Amongst the Fine Arts collection are a selection of oil and watercolour paintings by Napier artist Lewis Evans.
The paintings span from 1905 through to 1935 and depict the local environment: Ahuriri, Napier and areas on the outskirts of the township.
The paintings are an encapsulation of Hawke's Bay social history portraying the area before and after the earthquake.
Of immense geographical interest are the paintings pre earthquake, which show the Tutaekuri River before it changed course, the inner harbour, Napier South swamp area and a sandy beach scene at the foot of Bluff Hill.
Lewis Evans was born in Birmingham, 1878, the second eldest in a family of11 children. He was a member of a family that had achieved considerable prominence in the artistic and architectural world, being the grandson of the noted English Gothic designer and builder Walter Swift Evans and a nephew of Bernard Walter Evans, founder of the London Society of Artists.
At the age of 9 Lewis contracted the muscle wasting illness poliomyelitis (now known as infantile paralysis).
His lower body paralysed, he was for the rest of his life dependent on a bath chair, (similar to a wheelchair) for movement. Owing to this illness and the unsuitability of the English climate, his parents Edward and Kate Evans decided to immigrate to New Zealand when Lewis was 16, with his family settling in a small bungalow at 48 Carnell St,
Lewis turned to studying international politics, military history, classical history and art. A keen observer of nature, its movement, shadow, form and colour, Lewis decided to depict what he saw, using the medium of watercolour and oil.
Restricted in movement, Lewis was wholly dependent on others for getting around.
Pushed to predetermined locations by his father, he became a well-known figure seated in his bath chair, accompanied by easel and canvas, painting and sketching.
For several years his friend and burgeoning artist Thomas Arthur (T. A.) McCormack was a constant companion as they roamed the local wetlands and beaches experimenting with watercolour landscapes. He had a special love for Te Urewera and would catch the steamer to Wairoa, and then by coach to Lake Waikaremoana.
Essentially a self-taught artist, art was an uphill struggle for Lewis.
Due to financial restraints, he was unable to afford the luxury of a teacher or art school, and struggled to even finance his canvas, paints and brushes. Regardless of this he persevered, constantly producing works to sell.
For artistic critique, Lewis would send some of his sketches to his English uncle, Bernard Evans, who in turn would set out a course of studies through literature, for him to pursue.
After the February 3, 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake, Lewis meticulously depicted the ruins of once familiar and loved Napier buildings, including the Municipal Theatre, Murray Roberts and YMCA and the Masonic Hotel.
On Christmas Day, 1931, Lewis Evans, ever adventurous, was involved in a serious car accident. He was riding in his motor-driven invalid chair on the Napier-Awatoto Rd when a truck pulled out to pass him.
The driver of a car close behind the truck did not see the invalid chair and failed to pull out in time and was forced to swerve to the verge but still struck the chair, throwing Lewis on to the road.
Luckily, a local Napier doctor, Dr W Fitzgerald, motoring behind attended to Lewis' injuries and took him to Napier Hospital. Lewis sustained a fracture to the base of his spine. How the injury affected his ability as an artist can only be speculated upon, although we know he did continue painting as we have a 1935 work in the collection.
Lewis died on July 8, 1941, 10 days after the death of his father Edward, and is buried in the Napier Cemetery.
An exhibition was held at the National Centre for Paralysis at La Jolla in California to honour him and his life's work. Regardless of all his health and personal battles, Lewis won widespread local and national acclaim as an artist.
*Gail Pope Curator Social History
Exhibition Talk. Join one of our team for a discussion of 12 landscape paintings in our Five Pākehā Painters exhibition, exploring what these artworks can tell us about Pākehā culture and their relationship with the land of Te Matau a Maui / Hawke's Bay. Thursday, June 20, 12pn-1pm. All welcome, meet in MTG foyer. Free event.
Digital Technologies: Free Teachers Workshop. Led by Te Papa and MTG's team of educators, focusing on filling your kete of digital tools to take back to your school and implement immediately. Friday, June 21, 9am-3pm. Free event, please register at https://ahikaroa.kiatakatu.ac.nz/dt-tepapa-np
Francesco Turrisi. A true 'musical alchemist', Francesco Turrisi is one of the most striking pianists to come out of the European jazz scene in the past decade. MTG Century Theatre, Friday, June 21, at 7.30pm. Tickets available through Ticketek.
NZCT Chamber Music Contest – Central Regional Final. An iconic secondary school musical event held annually throughout the country this is the perfect opportunity for young musicians to compose and to perform chamber music. MTG Century Theatre, Saturday, June 22, at 11.30am and 4.30pm, $15 per adult with unlimited access to both sessions, door sales only. Free entry for children and school students.
Pork Pie Movie Night. Help send five Hawke's Bay teens to the US for a Junior Theatre Celebration. This 2017 comedy (a remake of the 1981 Goodbye Pork Pie) follows a trio of accidental outlaws travelling New Zealand in a stolen orange mini. MTG Century Theatre, Thursday, June 27, at 7.30pm. Tickets available through Eventfinda and include complimentary wine and nibbles.
MTG Movie Club – Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen. It's time to celebrate Māori New Year and Matariki with pioneering filmmaker Merata, who was the first Māori woman to write and direct a narrative feature. MTG Century Theatre, Saturday, June 29, at 4pm. Discount for Friends - Tickets available through Eventfinda.