14 March 2014

Children's art exhibition celebrates Mataura River

An exhibition featuring work from an art project involving 1800 children from 21 primary schools along the Mataura River is on at the Croydon Aviation Heritage Centre, at Mandeville, until 15 June.

The Mataura River Art Project is the culmination of eight months working with children by artist and community arts worker Janet de Wagt, making art about the river.

Each school focused on a different aspect of the river – its Maori history, local stories, flora, fauna, industry, farming, recreation or physical attributes. The result is an exciting and unique exhibition of over 600 distinctive art pieces that chronicle the changing relationship of people with the Mataura River.

Each school used a variety of different everyday/recycled materials to create their artworks. Sticks, wool, plastic containers, jigsaw puzzles, fabric and cardboard all found a new life in the children’s work.

The exhibition will be officially opened today by Clutha-Southland MP Bill English. On Saturday 15 March, from 11am to 2pm, there will be an open day for all the children involved and their families. This is an opportunity for those involved to see their work and the work of others created during the Mataura River Art Project. There will also be a Noddy train, face painting and refreshments. Admission is free and all are welcome.

How it all began

The idea for the project was conceived by Wagt in 2012. From there Cathi Knowles, then Principal of Glenham School, came on board and the project just took off.

As Cathi explains: “Initially we contacted 17 schools in close proximity to the river and asked if they were interested in Janet working in their school. All said yes. The number of schools has grown and others have asked to join in. Now 21 schools and approximately 1800 children have been involved in making a range of amazing artworks based on their stories of the Mataura River.

"Janet de Wagt is a person who gives so much not just because of her passion for her craft but also because she truly believes that all people, especially children, should be able to express themselves through visual art.

"I believe the project has brought the river to life in many, many ways. The children have learnt about the history of the river in connection to the community they live in. Now we have an exhibition that will showcase the stories of the river and the creativity of the students who live within its reaches.”

Schools involved and community support

The following schools and communities were involved: Garston School, Lumsden School, Balfour School, Waikaia School, Riversdale School, Otama School, Knapdale School, Waikaka School, Willowbank School, East Gore School, Gore Main School, St Mary’s School, West Gore School, Longford Intermediate School, Mataura School, Tuturau School, Wyndham School, Edendale School, Glenham School, Gorge Road School and Tokanui School.

This special arts project has been made possible with the support of the Community Trust of Southland, the Trusts Community Foundation, Creative Communities Scheme, Hokonui Runanga, Gore District Council, Eastern Southland Gallery, Dongwha Patinna NZ Ltd, Gore Woodworkers’ Club, Mary Southerwood, Cathi Knowles and many other individuals, businesses and community organisations that have supported this project.

About the artist

Dunedin-based artist Janet de Wagt has lived and painted throughout the world. Born and raised in mid-Canterbury, she has been working fulltime as an artist for the past 25 years, balancing a successful painting profile with a vigorous community-based role as an art project facilitator.

De Wagt’s paintings reflect the New Zealand landscape she connects with and all are painted onsite, in all weather. Her highly expressive landscape paintings are readily identifiable and often capture the wilder side of the lower half of the South Island.

She has participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions, including Murihiku: the South Land, which toured Australia in 2001.

Janet is equally well known for her popular and stimulating workshop programmes, held over a number of years, featuring banner making, ‘au plein air’ painting and artist’s book making. Since 1998 she has also undertaken a number of artist-in-residence programmes in the UK and Europe, as well as throughout southern New Zealand.

Where to see the exhibition

The Croydon Aviation Heritage Centre is on State Highway 94, just 15 minutes north of Gore.

Hours are

Summer: Monday to Friday 9.30am – 4.30pm. Weekends 11am - 3pm.

Winter: Monday to Friday 11am – 3pm. Weekends 11am - 3pm.

Gore District Council 29 Bowler Avenue Gore P: 03 209 0330 E: