Helen Kerridge

Helen Kerridge 

Helen Kerridge loves teaching art to adults. In 2004 she began with twelve students at evening classes at Hastings Boys’ High School. With no teacher training she worked out a curriculum for each term based on colour and painting techniques used by artists over the ages. At the end of each session she would ask her students for feedback, gradually fine-tuning her teaching style and curriculum. 

From those early night classes, Helen has progressed to running a private art school, teaching seventy students a week in six weekly classes in the studio above Humanity Books and Fine Arts in Hastings. 

Helen Kerridge is possibly less well known as a painter than she is as an art teacher. Yet, when her personal artwork is shown in public exhibitions it stops people in their tracks. In the recent Festival exhibition, ‘Remembering Roy’, her image ‘Jason ponders the length of a piece of string?’ (part of Dunningham’s private collection) featured on a front wall. It contained numerous half sheep and owl 

creatures flying down and hovering over a man slumped at his desk, two infants suckle a pig in front, and a child wearing a Weet-Bix shirt attempting to gauge the length of some string. Painted in beautifully applied acrylics, these unsettling symbols require close scrutiny and engagement to decipher. 

The painting represents her personal form of paint communication – a form of surrealism largely inspired by the works of Spanish late Renaissance painter, Goya. 

“For content, I often gravitate to the darker nature of humanity,” she admits. “This interest developed around 2000 after reading about Goya, who documented in his art that mankind was not enlightened [two hundred years ago during The Age of Enlightenment]. He saw how crowd-mentality worked in dark ways; that violence, prejudice and stupidity existed in times that were meant to be enlightened. 

“This greatly affected me as I realized we were still no more enlightened today – and from that time on I examined aspects of crowd mentality in my own work.” 

She says that there are at times, veiled elements of self-portraiture; other times comment about others, 

“I like to weave numerous narratives within my art, some are blatant while others stay hidden.” 

Her students have an enormously high regard for her painting and tuition skills and she in turn regards them “like my extended family”. Helen believes it is important that her adult students not only understand painting technique and processes, but that they also grow in ability and confidence to be the best they can as artists. 

“I take great pride in the students who have gone on to have success as painters. Many are now represented in galleries both locally and nationally, they are being selected for fine art shows, winning awards and selling at investment levels.” And while some of her students have ambition and drive to pursue a full-time career in art, others take great pleasure in creating purely for themselves and enjoy the companionship of the group. 

“Teaching art to adult students is the most enjoyable of all the careers I have had. It allows me to continue to learn about what I am most passionate – that is painting and art history. My initial lessons are still being used and over the years I have extensively added to and tweaked them.” 

She ensures learning outcomes for each student are tailored to individual needs. For a beginner, the focus is on the basics of colour theory, paint techniques and composition and as they progress, the direction of learning becomes more individual. 

She counts Alexandra Tylee and Anna Jepson amongst her students. Alex paints still-life using acrylics and describes Helen as an amazing teacher. “She lets you do your own thing, watches, quietly observing and just when you think you’ve finished, she pushes you to go on, offering insights and pushing you beyond your comfort zone. 

“Technically she is really skilled, incredibly knowledgeable. Not being formally trained lends her teaching the kind of freedom that allows room for your own work ability – it’s a fine balance. I painted with joy all my childhood, but a secondary school art teacher judged me harshly and that totally knocked my confidence. 

I started painting again with Helen and she has given me all that joy back.”

Like Alex, Anna Jepson has painted most of her life. “Helen is my mentor now but when I was getting back into my art I started going to her classes and we’ve become great friends. I like to work on my own, but she comes to my studio every week or so. I find her very motivating, she has a wealth of knowledge, incredible really. Even as an established painter you always need another pair of eyes and a sounding board, I feel very privileged.”

The week-to-week challenge for Helen is to keep coming up with new lessons that will stimulate and push her students. “This keeps me learning and drives me to experiment with many new products and delve ever deeper into art history. It’s a job where I too learn and play, although at times my experiments can turn to custard and I get reminded that painting/creating will keep you humble.” 

Whilst teaching is a big part of her life, Helen has continued to paint her signature works, enters exhibitions and participates in-group shows. Her work mainly sells privately; and she gifts portraits to friends and family.

Helen’s students’ annual group exhibitions are a career highlight for her, as she sees this is a celebration of everything good about teaching. Another highlight is a children’s book she illustrated, Allis the Little Tractor, that won a New Zealand book award. She is also proud of the fine arts shows she has been selected for. She recounts a major highlight was attending a month-long portrait course (pre-Covid) at an atelier in Florence with friend Anna Jepson. 

