Legendary Hawke's Bay artist Sandy Adsett has joined some of New Zealand's greatest artists and performers in receiving the Arts Foundation Icon Award Whakamana Hiranga.
But despite it being possibly the ultimate honour - joining such names as Ralph Hotere, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Sam Neill - the 81-year-old from Northern Hawke's Bay highway stop Raupunga was barely aware of it when he first received the call about a fortnight ago.
"I was asked if I would accept it," he told Hawke's Bay Today . "I didn't know what the hell they were talking about."
"But then I heard the name of Sam Neill, so I thought I'd better stop eating my pie and take notice."
He and actor, writer, producer and director Neill and novelist and writer Joy Cowley have been named by the Arts Foundation Te Tumu Toi to join what it calls the "living circle" of 20 artists, recognising "extraordinary" lifetime achievement and the mark left by the recipients.
An awards ceremony will be held at Government House in Wellington later in the year, and Adsett, who still tutors fulltime in Hastings at the institution he started 18 years ago, will be there, unlike when he turned down the invitation to the salubrious surroundings after being named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2005.
On that occasion he accepted "their" alternative of putting it "in the mail", he said.
It's most of all out of respect to the Arts Foundation. He said: "It really is sponsoring the arts. They do amazing things. You've got to respect it."
There have been 41 inaugurations since the list of icons was established in 2003, with the new members joining such names as late artist Ralph, opera diva Dame Kiri, and late author Margaret Mahy.
"The brave and brilliant Icon Whakamana Hiranga recipients have paved the way for those who dare to dedicate their lives to the arts," said The Arts Foundation chair Garth Gallaway. "We acknowledge and celebrate their immense legacies and pioneering spirit.
Though each of their paths has been unique, together they have shaped and enriched who we are as a nation. They are our storytellers."
The prestige of the honour was exemplified by Sam Neill, who had in 2003 deputised at an awards ceremony for the then unwell Hotere. He said after hearing of his own elevation: "I cannot but feel this is some extraordinary fluke. But to be in the company of all these distinguished New Zealanders, these artists like Ralph, makes me extraordinarily heartened, and very touched indeed."
Adsett told The Arts Foundation: "Being invited to accept an Arts Foundation Whakamana Hiranga Icon Award, was such a surprising, unexpected acknowledgement."
"I've been really fortunate in being able to participate, enjoy and share in a life-long arts passion that engages in the challenges and welfare of our Māori arts identity," he said.
He has had multiple other recognition and accomplishments, including his Master of Māori Visual Arts with First Class Honours from Massey University in 2014, and in 2014 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Massey University and Creative New Zealand's Te Waka Toi Supreme Award in 2014.
A painter renowned for the influence of koru design work and kowhaiwhai within marae wharenui, he is also known for carving, weaving, costume and stage design, seen across the World from exhibits in Europe and the US to back home in the restored features of home marae Te Huki, at Raupunga.
It is the home marae work in which he takes perhaps greatest pride, working "up to the last minute" before last year's reopening - 13 years after the previous hall was destroyed by fire.
From a background of drawing in spare time on the farm, and crayons at the now long-closed Raupunga Native School where in 1944 he started what is now 76 years in education, he went to Te Aute College in Central Hawke's Bay, and then did his formal art training at Ardmore and Dunedin teachers colleges.
He became an Education Department advisory service arts specialist for the Department of Education's Advisory Service in the 1960s and helped introduce the "Māori Arts in Schools" programme.
In 1993, he was appointed principal tutor at Tairawhiti Polytechnic in Gisborne, and in 2002 returned to his Hawke's Bay roots to establish Toimairangi School of Māori Visual Culture within Te Wananga o Aotearoa, in Hastings.