"May future generations protect New Zealand's unique heritage of environmental, historical and cultural identity."
That was the fervent wish of well-known, respected and nationally and internationally-recognised Taupō artist Val Raymond, who died unexpectedly on February 19.
A recipient of numerous national art awards and member of and exhibitor with the NZ Academy of Fine Arts, Val spent a lifetime devoted to art and her evolution as an artist was apparent in the range and depth of works she produced throughout a distinguished art career which spanned seven decades.
Born in Christchurch but raised and educated in Tauranga, Val graduated with a diploma in fine arts from Canterbury University and then did a post-graduate diploma in teaching, qualifying as a fully-trained specialist art teacher.
She initially taught in Whakatāne but moved to Taupō in 1957. After raising her four children Andre, Michelle, Cheryl and Leon and teaching art at Taupō Intermediate, she became a full-time professional artist in 1983.
For many years Val specialised in landscapes, scenic oils and watercolours, and her paintings of the Taupō district soon became iconic.
In 1990 her Lake Taupō - Shoreline Settlements and Rivers exhibition of 70 artworks was selected as an approved New Zealand Sesquicentennial 1990 Official Project.
One of her landmark collections was her beautiful pencil drawings of all 23 Ngāti Tūwharetoa marae. The late Timi te Heuheu escorted her on to every marae to enable her detailed research. The resulting book, Ngā Marae o Ngāti Tūwharetoa, was published in 1992. The late Lady te Heuheu, Ariki Sir Tumu's mother, wrote a foreword, saying the work was a reference for the generations to come.
"Val Raymond's artistic perception of our marae reflects the link between our land and our people, and will be a constant reminder of our identity and history." Val went on to gift the copyright and the reprinting rights to Ngāti Tūwharetoa.
Val's 1992 exhibition entitled In The Beginning, was a major turning point in her career. Centred around the 23 marae drawings, Val also presented some quite new and different work related to the marae. She called them "my Abstract Expressions of local history" but could not bring herself to sell them.
"They are the first fruits of a new path which has opened up for me as an artist. Abstract tellings of history and legend are a genre I had never explored before. I will retain the remaining abstracts for my own private collection. Their value as part of the integrity of the entire exhibition, far outweighs their monetary value to me".
From there, Val's Abstract Expressions began to evolve further and drive her artistic focus. She held two very large exhibitions, her 1995 exhibition A Portrait of Tongariro National Park and her 1998 exhibition Tongariro River Heritage and in 2000 her three major exhibitions of the 1990s culminated in the exhibition A Celebration of Feather and Fibre, in what she considered the peak of her artistic achievement.
The Celebration of Feather and Fibre exhibition drew together Ngāti Tūwharetoa culture, central North Island natural history and Val's personal knowledge of the Taupō area. It comprised 30 pairs of abstract expression paintings, one history-based and the other a heritage-based tribute to New Zealand birdlife. In addition, there were another four major abstract expressions symbolising her four major exhibitions, plus four special portraits not for sale. In total there were 68 finished works. The exhibition byline read: "These paintings weave millennium garments to celebrate our environmental, historical and cultural heritage".
Val had many more smaller exhibitions after 2000 including the Living Waters Exhibition in 2009 and others at the Tongariro National Trout Centre, where a gallery is named after her. One of the most special was the 2011 Tūwharetoa Churches Exhibition undertaken in her 80th year. Again she was escorted to all 10 churches for her research and loved meeting the people associated with each. The exhibition at the Taupō Museum & Art Gallery presented 10 exquisitely detailed church interiors, 10 small exteriors and matching location scenes. A second exhibition was held at Waihi where Val gifted all the paintings to those10 Tūwharetoa Church communities. "It's where they belong," she said.
Besides her art, Val made a strong contribution to her community, playing a key role in the formation of the Taupō Society of Art. She was an early participant in the community project to establish a museum and art gallery in Taupō and made a significant contribution to the development of what is now the Taupō Museum & Art Gallery.
She was a life member of both the Taupō Society of Arts and the Friends of the Taupō Museum & Art Gallery, and a frequent visitor to the museum.
Above all, Val wanted to convey and pass on her love of New Zealand's environmental, cultural and historical heritage.
In 2017, as part of the Broom to Boom exhibition at Taupō Museum, she said art had brought her into contact with many interesting people.
"The Ngāti Tūwharetoa people, their history and culture, have enriched my painting. I thank them. It is their recorded history and their art forms that should be on display to all New Zealand in a visual art centre. What a rich cultural history and heritage display of the early Central North Island that would be."
Val was 89 but still planning future projects and her death came as a huge shock. She leaves behind a massive gap in Taupō's arts and heritage community.
Val is survived by her four children, 12 grandchildren and (at last count) eight great-grandchildren.
Sources: Christine McElwee, Andre Raymond