Two of Hamilton's cultural institutions became an homage to all things agricultural Thursday evening, with two exhibition openings celebrating New Zealand's rural spirit.

At ArtsPost Galleries & Shop, the winners of the Fieldays No.8 Wire National Art Award were announced, with Canterbury's Akky van der Velde taking out the top prize for her work Outside the Square.

At Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato, the 50 Years of Fieldays exhibition was opened, documenting the event's half-century journey from humble beginnings to economic powerhouse.

Artists and guests at the opening of the Fieldays No.8 Wire National Art Award exhibition
Artists and guests at the opening of the Fieldays No.8 Wire National Art Award exhibition

New Zealand National Fieldays Society president Peter Carr said it was a privilege to open both exhibitions, one celebrating where this iconic event has come from, and the other the representation of how diverse the event now is and will hopefully continue to be for the next 50 years.

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The Fieldays No.8 Wire National Art Award invites artists to forge No.8 wire and other agricultural products into sculptural artworks.

Outside the Square was one of 23 finalists in the running for the major prize of $7000, with the judge, Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery director, Andrew Clifford praising Akky for "creating something magical with an economy of materials".

Artists and guests at the opening of the Fieldays No.8 Wire National Art Award exhibition
Artists and guests at the opening of the Fieldays No.8 Wire National Art Award exhibition

"This piece is articulate and understated," said Andrew.

"It grabs attention with a big dose of colour. Its sophistication is in its simplicity, easily understood but a delight to look at, held together only by gravity and the magnetic forces of metal."

The winner said the old adage that art represented a struggle proved correct in her case.

"I couldn't get the piece delivered because it was too large," Akky said during her award acceptance.

Air New Zealand allowed her to bring the large box the work was packed in on a plane, but when she landed at Hamilton Airport she realised she had booked the rental car for the wrong time and wouldn't get to ArtsPost on time for judging.

She got talking to another woman at the airport who was seeing off a child, who, upon hearing the story, said "I have a big car, so get in and I'll drive you."

Fiona Clark from Taranaki was the runner-up for her sculpture Bushtail Mammal 1837 and Auckland's Bev Goodwin placed third for her work Play Time.

They received $1000 and $500 respectively.

This year's President's Choice Award, selected by Peter Carr, went to Sophie Prendergast of Auckland for Life Tree.

The No.8 Wire National Art Award is the first of this year's Fieldays festivities, with the exhibition featuring all 23 finalists running at ArtsPost until June 11.

ArtsPost is open 10am to 5pm daily and entry is free.