The Sarjeant Gallery's collection of over 8000 works is a source of information and inspiration for students, researchers and artists both locally and further afield.
The first port of call is the prize-winning digital portal into the collection called Explore the Collection, which is where Wesley Fourie first went.
Fourie's textile art features botanical and environmental themes and his last project at the time, entitled Forest Floor, had been a six-metre long embroidery piece detailing more than 100 New Zealand native plant species. He was particularly interested in the works of the slightly mysterious Charlotte Hardcastle, who was at work in the early 20th century, and also the more contemporary and challenging Don Driver.
The Sarjeant holds six of Hardcastle's beautiful botanical watercolour paintings and 23 multimedia works by Driver.
"I had gone to the Sarjeant website to see what I could find in terms of botanical works or embroidery, or anything I could use as a reference. Charlotte Hardcastle was one of the artists I was interested in seeing at the Sarjeant while in Whanganui. Her work is for me one of the highlights of the collection. I am fascinated by delicate works and you can play a lot with that. [Embroidery] doesn't have to be a little, boxy square. When you think about embroidery and knitting you can create works outside of the conventional notions the words conjure up. But I still like to look at work that is soft and delicate and traditional then take an idea and make something" Fourie said.
While in Whanganui as artist-in-residence at the Glasgow Street Art Centre, Fourie made a time to meet with the Sarjeant's Curator of Collections, Jennifer Taylor Moore, and was shown through the temporary temperature-controlled store at the Taupo Quay premises where the artworks are housed.
"The Sarjeant has a huge collection. Walking into it I didn't know what to expect. Everything has to be well organised and it is a really well utilised space, it makes me think about tiny homes where every single thing has its place. I was very impressed with how [little] space they are working with, what they have condensed into it."
Fourie was also excited to see "Two for One", by Don Driver, a fellow textile artist, displayed in the exhibition Together-Alone, and described online as a "fabric assemblage using ready-made garments stitched onto a tarpaulin with a pitchfork attached between the two garments".
"I got very lucky. I had mentioned to Jennifer the first time I went through about how I love Don Driver's work and there was one in the exhibition that is orange, a colour I love. His works are large so they are not the kind of work you can access easily just for a visit to the collection. Being able to see them on display was awesome."
Taylor Moore says, "We are delighted that so many people are making use of Explore the Collection, particularly those doing research such as Wesley Fourie. But while it is fantastic to be able to search through the collection online, nothing compares with seeing the actual artwork at its full scale, to be able to view the different textures of the materials the artist has used, see the imprint of the pencil marks on the paper or even the artist's fingerprints in the paint. The Sarjeant collection is full of diverse images spanning 400 years of art history and provides a rich resource for artists and researchers."
During the Glasgow Street Art Centre residency, Fourie made a site-specific work, embroidering plants on a length of silk and referencing works by Hardcastle and plants he gathered in Kowhai Park. He was taking a break after completing a massive work, finger-knitting a scale model of Aoraki Mt Cook (3724m) in various recycled wools and fibres. The work was selected as a finalist in the 29th Annual Wallace Art Awards. Next year he will back in Whanganui knitting a 1:100 scale model of the Whanganui River.
Delve into the Sarjeant collection by clicking Explore the Collection on the Sarjeant website - Sarjeant.org.nz