UNDREAMED OF … 50 years of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship by Priscilla Pitts & Andrea Hotere. Dunedin: OUP (2017).
Hb, full colour, 224pp.
Reviewed by Cassandra Fusco.
‘Don’t let N Zealand wait to put up a memorial tablet to my memory –
let her help me now whilst I am working at work that I hope will live after me.’
(Frances Hodgkins to her mother,
Rachel Hodgkins, 31.10. 1921.)
Half a century of sponsorship by the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship – the first of its kind and the most richly remunerated award in Aotearoa New Zealand – is something to consider and celebrate. UNDREAMED OF … 50 years of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship by Priscilla Pitts and Andrea Hotere does exactly that and more.
The book and the related exhibition verify the unique and empowering role played by the Hodgkins Fellowship thus far in the practice and development of 49 diverse New Zealand artists in the fields of painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography and digital media. The recipient list is national and heterogeneous.
Priscilla Pitts’ opening essay provides the overarching historical context of the Fellowship and its selection process, charting its evolution through mixed moments of insightful daring and some apparent caution, towards a more expansive acceptance of art practice. Coincidental with this progress Pitts also notes how the choice of fellows reflects a shift in how artists have positioned themselves over the last 50 years. This dynamic is investigated further in Pitts’ series of shorter essays on each artist’s Hodgkins residency.
Insight into the Fellowship and its impact are manifest in Joanne Campbell’s soundly researched chapter, ‘Founding the Fellowship’. She gives due attention to the role played by Charles Brasch (1909-1973), a modernist force who, supported by other philanthropists, inaugurated the Robert Burns Fellowship (1958), the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship (1962), and the Mozart Fellowship (1969) within Otago University. Campbell outlines the Fellowship’s longevity – remarkable by both national and international standards – its proven impact, something of its financial lows, and much about the Fellowship’s body of inspired, committed supporters.
Andrea Hotere surveys the lives and careers of all 49 individuals – a formidable task admirably accomplished and perceptively illustrated. She provides pertinent biographical and first-hand comments from the artists themselves or relatives and she does so attentively and equitably.
These several authors, their colleagues and publishers have produced a book that demonstrates the enormous difference the Hodgkins Fellowship has made in the lives and practice of many artists. UNDREAMED OF is dense with informative, readable material, refreshingly free of jargon and generously illustrated.
In the companion exhibition (2016), curated by Priscilla Pitts, many Hodgkins recipients were represented by a work from their residency and from later in their career. This style of effective curation enabled viewers to begin to consider artists’ development, and also ratified the importance of such fellowships for early to mid-career artists.
Implicitly both the book and the exhibition broadcast the importance of recognising and acknowledging creative endeavour; how support and circulation of this can inform our communities; that it is often creative expressions that can productively probe socio-political issues. The fruits of the Fellowship, encapsulated in the book and the exhibition, remind us that art institutions (especially art museums) and social relations are, or should be, closely connected.
If art and its circulation are part of the whole, why is the UNDREAMED OF exhibition (such a national ‘window’) not scheduled to tour? Likewise the Strangers Arrive (2017) exhibition curated by Leonard Bell for the Gus Fisher in Auckland? If it is a matter of finances and insurance, surely these issues can be addressed by those willing and able to endorse the centrality of art – reflecting as it does on the identity, interests and values of our communities.
UNDREAMED OF delivers much and, like the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship, deserves wide recognition.
 See: Frances Hodgkins, A Commemorative Issue, Ascent, December (1969) A Journal of The Arts In New Zealand. Edited by Leo Bensemann and Barbara Brooke, with essays by Melvin Day, E. H. McCormick, Anthony S. G. Green, June Opie and Shay Docking. See also: Field-Hodgkins Collection in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.
 With a Foreword by Hocken Librarian, Sharon Bell, who initiated this vast and valuable project.
 Both designed by Karina McLeod.
 Named after expatriate artist Frances Mary Hodgkins (1869-1947) and established in 1962, this annual, 12-month Fellowship, is one of New Zealand’s premier arts residencies; it provides a studio/office and not less than the minimum salary of a full-time university lecturer.
 Based on her Ph D research, Campbell records various financial difficulties that have beset the Fellowship, beneficent rescuers (including past Fellows) and the ever-supportive role of the Hocken staff, particularly Michael Hitchings, Stuart Strachan, Gordon Brown, Tim Garrity, Annette Facer and Linda Tyler, and concludes that ‘without the leadership of Les Williams, the support of former Fellows, the University of Otago and the Otago Community Trust, it would not have been possible to sustain the fellowship into the twenty-first century in its original form (pp 25-35).
Cassandra Fusco is the Reviews Editor of takahē.