Obituary: Dame Janet Paul

By PAT BASKET

Painter, publisher, art historian. Died in Wellington on July 28, aged 84.

The life of painter and art historian Dame Janet Paul exemplified her belief in the power of art, in all its forms, to enrich the human spirit.

Janet Paul was a seminal figure in New Zealand publishing during the 1950s and 1960s.

She and her husband Blackwood Paul, who ran Paul's Book Arcade in Hamilton, published about 200 titles, many by the country's best recognised writers.

Hone Tuwhare, Frank Sargeson, Keith Sinclair, C.K. Stead, Dan Davin, Charles Brasch and M.K. Joseph first received recognition under the imprint of the shop's name.

After Blackwood's death in 1965 Janet moved to Auckland where a branch of Paul's Book Arcade operated in High St for about three years. She also established the publishing company Blackwood and Janet Paul, which became Longman Paul in 1968.

Books from both imprints are sought after by collectors for more than their literary significance.

Connoisseurs appreciate the flair Janet Paul brought to book design with her elegant title pages and her innovative use of unusual type faces.

Several Paul books incorporate covers commissioned by artists Colin McCahon, Para Matchitt and Pat Hanly.

The need to cut costs in the struggle to publish writers meant Janet Paul designed many dust-jackets herself - at the same time as she raised four daughters.

A considerable part of the Paul imprint consisted of children's books. The first of these, Wiremu, by Stella Morice, was the first attempt to let Pakeha children see what a Maori child's life was like.

Janet Paul once said their aim had been to produce stories based on Maori experience and on New Zealand history "so that children would get a feeling they were growing up in a place that made a sense of its own".

After leaving publishing she moved to Wellington and spent nine years as art librarian for the Turnbull Library.

In 1991 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Victoria University for her scholarly work on 19th century colonial painters.

Janet Paul achieved a considerable reputation for her landscapes and paintings of people.

She also produced etchings from a press kept in the bedroom of her central Wellington cottage.

She is survived by her partner, artist Michael Nicholson, and three of her four daughters.

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