Friday, 22 April 2016

Wonderful Exhibition by Kathy Shaw-Urlich

Northlanders have been enjoying a wonderful exhibition at Kaan Zamaan Gallery in Kerikeri.  I have blogged before about the stained-glass of Kathy Shaw-Urlich, the British-born woman of Maori descent who now lives at Whatuwhiwhi in the Far North. Kathy trained in the mediaeval skills of stained glass painting. She draws on imagery from her Maori heritage as well as her European background and uses those wonderful skills to produce amazing work (see my previous blog entries in 2012 and 2013,

Kathy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and has been undergoing a range of treatment for the disease.  The panels which are the centre-piece of this exhibition were created in a ten week period of respite from treatment prior to starting a strenuous course of chemotherapy which is currently underway (Kathy, our thoughts are with you). The artist tells us that the ideas behind the works had been developing throughout her treatment.  

The title work for the exhibition, Easter Rising (above) offers a nod to the Irish Easter rising of 1916 and her father's Dublin ancestors.  The range of rich imagery reflects Easter goodies, and Easter hares in the fields of the Northern spring. In a central reference to her bid for recovery, a phoenix rises before a Cross, around which are gathered the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and Saint John the Beloved, as they would appear in mediaeval glass. Another mediaeval emblem is the White Hart of Hertford, Kathy's birthplace, one of which she saw on Easter Monday 1997.

Many layers of ideas and symbols are present in all the works in the exhibition, reflecting Kathy's bicultural heritage and her thoughts about her own past, present and future. These are explored in the explanatory labels for the works. 
Red Monkey Knife Edge 
Hanging On for Dear Life

2016 is the Chinese year of the Red Monkey. This work also references the fierce red chemotherapy drug doxorubicin, while Hanging on for Dear Life includes a ladder to Heaven, eventually, across the Great Water.

Pounamu Whenua
St Michel and the Dragon

In these works Kathy explores the heritage of both her mother and her husband in Te Wai Pounamu, and her own experiences in Celtic Brittany.

Maria All Mothers
Anaheranui Rawhaera

The Blue Madonna is adorned with flowers and stars, and with the holy dove God's hand blesses. The healing Archangel Raphael blesses a woman in prayer, who attains an angel's wing.

Kahu 1
Kahu 2


The Kahu diptych references the hunter-like Orion, with feather cloak for protection and flight,  and Te Wahine o Te Moana, who joins Orion in the heavens.

Anaheranui Rawhaera

The Green Healing Archangel Raphael, with Jesus suffering on the cross, His breast scars like barbed wire, prayers of supplication, and healing green plants spiky aloe and kawakawa, prolific in the Far North. Revelation 22: 2 references the Tree of Life, with its leaves for the healing of all nations, the central motif in the window by Wilhelmina Geddes in Belfast, which I discussed in my blog on William Wheeler (see That window, which Kathy drew to my attention, has been important to her for many years, all the more so now, with its message of hope of healing for all.

Acknowledgement: I'm grateful to Kathy Shaw-Urlich and to Julia Reinholt of Kaan Zamaan Gallery in Kerikeri for permission to photograph these works and reproduce them here.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

... and now it's Irish in Belfast and Te Aroha, too

If you thought (as I rather did) my last post was stretching the 'New Zealand Glass' title of this blog a little, then brace yourselves. The stained glass windows in the Karori chapel were made by noted Irish stained glass artist Wilhelmina Geddes, of the noted Irish glass studio An Tur Gloine (see Wilhelmina Geddes also made the window I feature here.  But while the Karori windows are in New Zealand, this window is in the church of St John the Evangelist, Malone Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland. 

Signed Geddes 1920
My attention was again drawn to this window by Northland glass artist Kathy Shaw-Urlich, who was greatly taken with it when she was studying Wilhelmina Geddes' work for her dissertation. My appreciation of the window has also been assisted by Nicola Gordon-Bowe, Associate Fellow of the Irish National College of Art and Design and author of the new biography and catalogue Wilhelmina Geddes: Life and work. Nicola has kindly made available the images of the window that I use here.

