While reading a recent Cordy's Antique & Art Auction catalogue, Lot No 133 sprang to the attention of the curatorial team.

Pictured was a charming side table carved by Hawke's Bay artist Jane Brenkley, featuring Maori-inspired design and subject matter. Determined to acquire the table for the museum's collection, we agreed on a top bid and crossed our fingers.

The artist, originally named Hanna Eliza Jane Hopkins and known as Jane, was born in 1882 in Norsewood to Scandinavian parents who had immigrated to Hawke's Bay on board the Hovding.

At age 18, Jane married sawmiller Thomas Brenkley and the couple lived most of their lives on the family farm in the Norsewood-Ormondville area.


In between raising 10 children and working on the farm, Jane was the community midwife, travelling by bicycle to attend women giving birth.

By virtue of her longevity, (she died in 1973), and close connections with members of the local community, Jane became considered an authority on the history of the area.

Jane's creativity began with sketching on her school slate at the age of 5.

Encouraged by a family member, she was given a paint set - this was the beginning of her exploration in watercolours.

Although untrained, she became a distinguished landscape and floral painter, expressing her abounding interest in the natural world. Inspiration came from her immediate environment of southern Hawke's Bay.

Such is Jane's reputation that two large volumes of her approximately 20 books of paintings are part of the Alexander Turnbull Library collection, and a third is housed at Te Papa.

Another interest of Jane's was wood carving: executed with little more than a piece of timber, a pocketknife and paintbrush.

Never without her tools, nor one to waste time, Jane was often seen bending over the outline of a carving while waiting to milk cows. Her output was prodigious, and it was once claimed that every house in Norsewood had a piece of her work.

She carved all types of domestic ware - from tables, fire screens and umbrella stands, to bookends, paperknives, breadboards and eggcups. Jane's Maori-inspired decorations were directly influenced by photographic and published material.

This side table is an excellent example of Jane's creativity, with all the design components for which she is so well known: the carving on the oval top shows a figure paddling a waka on a river; behind the river is a whare with four people sitting out the front.

In the foreground are three Maori figures, their clothing intricately carved, and amongst the group stands a very expressive dog. Maori motifs are also used to decorate the table leg and four small feet. Inscribed on the table is Jane's signature and the date, 1948.

Collectors of New Zealand folk art have long treasured Jane Brenkley pieces, and thankfully our bid was successful. The museum is now the proud owner of a piece of furniture by this very talented southern Hawke's Bay artist and carver.

• New Zealand International Film Festival, September 7-24, Century Theatre. Tickets available at MTG. Adults $16, concession $14 and children $11. Opening night Thursday September 7, tickets $20 including a complimentary drink and nibbles.
• Paper Shaper - Children's Puppet Theatre, a combination of mask work and puppetry opens up some wonderful visual storytelling. September 5, Century Theatre, 11.30am and 1.30pm. Tickets $5, door sales available
• Indra's Bow, an immersive and sensory art installation featuring a rainbow of spices, scents and colour. Final day Sunday, August, 27.
• Kids drop-in-zone, open every Saturday and Sunday.

Gail Pope is curator, Social History, of the Museum Theatre Gallery (MTG) Hawke's Bay.