Each Monday, the Chronicle fires 10 questions at a Whanganui local. This week Mike Tweed talks to Rei Hendry who has been teaching art in Whanganui for the past 50 years.
Hendry's first role was at Rutherford Intermediate in 1970 and in 2020 she returned to teach at the school for one day a week. She is now teaching the children and grandchildren of former students but, despite five decades in the role, it doesn't seem as if she'll be slowing down any time soon.
What is your favourite thing to do in Whanganui?
My absolute favourite thing to do is to meet with my kids in the after-school art classes in my Art House on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Outside of art, I go to a beautiful wee church at Matarawa called St John's. I always find peace and joy there. It's got exquisite rose gardens and an old cemetery there, and you'll often find that people who have driven past will stop and have a look around. You can sit and look at Mt Ruapehu, and it's a very blessed spot.
If you could invite three people from history for dinner, who would they be?
I've always quite admired the Queen Mother, so she'd be one I'd like to invite. I've also been fascinated by David Attenborough, because of his passion and interest in life forms and the natural world. It would be very interesting to hear him speaking to you, rather than looking at him on TV. The third one would be Wendy Knowles, someone I have great admiration and respect for. She was the senior mistress at Rutherford Intermediate when I went to teach there in 1970. What an inspirational teacher.
If you hadn't followed art, what would you have done instead?
I don't think I've ever stopped to think about that. I could say something inspired like "travelling the world as a wonderful air hostess", but I guess I would have liked to do something that involved helping people, more general teaching perhaps. If you can provide people with an inspiration, like Wendy Knowles did, then that's a powerful opportunity.
What do you think is the hardest thing to recreate as an artist?
I would say the sky, because it never stays still and it's constantly changing colours. Skies demand tremendous skill, patience and the power of observation.
How do you think Whanganui has changed over the years?
I've lived all my life here, and Whanganui has always been a beautiful place. I guess every decade or so people have just tried to enhance its basic, inherent beauty. One decade we might have planted some trees and beautiful floral baskets, and then the next decade there'll be the restoration of some buildings. Maybe people are trying to say "it's already beautiful, let's make sure of it".
What has kept you passionate about teaching art for so long?
It's the pure joy of meeting these young people and working alongside them, and seeing their commitment and enthusiasm. It's an ongoing connection and the kids of my kids have been coming along and enjoying the after school art classes. In several cases, it's their grandchildren who are now coming along.
Which country overseas would you most like to visit?
I would love to go to Italy. My dad was over there during the last war, and he spoke of its beauty and had a few photos. You have to remember that he was there in the middle of a terrible war, but the people were still friendly and the countryside was beautiful. He was able to see the possibilities there, even in that awful environment.
If you could have an art lesson from anyone in history, who would it be?
I think I'd like to meet up with and be taught by Edith Collier. I understand that she was very knowledgeable but was also quite a shy lady. She was really good at observation, and she could really see to the heart of people and places, so I would have loved to sit beside her and watch her at work.
If you could attend one event in history, what would it be?
I'd join Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret when they went out amongst the crowd to celebrate VE Day, after that dreadful war of so many years came to an end. I'd be out there in the crowd feeling thankful and acknowledging the struggle and sacrifice of the people that had made this peace happen.
Have you noticed a difference in the approach to art between generations?
If I look at a mum's work, and then a son or a daughter's work, you might find differences in the interpretations. A little person today might draw a dog to make it look like it's on an iPad, whereas the mum would more likely have it with a frame painted around it. The things that are happening in the world and the things we experience do come through in the artwork, but their ways of working are very much the same I think.