A miracle that almost didn’t happen
Photo: Current Mahara Gallery Trust Chairman Professor Les Holborow talks to Friends at the recent event to mark the 25th anniversary of the Gallery’s foundation.
Mahara Gallery, the district public gallery for Kāpiti - celebrating its 25th anniversary – has been described as a miracle that almost didn’t happen after it came perilously close to closing soon after opening.
“We were in dire straits; the gallery almost closed,” artist and one of the original board trustees, Bob Gibbs, revealed at a Friends of Mahara event to mark the anniversary.
“We worked hard to employ Gerald Barnett as our first professional director in 2001 and his first job was to raise the money to pay his wages.”
Bob Gibbs described the founders as “ghosts of the past”.
“Robin Rogerson and Fay Beyer (both artists and original trustees) got together and they had a vision of forming a gallery.”
The two lobbied a local businessman, Lloyd Parker who owned a commercial property in Mahara Place (now serving as the town’s temporary library) that had just been unexpectedly vacated by Yates furniture store.
“They asked Lloyd if we could have a few exhibitions there - and here we are 25 years later. It was a miracle really,” said Bob Gibbs.
Fay Beyer described herself as an “ideas person”. She told the Friends gathering about her conversations with Robin Rogerson around establishing the gallery when they met regularly in Bon Appetit café, owned at the time by Jan Lurch who was to become a long-standing convener of the Friends of Mahara.
Another founding Board member, Norma McCallum recalled the air of gloom in the commercial area of Waikanae town. At the time, she headed Waikanae 2000.
“We used to count the empty shops,” she said. “And then one weekend Yates was gone and I rang Robin.”
Lloyd Parker agreed to grant them the use of the building on the basis that they might get a week’s notice to move out. Norma McCallum said that Robin Rogerson approached Paraparaumu College and secured an exhibition of work by senior students.
“We were looking for a name for the Gallery and my husband said, ‘it’s in Mahara Place’ so Mahara, with its meaning of memories, was an obvious choice – and that was the beginning.” The use of the name was approved by local iwi, represented by Ani Parata in the original trustees.
But before they could move in, they faced a gigantic cleaning job.
“We were vacuuming for Africa – we had to empty the cleaners every five minutes. And we must have used ten gallons of bleach. You can achieve anything if you are prepared to work with a hideous vacuum cleaner.
“It’s been a huge thing for Kāpiti Coast District Council and a huge thing for this town. It has a special place in my heart. It will survive,” she said.
Later, when the Council moved the Waikanae library into the Post Office building, the original library building became available and the Council agreed to the Gallery occupying it.
Bob Gibbs praised the hard work and skills of the early board members. He paid tribute to founding Chairman Chris Turver who worked hard to publicise the gallery in the early years and to persuade Kāpiti Coast District Council to make a grant towards the project.
Hilary Wooding was the Council representative on the early Mahara boards before later becoming a board member in her own right. She said the first Director, Gerald Barnett had been pivotal in the early development of the Gallery. “And after Gerald, Janet picked up the mantle,” she said.
Tribute was also paid to the work of a former Board Secretary, Peter Trim, who enabled the Field Collection to have it first full showing in Mahara Gallery, followed by a national tour.
Another founding trustee, artist Mary Zohrab (who as Mary Lady Hardie Boys was also the first patron of the gallery), paid tribute to current Director Janet Bayly. “We owe her an enormous debt; she couldn’t have led us better,” she said.