St John the Evangelist, Malone Rd, Belfast (Ardfern image)

The window, nearly 3 metres tall, carries its own title 'The Leaves of the Tree were for the Healing of the Nations', which is a Biblical quote from the Book of Revelation. The window was made in 1920, which offers a clue as to why Wilhelmina Geddes selected this text as her inspiration. She had recently completed the magnificent war memorial window in Ottawa.  But there is another clue in the perhaps unusually long dedication at the base of the window, and that dedication also explains my justification for including this window in a New Zealand glass blog.

The dedication reads "In memory of William Arthur Wheeler M.D., Captain N.Z.M.C., who served his country and his fellow men throughout the South African War and the Great War. Born in Belfast, 10 April 1860, died at Te Aroha 16th December 1918." 

I'll return to Captain Wheeler shortly, but I should describe the window a bit more fully (and since I haven't seen it, I'm indebted to Nicola Gordon-Bowe's book for the description).  The text in Revelation 22:2 refers to a city down the street of which flows a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 'On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations'. The window depicts this river and the Tree of Life. It also shows small groups of people wandering amongst the trees along the banks of the river, dressed in brightly coloured garments, conversing with each other and accompanied by angels. At the top of the window an angel plays heavenly music while perched in a tree, and the man below him appears transfixed by the beauty of the music.

In her own description of the window, Wilhelmina Geddes wrote: 

"Different series of people walking about under trees in Paradise, and weary wanderers at the foot. There are poets, ladies, sages and travellers in this order from top to bottom. The travellers include St Brendan. The listening man is a saint."

At the bottom of the window, just above the dedication a stern looking angel carrying a lamp appears to be protecting a rather dejected figure dressed in white, keeping 2 men standing in the trees away from the forlorn figure in white who sits with head bowed.

There is no particular biblical authority for this figure, and Geddes simply calls him a 'weary wanderer' but in my view this solitary figure is what gives this window its intensely personal quality. The window was commissioned from Wilhelmina Geddes and An Tur Gloine by Kate Wheeler, sister of William Arthur Wheeler.
I have discovered a great deal about the life and death of this interesting and rather pathetic character, enough for a short novel. Much of the detail will have to appear elsewhere, but to explain why this window is in this Blog at all I do need to provide an summary.

Captain of the school First XV in 1878 - the only known photo
William Arthur Wheeler was born in Belfast in 1860 into a well-off medical family. In 1882 he graduated B.A. Honours in pharmacy from Trinity College Dublin, and in 1889 he graduated in medicine and surgery from Queens College Belfast. From 1889 until 1893 he practised medicine in and around Belfast, before going to Jalpaiguri in Bengal, India between 1894 and 1901. In March 1901 he was recorded in the census as being back in Belfast living with his brother George and his wife and their unmarried sister Kate.

Soon after that, he went to South Africa to serve as a "Civil Surgeon". The British Army Medical Corps found itself severely understaffed when war broke out in South Africa, and recruited several hundred of these civil surgeons who were not themselves in the Army but were attached to elements of it to work in the military hospitals. William Wheeler served twenty months at No. 11 General Hospital, Kimberley and with the 3rd Scottish Rifles at Boshof. In recognition of his service Dr Wheeler received the Queen's South Africa medal, with clasps for 1901, 1902,  Orange Free State and Cape Colony. (The images are from Wikipedia, and do not show Dr Wheeler's own medal. I do not know the whereabouts of it or Wheeler's First World War medals. They may be with the family in Ireland.)

