In the Hawke's Bay Museums Trust collection is a selection of exterior architectural watercolours executed by Leonard (Leo) Delabere Bestall.
After attending Napier Boys' High School, where he was dux in his final year, Leo left to study architecture at Canterbury College.
World War I interrupted these studies, when he enlisted and served in France under the New Zealand Medical Corps. At the end of the war, Leo returned to Napier and gained employment for a short period with Hastings architect William J Rush, before he resigned to work in the family's drapery business, Bestalls Limited, Napier.
Leo was a competent artist and part of the group which founded the Napier Society of Arts and Crafts in 1924.
In 1933 Lady Florence Maclean gifted the society the collections of her late husband Sir Douglas and father-in-law Sir Donald McLean on the condition that a fireproof building be built to house the material.
Leo became totally immersed in raising funds to build the Hawke's Bay Art Gallery and Museum (MTG Hawke's Bay), a difficult task following the upheaval of a worldwide depression and the devastating 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake.
His dream was realised in 1936 when the first wing of the museum, designed by local architect J A Louis Hay, was opened. Leo assumed the role of director (for many years unpaid), a position he held until his death on March 22, 1959.
Leo left a substantial bequest to the museum and when Mary Bestall died, the couple's estate was bequeathed to the institution.
Thus, the Hawke's Bay Museums Trust became the custodian of the extensive and historically very important Bestall collection. Among this collection is a beautiful architectural watercolour of the exterior of Omakere homestead (commissioned by owner Eric Nairn), designed by Hastings architect William Rush, and drawn by Leo Bestall, June 26, 1919.
Omakere is about 17 kilometres from Waipawa and had been part of the original Pourerere Station, owned by Eric Nairn's grandfather Charles James Nairn.
Eric eventually inherited the Omakere property. During the night of August 23, 1913, the Omakere homestead and its contents were destroyed by fire. This was the second homestead on the property consumed by flames.
At the onset of World War I, Eric enlisted with the Grenadier Guards and rose to the rank of captain.
In 1919, after demobilisation, he remained in England and on September 22, 1920, married long-time sweetheart Beatrice Holdsworth. Beatrice was a person of considerable acclaim, being the fifth woman to climb Mt Cook and the first female in Hawke's Bay to acquire a driver's licence.
In 1919, Eric commissioned William Rush to design a new homestead for Omakere. Because of previous fires, he insisted the exterior be constructed in brick.
The clay for 275,000 bricks was mined from a ridge behind the house and baked in kilns fed from the kahikatea bush growing on the property. The roof was constructed of Welsh slate, imported as ship's ballast, and delivered by trucks.
Beatrice Nairn's stepmother, Lucy Holdsworth, wrote a vivid description of a day trip from Havelock North to Omakere on December 4, 1922:
"Delicious to pack up and leave home chores behind and dash away in the car for the 70 mile run to Beatrice's home. We left about 10 and reached her a little before 1, going along the road I am getting to know well as far as the outskirts of Waipawa, and then 17 miles winding up and up into the hills, passing never a village and hardly ever a house.
"Omakere stands rather in the centre of a saucer, with high hills around it and glorious distant mountains with a gap between, over a plain. The drive is over two miles long and very shaky. Eric says he has already spent over £2000 on it and it must do as it is for the present.
"Stopping at the house I knew so well from photographs was very exciting. The inside is as charming as I had expected, panelled with dark Californian redwood downstairs – much darker than the usual New Zealand rimu but more lasting. The loggias of this house are a great feature and so is the brilliant flower garden outside. The bricks were all made on the estate – a beautiful rosy red. This new house expresses Eric and Beatrice beautifully."
Leo's rendition does not include the loggias which Lucy describes, as they were not part of Rush's original design.
A loggia is an architectural term for a sheltered outdoor space attached to a house, with a fully covered roof.
The loggia connects the house to the cooler outdoor environment - providing a shady and covered retreat from the sun in which to relax, dine and sleep.
Regardless of the missing features, Leo has certainly captured the fine lines of William Rush's initial architectural design and the exquisite beauty of Omakere.
- Gail Pope is social history curator at the MTG
MTG Movie Club. Dior & I provides an insight into the Christian Dior fashion house. Sunday, March 14, 1pm, Century Theatre, tickets $10 through Eventfinda or at MTG.
MTG Movie Club. Banksy Does New York follows his self-proclaimed month long residency in New York. Sunday, March 14, 3pm, Century Theatre, tickets $10 through eventfinda or at MTG.
MTG Movie Club. Studio 54: The documentary of this famous club frequented by celebrities that was the place to be in the 70s, 5pm. Sunday, March 14, Century Theatre, tickets $10 through eventfinda or at MTG.
MTG Pop-up shop open in Century Theatre Foyer 9.30am-5pm every day.