Thursday, 27 October 2016

Wonderful Exhibition by Kathy Shaw-Urlich

This entry was first posted in April 2016, but was deleted by mistake and is now re-posted

Northlanders have been enjoying a wonderful exhibition at Kaan Zamaan Gallery in Kerikeri.  I have blogged before about the stained-glass of Kathy Shaw-Urlich, the British-born woman of Maori descent who now lives at Whatuwhiwhi in the Far North. Kathy trained in the mediaeval skills of stained glass painting. She draws on imagery from her Maori heritage as well as her European background and uses those wonderful skills to produce amazing work (see my previous blog entries in 2012 and 2013,

Kathy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and has been undergoing a range of treatment for the disease.  The panels which are the centre-piece of this exhibition were created in a ten week period of respite from treatment prior to starting a strenuous course of chemotherapy which is currently underway (Kathy, our thoughts are with you). The artist tells us that the ideas behind the works had been developing throughout her treatment.  

The title work for the exhibition, Easter Rising (above) offers a nod to the Irish Easter rising of 1916 and her father's Dublin ancestors.  The range of rich imagery reflects Easter goodies, and Easter hares in the fields of the Northern spring. In a central reference to her bid for recovery, a phoenix rises before a Cross, around which are gathered the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and Saint John the Beloved, as they would appear in mediaeval glass. Another mediaeval emblem is the White Hart of Hertford, Kathy's birthplace, one of which she saw on Easter Monday 1997.

Many layers of ideas and symbols are present in all the works in the exhibition, reflecting Kathy's bicultural heritage and her thoughts about her own past, present and future. These are explored in the explanatory labels for the works. 
Red Monkey Knife Edge

Hanging On for Dear Life

2016 is the Chinese year of the Red Monkey. This work also references the fierce red chemotherapy drug doxorubicin, while Hanging on for Dear Life includes a ladder to Heaven, eventually, across the Great Water.

Pounamu Whenua

St Michel and the Dragon

In these works Kathy explores the heritage of both her mother and her husband in Te Wai Pounamu, and her own experiences in Celtic Brittany.

Maria All Mothers

Anaheranui Rawhaera

The Blue Madonna is adorned with flowers and stars, and with the holy dove God's hand blesses. The healing Archangel Raphael blesses a woman in prayer, who attains an angel's wing.

Kahu 1

Kahu 2


The Kahu diptych references the hunter-like Orion, with feather cloak for protection and flight,  and Te Wahine o Te Moana, who joins Orion in the heavens.

Anaheranui Rawhaera

The Green Healing Archangel Raphael, with Jesus suffering on the cross, His breast scars like barbed wire, prayers of supplication, and healing green plants spiky aloe and kawakawa, prolific in the Far North. Revelation 22: 2 references the Tree of Life, with its leaves for the healing of all nations, the central motif in the window by Wilhelmina Geddes in Belfast, which I discussed in my blog on William Wheeler (see That window, which Kathy drew to my attention, has been important to her for many years, all the more so now, with its message of hope of healing for all.

Acknowledgement: I'm grateful to Kathy Shaw-Urlich and to Julia Reinholt of Kaan Zamaan Gallery in Kerikeri for permission to photograph these works and reproduce them here.

Posted By Blogger to New Zealand Glass on 4/22/2016 09:32:00 am

Kathy Shaw Urlich 1954 – 2016

Northland’s renowned Māori stained glass artist Kathy Shaw-Urlich has died peacefully after a long battle with cancer. 

Kathy preparing panels for the wharekai at Whakapara marae in March 2013
Kathy was born in England, but as the daughter of Ron Shaw an English pilot and engineer and Desiree Joan Browne, a former Miss Northland, she affiliated to Ngāti Hau and Te Uri o Te Aho o Ngāpuhi. She made her first visit to New Zealand at the age of 26 to visit her Māori grandmother, and as a proud descendant of Patuone she eagerly explored her Māori heritage and especially her connection to her grandmother’s whānau of Ngāti Hau and Whakapara marae.

Although never one to promote herself, Kathy in fact achieved considerable success. She topped her class and won a national competition as well as a scholarship while studying at the Swansea Institute, in Wales, before completing a Masters in Fine Art at Central St Martins in London.  In 1990 she exhibited glass panels at New Zealand House for the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi and held another solo exhibition, Te Po me Te Ao (The Dark and the Light) at the Commonwealth Institute in London.

She was commissioned to design the inaugural window for the prestigious Human Genome Project campus near Cambridge. Her tribute panel to Rahera Heta Windsor, kuia of Ngāti Ranana in London, was one of 100 pieces selected by the Corning Glass Museum in New York, from 2,500 international entries, to feature in New Glass Review, the world’s leading journal of innovation in glass art. 

Wharenui window, Whakapara marae, March 2013
In 2007 Kathy married Rev. Rapata Urlich and moved to New Zealand, where she and Robert established a home and a studio for making stained glass artwork at Whatuwhiwhi. Kathy connected with the glass community in New Zealand, and made many friends, personal and professional, both locally in Northland and nationwide. 

