Whanganui held a special place in the heart of composer and sound artist Susan Frykberg and she chose it as her final resting place.
The former Tylee Cottage artist died peacefully at home surrounded by family and friends at the Quaker Settlement on April 7, aged 68. She had chosen to spend her last days in Whanganui after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis.
Although she was born in Havelock North and spent many years in Canada and Australia, Frykberg found a spiritual home in Whanganui, where she was loved by members of the local Quaker, Catholic and arts communities.
She was the Tylee Cottage artist in residence from September 2016 until February 2017 and completed several projects with the Sarjeant Gallery and Whanganui visual artists and musicians.
Sarjeant Gallery curator and public programmes manager Greg Donson first met Frykberg in 2010 when she contacted him with a proposal for collaboration.
“She had been working on the Let the Art Sing project with an eclectic group of musicians at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and she wanted to try something similar with the Sarjeant. We were showing an exhibition called Song of the Woods from the collection, which was perfect for what she had in mind.
“Susan was wonderful to work with and so good at making connections. When she applied for the Tylee residency she was the perfect selection because of her uniqueness and her ability to collaborate which she did so well.”
Donson believed Frykberg was the first Tylee Cottage alumnus to have died and said it was an honour that she chose to be in Whanganui for her final days.
Whanganui flautist Ingrid Culliford collaborated with Frykberg on several occasions and said her gregariousness and enthusiasm for the projects had a way of pulling people in.
“I first worked with Susan as part of the group of musicians formed to play for the soundscape at the Sarjeant and I think we were all a bit unsure.
“I remember Susan saying, ‘Just play the painting’ and we suddenly seemed to know how to do that. The audience would be walking amongst the musicians and the paintings and we’d all be having a marvellous time.”
In 2017, Frykberg collaborated with the Sarjeant and video artist Brit Bunkly to showcase Edith Collier’s work by combining her soundscape, the digital projections of Collier’s work, and the latter’s actual paintings and drawings.
Her composition was informed by the sounds of her time at Tylee Cottage with the inclusion of rhythmic birdsong, wind and rustling cabbage trees.
She was farewelled with a Requiem Mass held at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Whanganui on Wednesday.
Her sisters Margaret and Kate, brother Eric and mother Pat, who is 99, joined her son Esha in speaking of the sister, daughter and mother they loved.
Esha was born in Canada in the 1980s and his name was inspired by Dutch artist Maurits Escher, although the spelling was changed.
“Susan wanted it to be an androgynous-sounding name,” said Esha.
“The name has certainly grown on me over time. As a teenager, I didn’t like having a unique name but now I’m in my late 30s I appreciate having a memorable name.”
In her biography published on Sounz Centre for New Zealand Music, Frykberg wrote of her decision to return to her homeland after years in Canada.
“In 1998, I moved back to New Zealand,” she wrote. “This was in part so that my then 13-year-old son could get to know his New Zealand family, in part so that I myself could get to know New Zealand again, but also because I had decided to attend to my religious inclinations.”
Esha said he remembered the move to New Zealand as a homecoming.
“It was so good to spend time with my extended family and get to know them well because they are such good people.
“It’s really quite amusing that Mum was the rebel in her family and I inherited her rebellious nature. I’m a mortgage broker so money and property are important to me, whereas Mum’s priorities were God and music. We laughed about that.”
When Frykberg came to Whanganui in 2011, she told the Chronicle what she was seeking.
“My kaupapa is to balance spirituality, creativity, and social justice, and earn a living,’’ she said.
Esha said he was happy that his mother found fulfilment for her passions in Whanganui.
“I can see why Mum wanted to be here.
“It is a healing place and Mum had so many good friends here. I’m very grateful to the Quaker community, the Josephite sisters and the arts community for all the love and support they have provided.”
Frykberg had begun a PhD in spirituality and electronic music at Monash University in Melbourne in 2018 and, before she died, she received confirmation that her doctorate was complete.