recently deceased, is probably my favourite New Zealand artist. I am particularly intrigued by his strangely ghost like birds, who stand like sentinels guarding and judging. I think this work in the Sarjeant Collection is superb. However, the green hues that are represented in many of his bird paintings really capture my eye.

I remember attending a wonderful event in the Christchurch Art Gallery back in 2007. Footnote Dance Company made an agonisingly beautiful performance in the Gallery surrounded by Bill’s birds. I was memorised by their presence and the sad beauty of the dance. The birds are a statement about the dreadful tragedy of the extinction of so many species of birds that were indigenous to Aotearoa NZ. Sir Walter Buller was instrumental in the mass killing of these birds which were then shipped to Great Britain to meet the desire of wealthy people to collect dead things from exotic places.”

Edith Collier, Fishing Boats – St. Ives

“A large part of Edith’s work is on permanent loan from the Collier Family Trust and forms an important part of the Sarjeant Collection. She was a contemporary of Francis Hodgkins and they worked together and travelled to some similar places in Ireland, France and the UK to paint. The difference was that Francis always struggled as an impoverished artist whereas Edith was supported by her wealthy Taihape farming family.

Much of her good work was done whilst abroad as when she came home at the will of her parents she was somewhat suffocated in her artistic endeavours. For example it is known that her father burned her repertoire of nude works as he found them offensive. Such was New Zealand society at that time.

Recently her nephew, Gordon Collier, encouraged his wider family members to bring their work to his home in Taihape and he had a marvellous exhibition of Edith’s paintings that had largely been unsighted by the public ever before. Thank you Gordon for this great opportunity!!

Very little work comes up on the market as it is mostly held by the Collier family and at the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui.

Having always been a lover of the sea and an ex fishmonger I particularly like this nostalgic work of Edith’s painted during her time in St. Ives around 1920. Sailing is also my ultimate passion so another reason for this lovely watercolour to resonate with me.”

Frank Denton, Portrait of Lord Leverhulme

“Again I have chosen to honour Frank Denton by including another of his photographs. The subject matter is of particular interest to me. Lord Leverhulme came to New Zealand during the construction of the Sarjeant Gallery which opened in 1919. He was on a mission to buy tallow for his soap company. During the six months or so in New Zealand he met Henry Sarjeant and he donated some very valuable artworks both to the Sarjeant Gallery and to the Auckland Art Gallery. You can view these beautiful works by searching the collection on the Sarjeant website (

By the way Lord Leverhulme’s soap company made Sunlight Soap which later morphed in to the Unilever global brand. I have visited Port Sunlight just south of Liverpool where his manufacturing plant was located and all his staff were housed. The village is truly beautiful and pays tribute to his business ethics and kindness to those who surrounded him and helped create his empire. The 900 homes are lovely and surrounded by park like grounds, a huge lake with fountains, a Museum, two Schools, a hospital and shops selling essential items. The reason I visited was to view the Lady Lever Museum Art Gallery, built in honour of his wife who died too young. Like Henry Sarjeant he was a mason and like the Sarjeant Gallery the Lady Lever Gallery was built in the form of a Greek cross and constructed of stone. The difference is, this gallery has 2 domes and is somewhat larger. I think it is extraordinary that Lord Leverhulme came all this way to New Zealand, bought agricultural product to ship home and donated fabulous artwork for the future posterity of our public institutions. His legacy continues today and his substantial businesses, land holdings and collections of note are managed by his descendants. Whilst the Head Office of Unilever is no longer located at Port Sunlight, the company R&D activities still take place there.”

Gretchen Albrecht, Punishment No. 3

“Gretchen Albrecht was often at the Sarjeant back when Bill Milbank was Director of the Sarjeant and Juliette Handley was the Chairman of the Sarjeant Gallery Trust. There was a great deal of glamour and vibrancy then with many high profile and eclectic groups of guests and we look forward to recreating those days and having  people migrate back to us when we open the doors of the redeveloped Sarjeant Gallery in late 2023.

While I love the painting The Fire and the Rose because of its’ spectacular colour, I have chosen this piece of Gretchen’s “Punishment (Tristan and Iseult) because of the image depicting this work shows it hanging proudly in the Sarjeant’s Dome, the inner womb of our neo Classical Greek Orthodox masonry building which commands Category 1 status with Heritage New Zealand. This space originally housed a copy of the famous Greek Wrestlers marble sculpture (which for many young schoolchildren like me back in the early 60’s was our lasting first impression of the Sarjeant Collection!) The Dome has since been used for many more auspicious exhibitions such as that of Bill Culbert and his stunning light installation. Because we believe the Dome is the most special place within the Gallery we are honouring our Foundation Partners in this space as they were the ones that believed in the Sarjeant Reconstruction Project from the outset and invested significant funds to kick start our capital raising for this nationally important project.”

Past exhibitions 2021