She exhibited her work in solo exhibitions and in group shows.  Most of her public commissions are in England, but she made a wonderful suite of work for St Isaac’s church, the wharenui and the wharekai at Whakapara, the latter made with the support of a Creative NZ Te Waka Toi grant. She designed a wonderful Passchendaele memorial window for All Saints Church in Kaeo, though sadly she did not live long enough to complete the commission.  

Altar window, St Isaac's church, Whakapara, 1999
Her works are held in many private collections in New Zealand, as well as England, Wales, France and Iceland. News of her death has been greeted with a great sense of loss by those who are proud to own her work and by all those who loved and admired a warm and wonderful woman who bore her increasing illness with strength, faith and courage. 

Moe mai rā, e hine, te tohunga karaehe.

Pouakai Pareora, 2016

Sunday, 6 March 2016

... and now it's Irish in Belfast and Te Aroha, too

If you thought (as I rather did) my last post was stretching the 'New Zealand Glass' title of this blog a little, then brace yourselves. The stained glass windows in the Karori chapel were made by noted Irish stained glass artist Wilhelmina Geddes, of the noted Irish glass studio An Tur Gloine (see Wilhelmina Geddes also made the window I feature here.  But while the Karori windows are in New Zealand, this window is in the church of St John the Evangelist, Malone Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland. 

Signed Geddes 1920
My attention was again drawn to this window by Northland glass artist Kathy Shaw-Urlich, who was greatly taken with it when she was studying Wilhelmina Geddes' work for her dissertation. My appreciation of the window has also been assisted by Nicola Gordon-Bowe, Associate Fellow of the Irish National College of Art and Design and author of the new biography and catalogue Wilhelmina Geddes: Life and work. Nicola has kindly made available the images of the window that I use here.

St John the Evangelist, Malone Rd, Belfast (Ardfern image)

The window, nearly 3 metres tall, carries its own title 'The Leaves of the Tree were for the Healing of the Nations', which is a Biblical quote from the Book of Revelation. The window was made in 1920, which offers a clue as to why Wilhelmina Geddes selected this text as her inspiration. She had recently completed the magnificent war memorial window in Ottawa.  But there is another clue in the perhaps unusually long dedication at the base of the window, and that dedication also explains my justification for including this window in a New Zealand glass blog.

The dedication reads "In memory of William Arthur Wheeler M.D., Captain N.Z.M.C., who served his country and his fellow men throughout the South African War and the Great War. Born in Belfast, 10 April 1860, died at Te Aroha 16th December 1918." 

I'll return to Captain Wheeler shortly, but I should describe the window a bit more fully (and since I haven't seen it, I'm indebted to Nicola Gordon-Bowe's book for the description).  The text in Revelation 22:2 refers to a city down the street of which flows a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 'On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations'. The window depicts this river and the Tree of Life. It also shows small groups of people wandering amongst the trees along the banks of the river, dressed in brightly coloured garments, conversing with each other and accompanied by angels. At the top of the window an angel plays heavenly music while perched in a tree, and the man below him appears transfixed by the beauty of the music.

In her own description of the window, Wilhelmina Geddes wrote: 

"Different series of people walking about under trees in Paradise, and weary wanderers at the foot. There are poets, ladies, sages and travellers in this order from top to bottom. The travellers include St Brendan. The listening man is a saint."

At the bottom of the window, just above the dedication a stern looking angel carrying a lamp appears to be protecting a rather dejected figure dressed in white, keeping 2 men standing in the trees away from the forlorn figure in white who sits with head bowed.

There is no particular biblical authority for this figure, and Geddes simply calls him a 'weary wanderer' but in my view this solitary figure is what gives this window its intensely personal quality. The window was commissioned from Wilhelmina Geddes and An Tur Gloine by Kate Wheeler, sister of William Arthur Wheeler.
I have discovered a great deal about the life and death of this interesting and rather pathetic character, enough for a short novel. Much of the detail will have to appear elsewhere, but to explain why this window is in this Blog at all I do need to provide an summary.

Captain of the school First XV in 1878 - the only known photo
William Arthur Wheeler was born in Belfast in 1860 into a well-off medical family. In 1882 he graduated B.A. Honours in pharmacy from Trinity College Dublin, and in 1889 he graduated in medicine and surgery from Queens College Belfast. From 1889 until 1893 he practised medicine in and around Belfast, before going to Jalpaiguri in Bengal, India between 1894 and 1901. In March 1901 he was recorded in the census as being back in Belfast living with his brother George and his wife and their unmarried sister Kate.

Soon after that, he went to South Africa to serve as a "Civil Surgeon". The British Army Medical Corps found itself severely understaffed when war broke out in South Africa, and recruited several hundred of these civil surgeons who were not themselves in the Army but were attached to elements of it to work in the military hospitals. William Wheeler served twenty months at No. 11 General Hospital, Kimberley and with the 3rd Scottish Rifles at Boshof. In recognition of his service Dr Wheeler received the Queen's South Africa medal, with clasps for 1901, 1902,  Orange Free State and Cape Colony. (The images are from Wikipedia, and do not show Dr Wheeler's own medal. I do not know the whereabouts of it or Wheeler's First World War medals. They may be with the family in Ireland.)