“There have been many highlights, but one of the greatest gifts I receive from my teaching is the support, friendship and love from students, many of whom I have known for years. I also get to share in their successes knowing I have played a small part in it.”

Lisa Feyen

CAN’s (Creative Arts Napier) hard-working manager Lisa Feyen first became involved with the community gallery as a new graduate in 2016, working for two years in the role of media coordinator. When major changes were in the offing, Lisa filled the role of acting manager for two years and just over a year ago, was appointed as the general manager. 

CAN’s mission is to provide the wider community with accessibility to the arts and it serves a vitally important role – not one Feyen takes lightly. 

Lisa Feyen

“It is well accepted that an ongoing experience of the arts is essential for wellbeing and is particularly important as we tackle the Covid pandemic and the effects on mental health, wellbeing and the economy,” she says.

The building is owned by Napier City Council and was the former council chambers relocated to the Byron Street site. NCC helps with funding, similarly to other councils in regional centres. 

When Lisa took over, CAN was struggling and since her appointment the gallery has seen a boost in the number of events and creative activities; this can be largely attributed to her leadership and communication skills. 

CAN now runs between 70 and 80 exhibitions a year; it has doubled the number of community arts workshops and (from 2021) at the Keirunga Creative Hub in Havelock North. These initiatives have resulted in a noticeably improved economic performance. 

In addition, CAN collaborates with Hastings’ community arts organisation, Arts Inc Heretaunga, in leading the Hawke’s Bay Arts Trail over Labour Weekend, an event that has great potential as a tourist attraction and as an intrinsic part of our local communities’ enjoyment of the arts. The trail was reestablished in its present form in 2020 and builds on the Hawke’s Bay Art Guide, with many artists now joining up because of the resulting benefits of participating in the HB Art Trail.

CAN’s stated aim is to support exhibitors at a grassroots level so if an artist is exhibiting for the first time, they can be supported and advised through the whole process, gaining opportunities to make connections with other artists, local gallery owners and curators, raising public awareness and building the confidence of the artist.

In her operational role Lisa also manages, trains and supports a small staff and a larger team of volunteers and the team facilitates regional competitions and awards including the biennial Hawke’s Bay Art Review, revived by CAN in 2017. A ‘Friends’ of CAN supporters’ group has been established fostering engagement with the wider community.

Seeking funding is a regular chore for most community arts organisations. “It’s a demanding part of my job,” she says. “To keep CAN afloat we apply for funding from trusts and supportive organisations and I do all the administration that supports that.” Every six months, she reports to Napier City Council on CAN activities in order to secure the next round of core funding. 

She’s also required to engage with the arts community in an advisory role which can take many different forms. 

“Most importantly, our team delivers the best quality visitor experience to everyone we come into contact with, as they are all stakeholders in all our activities,” she says. 

It is little wonder that along with juggling the demands of her work and family commitments, Lisa has less time for her own artwork than she would like. She’d love to work in her print studio more often – the experimental work using screen printing on paper, doing etching and relief techniques such as woodcut. She is also engaged with the Hawke’s Bay Inkers, is a member of the Print Council of Aotearoa NZ and she loves to attend the annual summer school in January, if and when time permits.

“My personal vision for CAN is that it becomes intrinsic to the fabric of the Hawke’s Bay arts scene. We are a community gallery and happy to work alongside commercial and city galleries to provide a complementary experience, because there is no competition there, just opportunities. 

“I see CAN acting as a springboard to launch people into careers in the arts. This means developing our internship and volunteer programmes (perhaps in conjunction with other organisations); establishing an ‘Artist in Residence’ once or twice a year and catering for groups who struggle with access to the arts. I think our exhibition programme is working well and now it’s about focusing on the other areas that have potential,” she says. 

Jean McGavock

Jean McGavock has spent most of her life working in the area of art therapy. 

Over her twenty-five years of working in Hawke’s Bay she has provided both individual and group art sessions to children and adults with disabilities; to clients of the Springhill Drug Addiction services; and has facilitated art workshops in mental health day services. A particularly rewarding period was working in a palliative care setting. 

Jean McGavock

She has a passion for facilitating large scale collaborative community arts projects, such as the mosaic mural panels with the residents at Hohepa, and at the Heretaunga Women’s Centre where she has organised three community arts projects.