At the end of 1903, Dr Wheeler sailed for New Zealand as a passenger on S.S. Turakina. I don't know why Dr Wheeler chose to come to New Zealand; it may be that he had met some New Zealanders in South Africa. A cousin had gone to New Zealand in 1901 and was a GP in Auckland, but they don't seem to have had much contact, so that may be coincidence. Whatever his reason, it was not the bright lights and big cities of New Zealand that attracted him. He set up practice in Owaka in South Otago, where he was first registered as a doctor on the NZ medical register in 1904. Over the years his registration followed his movements around the country: Owaka and the tiny settlement of Rainbow, Nelson in 1906; Kaikoura between 1907 and 1908; Wakefield, Nelson between 1911 and 1914. After he gave up his practice in Kaikoura he took passage to the UK in July 1908, returning to New Zealand as ship's doctor in October 1908. In 1915 he was registered as a medical doctor and pharmaceutical chemist in Ohakune. From there he twice wrote to the NZ military authorities offering his services to the Army, as a volunteer in any medical capacity; his offer was declined. He was told 'there are no vacancies for appointment with the Expeditionary Force', which might seem surprising, though he was now 55 years old. Maybe his age counted against him?

However, on 24 September 1915 in Palmerston North, Dr Wheeler enlisted as a Private in the Ambulance Corps.  A pretty lowly position for a qualified surgeon, GP and pharmacist, you might well think. But the fact that he did serve in the NZ Army means that his service record is available, and it turned out to be a goldmine. At 152 pages long, it is one of the largest I have seen, and full of information.

The file provides a possible explanation for Dr Wheeler's preference for small towns and his shunning of the bright lights.  It seems that while he was in India in the 1890s he contracted malaria, whose symptoms he began to treat with morphine. This opium derived drug was commonly prescribed in nineteenth and early twentieth century medicine, and indeed is still in use today, but it is of course highly addictive. As a Private in the Field Ambulance in 1915, Wheeler was sent to Cairo in support of the New Zealand forces then at Gallipoli. It would seem the authorities were delighted to find they had a qualified pharmacist amongst their number and so in March 1916 he was promoted Acting Sergeant in the Dispensary. However they were probably less delighted when only six weeks later he was admitted to the Aotea Convalescent Home in Cairo, suffering from "nervous debility".
After a fortnight there he was returned to his unit and sent, as so many of the New Zealand forces in Egypt were, to England. He was sent to the Hornchurch Convalescent Depot, though it's not clear whether he was on the staff or a patient. In August 1916 he was discharged from hospital and posted back to the New Zealand Army Medical Corps, at Sling Camp on Salisbury Plain and then at NZMC HQ in London. 

However, all was clearly not well, since at the end of December 1916 Sgt Dr Wheeler was admitted to the New Zealand General Hospital at Walton on Thames. A medical report prepared at the end of January 1917 noted that Wheeler was suffering from "Debility – Morphia Habit. He had Malaria in India 19 years ago, and has had occasional attacks since. He has been in fair health for a time and was able to carry on satisfactorily until the end of December, when he got a severe bronchial attack; feeling ill he gave way to an old habit of taking Morphia; he went to pieces and was sent to Walton on December 30th." The cause of that debility is described as "the habit of taking Morphia which he contracted in India where he had been in the habit of using it as a preventative to Malaria". The report's recommendation was that he be discharged as permanently unfit for war service.

Doctor Wheeler sailed for New Zealand on the troopship Maunganui in March 1917. One might think he would disappear into obscurity again, but New Zealand was apparently short of qualified doctors. He was the subject of a Medical Board held in Wellington in May 1917 which reported that Wheeler had debility from a morphia habit in response to malaria and was over age. "The man vehemently states that the accusation of morphia taking is untrue and that he never made any such statement. His pupils are very small and react badly to light [which are classic morphine addiction symptoms]. He is fit to do medical duty. He is qualified'. 

Wheeler's denial that he had a morphine addiction seems quite remarkable in the circumstances, but even more remarkable was the decision of the New Zealand Army's Director General Medical Services to take Wheeler on and commission him as a Captain in the New Zealand Medical Corps, stationed at Featherston Camp in the Wairarapa. He served there from June 1917 until December 1918, interrupted only by a fortnight in the Camp Hospital in March 1918 suffering from "nervous debility". A later report notes that during this period the Camp suffered from the effects of the 'flu pandemic and Captain Wheeler was considerably overworked as a consequence. At the end of November 1918, Captain Wheeler wrote to his superiors inquiring about his future prospects in the light of the current demobilisation. A reply was sent advising that his employment in his current position would continue for a further twelve months. 
The Palace Hotel, Te Aroha today
But before he received the reply, on 10 December 1918 William Wheeler took leave and went to Te Aroha, a spa town in the Waikato. He often took leave there, staying with a friend, the local chemist. On this occasion he stayed at the hotel, as a precaution against infecting the chemist's child with 'flu from the Camp.

