Oriwa Tahupotiki Haddon Murals


Oriwa Tahupotiki Haddon (1898-1958)

Edward Oliver Haddon, later known as Oriwa Tahupotiki Haddon, was born at Waitotara, South Taranaki, on 7 November 1898, the eldest son of a Maori Methodist minister, Robert Tahupotiki Haddon of Ngati Ruanui, and his wife, Huihana (Susan) Haerehau Shelford of Hokianga. Tahupotiki Haddon had been trained in traditional knowledge by his relative Tohu Kakahi of Parihaka, but through the influence of the Methodist missionary, T. G. Hammond had entered the Methodist ministry. Through Oliver’s early life, Tahupotiki ministered to Maori in South Taranaki, seeking to reconcile them to Christianity and to Pakeha. Oliver attended school at Okaiawa and Normanby and entered Wesley College at Three Kings, Auckland, in 1914.

About 1919 he and other members of his family went to the United States to participate in a concert party and lecture tour, travelling the country as part of the Chautauqua and Lyceum circuits, which presented a mixture of lectures, theatre and vaudeville entertainment. Oliver lectured to audiences on Maori life and customs. On 12 September 1920 at Billings, Montana, he married the talented pianist in the concert party, Ruihi Moringa (Marianga) Reupena of Wanganui. They were to have four sons.

While in America Haddon is supposed to have undertaken a course in industrial pharmacy, and on his return may have practised briefly in Wanganui as a chemist, but his career soon took a different turn. He was received on probation into the Methodist ministry in 1922 and apparently intended to go as a missionary to the Solomon Islands. However, Moringa became ill and he was stationed at Gonville in Wanganui in 1925, with a specifically Maori ministry. Moringa died at Putiki on 4 February 1926, and on 16 February, at Wanganui, Oliver married Maaki Rakapa Taiaroa of Ngai Tahu. The marriage was arranged to join Ngati Ruanui and Ngai Tahu in kinship. Oliver and Maaki were to have four daughters and three sons. Oliver was appointed missioner to Kawakawa in 1926.

In 1927 Tahupotiki Haddon, who was by now recognised as the senior Methodist Maori minister, was permitted to retain links with the Ratana church despite growing hostility from other denominations, and as a token of this, he stationed Oliver and Maaki in Ratana pa, with responsibility for the school there. This was the beginning of a long association with the Ratana movement. They continued in this role for a number of years, also providing secretarial support for T. W. Ratana, although they always remained Methodists. Oliver developed his oratorical skills and became known as a brilliant speaker on the marae. He and Maaki returned to Wanganui in 1930, and Oliver took up pharmacy work, perhaps in 1931, at a time when the Methodist Maori mission was seeking to reduce its costs.

From about this time he preferred to use the name Oriwa Tahupotiki Haddon. He had also gained a reputation as an artist and was proclaimed ‘Our 1929 discovery’ by Pat Lawlor’s New Zealand Artists Annual. His illustrated story ‘Tiki of the dawn’ was published in the Annual that year. He was commissioned by the Taranaki Maori Trust Board in 1933 to paint a picture of the 1840 signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The painting was presented to the governor general, Lord Bledisloe, in 1934 and hung in the Treaty House at Waitangi.

Soon after the former Methodist minister Colin Scrimgeour was appointed the controller of the National Commercial Broadcasting Service in 1936, Haddon was appointed to a position at the radio station 2ZB in Wellington, as one of a group of Maori broadcasters introduced by Scrimgeour at this time. Haddon became well known as a broadcaster for his accounts of Maori history, mythology and poetry. He broadcast his own programme, ‘Oriwa’s Maori Session’, and also made contributions to others and to 5ZB, the travelling station, which broadcast from a specially fitted-out railway carriage.

Yet another change of career followed when during the Second World War he enlisted in the air force, attaining the rank of leading aircraftsman. He travelled to the Pacific islands, and further developed his artistic talents, which had always received popular acclaim. His painting ‘Maori mythology’ appeared in the 1944 New Zealand Artists in Uniform exhibition, and a pen and ink work, ‘Hine Kohu and Uenuku’, was included in the National Centennial Exhibition of New Zealand Art in 1940. He was also employed by the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts and Publicity to execute a series of oil paintings for the centennial celebrations and contributed illustrations to books and magazines.

Haddon had been involved with Labour Party politics since the early 1930s. In 1934 he was among a group of Maori Labour supporters who tried unsuccessfully to establish a national Maori newspaper. Because of his links with Ratana, on his return to civilian life after the Second World War he was invited to join a group of Labour-allied Ratana MPs in the preparation of what became the Maori Social and Economic Advancement Act 1945. He also became dominion organising secretary of the Labour Party’s Maori Advisory Council and edited their publication, The Maori way of life (1946). This position took him all over New Zealand, and his renown as an orator on the marae served him in good stead.

In 1948 Haddon broke publicly with the Ratana MPs and left the Labour Party. He evidently felt that the Ratana movement was disintegrating and that the Labour Party had ignored its Maori members and failed to place them in administrative posts. He moved to set up an independent Maori political party outside the Ratana movement, but without success. However, his activities did lead to a call for the Maori Advisory Council to be reorganised and its representation strengthened.

Haddon Turi

Image Above: Charles Duncan Hay-Campbell (left) and Oriwa Tahupotiki Haddon with their painting depicting the Arrival of Turi at Patea in 1350.  This photograph was taken by an unidentified photographer on the 2nd of August 1933 and is held at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington.

