A Northland artist renowned for his contribution to contemporary Maori art has died.

Cliff Whiting passed away yesterday morning at the age of 81.

Originally from East Cape and of Te Whanau-a-Apanui descent but long based in Russell, Mr Whiting was a long-serving member of the Order of New Zealand - appointed in 1998 - and his death means the list drops down to 18 members.

It can only have a maximum of 20 living members at any time.

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Mr Whiting started his career as an artist, educator and arts administrator in the 1950s.

He worked with renowned artist Ralph Hotere in the Education Department's innovative Northern Maori Project, in which artists toured Northland schools to engage young Maori in art and learning.

He lent his expertise to many marae renovation projects where one of his hallmarks was involving local people and students.

In the 1990s, Mr Whiting played a key role in the development of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, where he became the museum's first kaihautu [leader] and was the mastermind behind the creation of Rongomaraeroa Marae on level four.

Mr Whiting's work can be seen in places like the Christchurch High Court, the National Archives, and Te Papa.

In May last year Whiting appeared on Maori Television's Te Araroa: Tales From The Trails hosted by Pio Terei.