A tiny Far North settlement is gearing up for the biggest tangi in its history following the death of New Zealand's greatest living artist, Ralph Hotere.
Hone Papita Raukura "Ralph" Hotere died in Dunedin on Sunday, aged 81, ending a career which spanned more than 50 years and sowed the seeds for many of Northland's contemporary artists.
Details had yet to be finalised yesterday, but his tangi was expected to be held late this week at Matihetihe Marae at Mitimiti, where he was born in 1913 on the wild west coast north of the Hokianga Harbour.
His body will be flown home, by plane to Auckland then by helicopter to Mitimiti, following a requiem mass at 11am on Thursday at St Joseph's Catholic Cathedral in Dunedin.
Whangarei Art Museum director Scott Pothan said Hotere had been unquestionably New Zealand's most important living artist, and his death was a huge loss for Northland.
One of his works, Requiem, had been placed on a memorial wall where museum visitors could pay tribute. Another work from the museum's collection, Stations of the Cross from his "Baby Iron" series, was hung on Monday as part of a separate exhibition.
Mr Pothan said much had been said already about Hotere's contribution to New Zealand art, but from a Northland perspective his great legacy was the Northern Maori Project of the 1950s and 60s.
The experiment by the then Department of Education saw the young Hotere, fresh out of art school, and Kawakawa artist Selwyn Wilson teach at rural schools around Northland.
The aim was to make wayward youth want to go to school, lift their confidence and help them discover creativity they didn't know they had.
The programme spawned many of Northland's best-known contemporary artists and was such a success it was replicated around the country.
"It was a crucible of creativity in the 1950s and 60s, and Ralph was absolutely intrinsic to that."
Another of Hotere's contributions was his ability to cross cultures.
"He wasn't just bicultural, he was also one of the first artists to mix his work with writers and composers," Mr Pothan said.
Although he spent much of his life in Otago, Mitimiti was always present in his work in its deep spirituality and the connection between Maori and the arrival of Catholicism in New Zealand. He travelled home regularly until a stroke in 2001.
He had 15 brothers and sisters, the eldest of whom died fighting with the Maori Battalion in World War II. Many of his whanau still live in Northland, mostly in Kaitaia and Hokianga.
He was of Te Aupouri and Te Rarawa descent.
Hotere was made a member of the Order of New Zealand, the country's highest honour, in the 2012 New Year's Honours.