On Sunday, 15 December 1918, Surgeon-Captain William Arthur Wheeler NZMC was found dead in his room in the Palace Hotel, Te Aroha. He was 58 years old. The Coroner found that he had died accidentally from a self-administered dose of morphine. There was no suggestion that he meant to die; the attending doctor, who knew Wheeler was an addict, said 'Captain Wheeler had taken just a little more morphia than his system was capable of handling'. 

William Arthur Wheeler is buried in the cemetery at Te Aroha, where 'a number of returned soldiers attended as a last mark of respect for a fellow-soldier', as the local newspaper recorded. The inscription on his tombstone "I pray thee, then, Write me as one that loves his fellow men" comes from a popular 1834 Romantic poem Abou Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt, whose sentiment seems particularly apposite. 

In the will that all soldiers had to provide upon enlistment, then Private William Wheeler named his sister Kate in Belfast as his sole beneficiary. Kate was 2 years younger than her brother and as she was 53 and unmarried when he made his will he may have felt that she would need some financial support. Whether he left her very much money is not known, but she obviously felt the need to commemorate him appropriately. It seems likely that she provided the tombstone in Te Aroha and selected the epitaph which acknowledges his life of medical service. 

Kate Wheeler also commissioned from An Tur Gloine and Wilhelmina Geddes the stained-glass window in his memory in their local church in Belfast. It cost £122-17s-6d, which one online source suggests is equivalent to £80,000 sterling today. Kate took a close interest in the design and making of the window. Wilhelmina Geddes was apprehensive whether Miss Wheeler would like the window, and was relieved when she approved the first small-scale coloured sketch.

So this wonderful Irish stained glass window in a Belfast church commemorates the life and service of a colonial doctor who served his fellow man in Ireland, India, South Africa and New Zealand. It also reminds us, as a New Zealand medical historian has told me, that Wheeler's fate was a common one amongst colonial doctors, many of whom became addicted thanks to self-prescribing.

Monday, 11 January 2016

A Touch of the Irish in Karori

As its name says, this blog is about New Zealand glass, mostly as a form of discipline to keep my enthusiasm in check. But occasionally, as you may have noticed, I stray a little, usually when there is a New Zealand connection. I also deal mostly with glass that is blown or cast. But this entry is about flat glass, architectural glass, stained glass, and although these windows are in New Zealand, they sit very firmly in the tradition of Irish glass. The New Zealand connection is both the location of the windows, in the Karori Crematorium and Chapel, Wellington, and a link to contemporary New Zealand maker of stained glass windows, Kathy Shaw-Urlich.
Karori Crematorium and Chapel, Wellington
The Crematorium and Chapel was built in 1909, as the doorway proclaims, and is a Category I Listed heritage place. It was the first crematorium built in New Zealand, but its main interest for us is in the six stained glass windows in the interior. These were commissioned between 1914 and 1939 from the Irish glass studio An Tur Gloine. The Heritage New Zealand listing says these windows: 
are considered to be the most important set of twentieth century imported windows of their kind in New Zealand. They are also the most significant group of windows produced by the Dublin glass-making studio An Tur Gloine which exist outside Eire and Northern Ireland.

New Zealand's acknowledged specialist in stained glass, Dr Fiona Ciaran, has said that windows from An Tur Gloine are recognised as being among the greatest achievements in glass of the twentieth century. 

