Historian taking on new Deco role

By Roger Moroney

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New Art Deco heritage officer Michael Fowler settles in at the Art Deco centre, Napier, with Art Deco Trust general manager Sally Jackson. Photo / Warren Buckland
New Art Deco heritage officer Michael Fowler settles in at the Art Deco centre, Napier, with Art Deco Trust general manager Sally Jackson. Photo / Warren Buckland

After noted Hawke's Bay historian and author Michael Fowler got a call from the Art Deco Trust about six weeks ago, he started thinking about what to wear.

Namely, what to wear to work (on occasions when required) in the wake of saying "yes" to the trust's request for him to take up the role of heritage officer, which had previously been carried out by the late Robert McGregor.

"Bit daunting following Robert because he did such a remarkable job," Mr Fowler said as he settled into his new part-time role yesterday.

He said he had no hesitation in taking it on, as heritage and history were deeply ingrained parts of his life.

While the role was new to him the faces were not, so it was a comfortable introduction.

"And Sally brought me a cup of tea," he said with a smile.

Indeed, Art Deco Trust general manager Sally Jackson said she was delighted to welcome Mr Fowler to the Tennyson St office.

"To have that core focus on heritage again is just great," she said, adding the trust had a series of heritage programmes on the books which would now be steered by Mr Fowler.

One programme, Project Repaint, had been started by Mr McGregor and focused on identifying several buildings in Napier which could be repainted by the trust in association with the Napier City Council.

"It's a great project for Michael to get stuck into," she said.

Mr Fowler, who is also a feature columnist for Hawke's Bay Today, said his years of staging tours of Hastings' Art Deco delights during the annual Tremains Art Deco Festival meant he was familiar with the whole crew.

"I've documented Hastings over the past 10 years, so I'm looking forward to putting the focus on Napier."

Part of that will be providing publications for the trust, and one he has been working on for the past three years, a history of the Marine Parade, is on track to be released in time for the 2017 festival.

Mr Fowler said he had been heavily influenced by the passion and the knowledge that Mr McGregor possessed for the job.

About 10 years ago, he wrote a book about the Deco sites of Hastings and took it in to see if Mr McGregor would write a forward for it.

"He didn't know me but he read the book and said he liked it - that was the beginning of it."

For Mr Fowler, his new heritage officer role was something of a natural progression as he had been intrigued by history since he was a child.

"I had some very good history teachers and even at the age of 7 or 8, if we went to Rotorua for a holiday I just wanted to see the old heritage sites," Mr Fowler said.

"When it came to buying a souvenir, it was usually something with a historical background.

"Just in-built in me I suppose," he said, adding that would strongly continue as he now focused on the delights of Art Deco.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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