She has worked in the adult education sector as a program director, running courses where health and art intersect, educating other therapists, health professionals, teachers and carers in the intuitive arenas of creativity and mental wellbeing when helping their own clients, sharing her knowledge of how to draw the emotional and psychosocial threads together as a therapist whilst working through art. 

The therapeutic art approach isn’t about creating a beautiful work of art – that simply might be the bonus. The end result is a tangible visible piece of a person’s story – it’s by no means the whole story. 

Jean’s skill set is as an educator and facilitator and lies primarily in providing a therapeutic listening space in which her clients are able to express themselves, and share their stories. It can be both healing and life enhancing. When words fail the visual arts can tell a myriad of stories and can become a communication tool to others. Being encouraged to make something new that is beautiful in its own way can be a deeply moving process. 

Readers who have had cause to visit Cranford and have spent time in the beautiful hospice gardens will have observed the mosaic murals that tell the stories of those who were engaged in their creation.

The ‘River of Life’ around the fountain was a community project involving patients, whānau and staff. Displayed on the fence is the project titled ‘Something Understood’. This consists of many individual mosaic panels. “Each is a special image chosen as a metaphor celebrating a life well-lived,” says Jean. She was the art therapist at the hospice then, using an art therapy approach for psychosocial support for patients and whānau during the journey of illness and for bereavement support. 

“I have enjoyed facilitating some local community arts projects where many people have contributed hands on and creatively.” In 2018, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs helped fund the 10-metre mosaic wall that was created on the back fence of the Heretaunga Women’s Centre in Hastings. This celebrates 125 years of women’s suffrage in New Zealand and the suffragettes who won women the right to vote. 

“Over 50 women were hands-on participating. It starts with Kate Sheppard and ends with Jacinda Ardern holding baby Neve. The Heretaunga Women’s Centre are amazing supporters of the value of community arts projects,” says Jean. In 2019 the Centre received a Landmarks highly commended Award for Art in Public Places for their Suffrage Mosaic Mural.

Jean currently works as a family support coordinator for the Child Cancer Foundation. “It’s very rewarding,” she says. “CCF is a fabulous organisation to work for. I am focusing on support for children with cancer and their families as they juggle the journey of illness alongside ordinary life and it’s day-to-day challenges.”

When asked what keeps her in this challenging area of work, Jean replies, “Being able to make a difference to people who are dealing with difficult situations, just knowing that you may have made some difference and to help people identify their own strengths and skills.

“I’m inspired by people’s ability to cope with adversity. None of us know what we are capable of until we find ourselves in a ‘challenge’ we have not asked for.” 

For Jean, creativity is her own form of self care in a role that requires an awareness of one’s own needs. “I’ve a great studio at home where I disappear into. I enjoy mosaics but also many other art mediums. I have five grandchildren who have helped make a mosaic dragon path in the garden. It’s so lovely being able to be creative with them.” 

She recalls an incident’. “Once, a bereaved client, a wise young Mum, said to me that making a special mosaic in memory of her husband was like ‘putting the pieces of her life back together.’ I often think of her as I crack apart perfectly good pieces of glass tile or china and then rebuild the bits into pictures. I enjoy the chaos of the bits of colour and then reforming them to become something new. 

“Perhaps that’s my own therapeutic/self care artistic process. A metaphor for how we are all dealing with the chaos of life, with COVID. Just by putting the little pieces together – and hoping for something new and beautiful at the end.” 

More art facilitators

• Annette Bull. Award-winning potter who set up UKU Hawke’s Bay Clay Awards with husband Natham Crossan and who (with others) spends days helping to prepare and load the woodkiln for its annual firing at Waiohiki Creative Village.

• Linda Bruce. Renowned ceramics, sculpture and installation artist and tutor at EIT Ideas School.

• Kaye McGarva. Established Muse Gallery in Havelock North in 2018 and is also a painter whose work challenges visual perception.

• Lyn Mackie. Stalwart of Arts Inc Heretaunga who works across the arts scene in Hawke’s Bay.

• Kathy Boyle. A leading light in the Australasian printmaking world, regional coordinator Print Council of NZ, innovative print artist and teacher.

• Paula Sugden. Classical cellist, who in 2019 established The Art Shed at Bay View, providing many artists and makers with valuable exposure.

• Heretaunga Women’s Centre. Provides free access to art and lots of aroha, friendship and support to women through art.

Photos: Tom Allan

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2 Comments

  1. What about Sophie Blokker? I feel shocked she was left out completely. A working artist who’s supporting herself thru her beautiful art.

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