Haddon subsequently retired from politics and moved to Nelson, where he gained commissions as a painter. An artist with an easy skill, who adapted Maori motifs to Pakeha tastes, he became well known for a number of large-scale distinctive works, using Maori motifs combined with western portraiture. A series of eight paintings were executed for the Commercial Hotel, Blenheim, depicting local history from Cook’s landing to the present day, with a centrepiece showing the attempted arrest of Te Rauparaha at Tuamarina. After retiring to Utiku, he painted murals on commission for the local Returned Services’ Association. He died at Taihape on 17 June 1958 after a car accident and was buried in the Maori cemetery at Okaiawa, Taranaki. He was survived by his second wife, who had not accompanied her husband on his numerous escapades, and eleven children.

Information courtesy of Te Ara – www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4h2/haddon-oriwa-tahupotiki

His Taranaki Works

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These murals give a unique glimpse into Oriwa Haddon’s interpretation of historical events and themes of South Taranaki.  Painted in the 1950’s by Haddon, these murals were commissioned by the breweries for the Commercial Hotel – a public bar- in Hawera. Haddon was asked to paint these murals because of his renowned knowledge of history and “exceptional” technique.

Work on demolishing the Commercial Hotel (Hawera) began on the 25th of August 1980, and Maurice Walden, a teacher in Taranaki, was responsible for saving them from being demolished within the building.  He presented them to the South Taranaki District Museum as they depict scenes relevant to the history of South Taranaki.

The murals focus on the land conflicts and scenes from the land wars in the 1860’s in South Taranaki.  Haddon had a great affiliation, interest and knowledge to this period of history, as he was related to Riwha Titokowaru, a fighting chief in the area who was his great-grand-uncle.  As a young boy, Haddon was interested in tribal traditions and was taught the stories of the tribal wars and later wars with Pakeha from a Maori perspective.

There are some discrepancies in the multitude of stories or accounts published and unpublished and events as depicted in these murals.  In painting these images, Haddon was perhaps bringing to light stories he had been told that were hidden, submerged, or contentious, and therefore not as openly discussed as they would be today. In this respect, it has been interpreted that the relatively light manner in which he has painted these scenes is a reflection of particular societal attitudes in the 1950’s coupled with his own natural style and understanding of the events of the time.

These murals are painted on soft board panels, which are not very durable or inert. They have the ability to absorb moisture, chemicals or alternatively, dry out according to the environment they are in. The yellowing colour of the panels has been caused by prolonged exposure to cigarette smoke in the Commercial Hotel Pub. When the murals were retrieved, they were cleaned according to conservation standards. Although this brightened them considerably, they still retain a yellowed veneer which you can see clearly.

Conservation of the Haddon Murals – Report by Carolina Izzo, Art Conservator


General State of Condition

These 10 panels, located at Aotea Utanganui, are generally in poor condition.  The Pinex supports present visible damages caused by natural degradation of the materials, inadequate past transportation, inadequate hanging system, graffiti and wrong use of the panels (used as a dartboard).  The varnish (possibly shellac) was applied when the works were framed and only one panel has not been vanished.  On most of the panels, the 10mm uncoated painted surface around the edges are showing the original colour of the paint layers.  The degradation of the thick varnish, together with the presence of smoke and common dirt, has caused a strong yellow dark layer (patina) that obscure the original colours of the paintings.  At this stage, it is not clear if the varnish is part of the intention of the artist or if it was applied at a different time.  It will be very useful to have testimonies of people who have knowledge of the history of the murals during the conservation treatment.   

Proposed Treatment

The condition of the artworks requires a dedicated conservation treatment.  The surface coating will need to be tested prior to the conservation treatment.  The analysis research will indicate the solubility of the surface coating and its potential removal.  I am planning to remove the layers of varnish in levels so that we can leave a layer of patina.  This phase will indicate that level of surface cleaning to be attempted on each of the panels, excluding the un-varnished painting.  One of the best products for the removal of the varnish layers are enzymes.  If this solution is effective an additional cost will be added to the general materials cost as they are a short life product and expensive to use.  

Due to the large dimensions of the panels, additional supports, including a new frame, will be needed for the well-being of the artworks and to facilitate their display and storage purposes, as well as for easy transportation.  See the below image of a mock-up frame on one of the panel’s corners. 

Carolina Izzo Image002

To obtain the above expectations the artworks will need to be re-lined on a new support that would guarantee stability and lightness.  After viewing the panels and their softness I propose that the Pinex panels, once they have been consolidated, will be adhered to a thick sheet of canvas, 150mm larger than the panels, to allow the material to be stretched onto the new strainers.  The new strainer made our of American cedar will be 10mm larger than each of the panels and a simple ‘L’ shape moulding frame will be applied from the back of each strainer.  The following proposed treatments indicates the general work to be done on each of the panels.  However, the work for the conservation treatment will vary for the dimensions and for the time required to conserve them.  On some of the panels, the past repairing work to join the separated parts will need to be undone, as most of the separated parts are not levelled to the rest of the panel.  Other panels present numerous holes (from being used as a dartboard) that will need to be flattened and filled before retouching.

Conservation Images

Here are some images of one of Haddon’s panels having underdone conservation treatment by Carolina Izzo.  This image conserved depicts a Maori warrior and woman with the river and mountain in the background. This mural has been signed by Oriwa Haddon.  (1981.351.1, 1262 L x 1715 H).

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Images courtesy of Carolina Izzo, Art Conservator.