The first pair of windows were designed and made in 1914 by Wilhelmina Geddes (1887–1955), who was a vital figure in the Irish Arts and Crafts movement and the 20th-century British stained glass revival. She was 'a medieval-modernist painter of rare intellect, skill and aesthetic integrity'. On her death she was described as ‘the greatest stained glass artist of our time’ but since then she has been largely forgotten, until a crater on Mercury was named in her honour in 2010. Now a magnificent 500 page biography and catalogue has been published. Wilhelmina Geddes: Life and work is by Nicola Gordon Bowe, an Associate Fellow of the Irish National College of Art and Design, who has written extensively on the Irish Arts and Crafts Movement and the work of An Tur Gloine. A review in the Irish Times in November 2015 said that Bowe's 'magisterial biography' tells a 'fascinating tale, shot through, as it should be, by glorious colour reproductions of the artist's work, illuminating the narrative as her windows did churches.'  The reviewer notes that by the times Geddes died in 1955, she was already slipping into obscurity, and eventually most of Ireland had completely forgotten her. But thanks to this new biography, he concludes, 'Ireland has reclaimed a long-lost daughter'. The Times Higher Education reviewer said  'Happily, Nicola Gordon Bowe’s detailed study has rescued this significant Irish artist from relative obscurity. This book is more than an introduction to the artist’s life and work: it combines the author’s art-historical insight with a biographical narrative enlivened by memorable stories drawn from Geddes’ personal diaries and correspondence, which, on more than one occasion, had me laughing out loud.'

At Karori, we New Zealanders are fortunate to be able to see two wonderful examples of Wilhelmina Geddes' work. 

Five of the Karori windows commemorate members of the extended family of William Ferguson, engineer and secretary-treasurer of the Wellington Harbour Board, and an early proponent of a crematorium for Wellington.  Wilhelmina Geddes' windows in Karori are Faith, in memory of Jane Ann Moorhouse, William Ferguson's mother-in law, who had died in 1901, and Hope, in memory of his daughter Louisa Sefton Ferguson, who had died in 1910 as a child of only eight years old.

Faith depicts a sword-bearing Angel of Faith, leading a woman safely through a forest inhabited by wild beasts and a raven, and a red-haired temptress. At the top are vignettes of Moses in the bulrushes, and Moses as overseer in Egypt.


Hope has a much gentler Angel of Hope, waiting to greet a child in a boat, who is 'crossing over', surrounded by doves - the young Louisa, presumably. The clear pane by the child's head results from damage that had been done before the conservation of the window in 1984. It is thought that a lamp or candle was in the angel's hand as a beacon of hope, and the possibility remains of restoring that element to the image. The 1984 conservation returned the windows to sound condition, though sadly in the subsequent 30 years some of the windows have bowed, there's a recent break in one, and a good clean would not go amiss.

By 1914, William Ferguson and his wife had suffered the loss of a mother and a daughter, and this presumably was what turned their thoughts to commemorative windows. Ferguson had studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and it is thought that he had met there one of the founders of An Tur Gloine, Sarah Purser. It was Purser who invited Wilhelmina Geddes to join the group in 1912, and so the Ferguson commission completed the circle. There is also a personal connection for me, since William Ferguson's nephew was the noted Auckland eye surgeon and community benefactor the late Lindo Ferguson, who was such a staunch supporter of Auckland Museum when I was there, and subsequently a good friend in Northland. 

But the New Zealand connection in glass is, as I mentioned, through Kathy Shaw-Urlich, whose worked I have blogged about previously (see for example,

Although she was born in England, Kathy has whakapapa connections to Ngāti Hau at Whakapara and Te Uri o Te Aho o Ngāpuhi, and now lives and practises in northern Te Tai Tokerau.  Kathy has told me that Geddes has been her stained glass hero since she first saw Geddes' work in the William Morris Museum in Walthamstow, an exhibition entitled Stained Glass Women Artists of the Arts & Crafts Movement in 1986. Kathy initially trained in architectural stained glass at Swansea in Wales, where she did an intensive study of Wilhelmina Geddes' work, having visited most of her windows in Britain and Ireland as well as the Karori windows beforehand. In 1989 Kathy wrote a dissertation on Geddes, focusing on the window in All Saints Church at Laleham in Surrey. Kathy was delighted to see that Nicola Gordon Bowe has chosen a detail from that window for the book cover.


I was going to restrict myself here to Wilhelmina Geddes' windows at Karori, but there are three more Ferguson family windows by another An Tur Gloine artist, Michael Healy, and it seems sensible to complete the series.

Charity was made in 1931, and commemorates William Harold Sefton Moorhouse, William Ferguson's brother-in-law, who died in 1929.

Love, also made in 1931, commemorates William Ferguson's wife, Mary who had died the previous year.

Finally, there is Wisdom, made in 1937 to commemorate William Ferguson himself. It is one of the last windows Healy made, and the only one of the Karori series to be signed by the artist, with the studio name as well. There is a recent break in a lower right green pane.


Monday, 30 November 2015

John Croucher's Hot Lips Trilogy

John Croucher was an important influence on the development of glass in Auckland and New Zealand. After some experimentation and with the support of the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council John set up Sunbeam Glassworks in Jervois Road in 1976. Formed as a loose co-op of several craft-workers, glass production included hot glass, flat glass and flame working. In 1981 two new glass-blowers became partners with John Croucher at Sunbeam. Ann Robinson was a student at Elam in 1980, and while there met Australian Garry Nash.  After Ann graduated from Elam, she and Garry joined John Croucher at Sunbeam in 1981. They developed the new Sunbeam studio in McKelvie Street in Ponsonby. This was a highly successful partnership, and the Sunbeam artists brought wide exposure to this new art form. 

Photo: Krzysztof Pfeiffer, from Pacific Glass '83.
John Croucher at Sunbeam, 1982 Photo: Mark Wilson

One of the Sunbeam pieces that made quite an impact was John Croucher's Hot Lips Trilogy, made in 1982. John has told me that the inspiration for the design came about purely spontaneously while he was trying to make welded lip vessels.  Hot Lips Trilogy was one of John Croucher's entries in Pacific Glass ’83, the first major exhibition of glass in New Zealand. The exhibition opened at the Govett-Brewster Gallery in New Plymouth to coincide with the second NZSAG Conference, held at Inglewood, before touring the country in 1983–84. 

The 1982 trilogy from Pacific Glass '83 was acquired by the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt in 1983 (1983/25/1, 1-3.  The pieces are 33cm, 28.5cm and 13.5cm h).

A very similar trilogy, made in 1983, was acquired by the Powerhouse Museum in  Sydney in 1984; only a monochrome record photo is currently available.
Photo: Powerhouse Museum A10096 from 

Still another Hot Lips Trilogy in grey and red was acquired by Auckland War Memorial Museum in 1986 (G.428, 1986.9). Its date of making is not recorded, but was probably 1985. 

The writing of this blog is stimulated by my own recent purchase from TradeMe of a small Hot Lips vase, the second in my collection, shown below on the left.

SP collection, red piece 
signed J Croucher 83. 29cm h
SP collection, unsigned 11.5cm h 

Although it is not signed, the style is very distinctive.  In a email, John Croucher confirmed this as a piece he had made, saying  'Yep that's one of the very early hot lips series -probably about 1982?'

The larger piece on the right I have mentioned in a blog previously (, but I'm happy to include it again now I have two.  I'm one vase shy of a trilogy, but still looking! 

John Croucher's original partner at Sunbeam was James Walker, who sadly died in 2011. (I wrote about his death in my blog on 9 April 2011 James bequeathed two Hot Lips vases to Hawke's Bay Museums Trust. Although not signed or dated, these are much more decorated than the original forms.  It would be interesting to see how many variants there are.   


Hot Lips Vases, John Croucher (b.1948), from the estate of Mr James Walker, Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2011/14/2 (front and reverse) and 2011/14/3 (below)

26.5cm high

14.5cm high

This piece in my own collection is another variant, combining Hot Lips with the optical mould formed opaque glass with black wavy lines that both he and Ann Robinson used at Sunbeam.  Although not signed, this recent TradeMe acquisition is also clearly a Hot Lips piece

SP collection, unsigned 31cm high