At the end of 1903, Dr Wheeler sailed for New Zealand as a passenger on S.S. Turakina. I don't know why Dr Wheeler chose to come to New Zealand; it may be that he had met some New Zealanders in South Africa. A cousin had gone to New Zealand in 1901 and was a GP in Auckland, but they don't seem to have had much contact, so that may be coincidence. Whatever his reason, it was not the bright lights and big cities of New Zealand that attracted him. He set up practice in Owaka in South Otago, where he was first registered as a doctor on the NZ medical register in 1904. Over the years his registration followed his movements around the country: Owaka and the tiny settlement of Rainbow, Nelson in 1906; Kaikoura between 1907 and 1908; Wakefield, Nelson between 1911 and 1914. After he gave up his practice in Kaikoura he took passage to the UK in July 1908, returning to New Zealand as ship's doctor in October 1908. In 1915 he was registered as a medical doctor and pharmaceutical chemist in Ohakune. From there he twice wrote to the NZ military authorities offering his services to the Army, as a volunteer in any medical capacity; his offer was declined. He was told 'there are no vacancies for appointment with the Expeditionary Force', which might seem surprising, though he was now 55 years old. Maybe his age counted against him?

However, on 24 September 1915 in Palmerston North, Dr Wheeler enlisted as a Private in the Ambulance Corps.  A pretty lowly position for a qualified surgeon, GP and pharmacist, you might well think. But the fact that he did serve in the NZ Army means that his service record is available, and it turned out to be a goldmine. At 152 pages long, it is one of the largest I have seen, and full of information.

The file provides a possible explanation for Dr Wheeler's preference for small towns and his shunning of the bright lights.  It seems that while he was in India in the 1890s he contracted malaria, whose symptoms he began to treat with morphine. This opium derived drug was commonly prescribed in nineteenth and early twentieth century medicine, and indeed is still in use today, but it is of course highly addictive. As a Private in the Field Ambulance in 1915, Wheeler was sent to Cairo in support of the New Zealand forces then at Gallipoli. It would seem the authorities were delighted to find they had a qualified pharmacist amongst their number and so in March 1916 he was promoted Acting Sergeant in the Dispensary. However they were probably less delighted when only six weeks later he was admitted to the Aotea Convalescent Home in Cairo, suffering from "nervous debility".
After a fortnight there he was returned to his unit and sent, as so many of the New Zealand forces in Egypt were, to England. He was sent to the Hornchurch Convalescent Depot, though it's not clear whether he was on the staff or a patient. In August 1916 he was discharged from hospital and posted back to the New Zealand Army Medical Corps, at Sling Camp on Salisbury Plain and then at NZMC HQ in London. 

However, all was clearly not well, since at the end of December 1916 Sgt Dr Wheeler was admitted to the New Zealand General Hospital at Walton on Thames. A medical report prepared at the end of January 1917 noted that Wheeler was suffering from "Debility – Morphia Habit. He had Malaria in India 19 years ago, and has had occasional attacks since. He has been in fair health for a time and was able to carry on satisfactorily until the end of December, when he got a severe bronchial attack; feeling ill he gave way to an old habit of taking Morphia; he went to pieces and was sent to Walton on December 30th." The cause of that debility is described as "the habit of taking Morphia which he contracted in India where he had been in the habit of using it as a preventative to Malaria". The report's recommendation was that he be discharged as permanently unfit for war service.

Doctor Wheeler sailed for New Zealand on the troopship Maunganui in March 1917. One might think he would disappear into obscurity again, but New Zealand was apparently short of qualified doctors. He was the subject of a Medical Board held in Wellington in May 1917 which reported that Wheeler had debility from a morphia habit in response to malaria and was over age. "The man vehemently states that the accusation of morphia taking is untrue and that he never made any such statement. His pupils are very small and react badly to light [which are classic morphine addiction symptoms]. He is fit to do medical duty. He is qualified'. 

Wheeler's denial that he had a morphine addiction seems quite remarkable in the circumstances, but even more remarkable was the decision of the New Zealand Army's Director General Medical Services to take Wheeler on and commission him as a Captain in the New Zealand Medical Corps, stationed at Featherston Camp in the Wairarapa. He served there from June 1917 until December 1918, interrupted only by a fortnight in the Camp Hospital in March 1918 suffering from "nervous debility". A later report notes that during this period the Camp suffered from the effects of the 'flu pandemic and Captain Wheeler was considerably overworked as a consequence. At the end of November 1918, Captain Wheeler wrote to his superiors inquiring about his future prospects in the light of the current demobilisation. A reply was sent advising that his employment in his current position would continue for a further twelve months. 
The Palace Hotel, Te Aroha today
But before he received the reply, on 10 December 1918 William Wheeler took leave and went to Te Aroha, a spa town in the Waikato. He often took leave there, staying with a friend, the local chemist. On this occasion he stayed at the hotel, as a precaution against infecting the chemist's child with 'flu from the Camp.

On Sunday, 15 December 1918, Surgeon-Captain William Arthur Wheeler NZMC was found dead in his room in the Palace Hotel, Te Aroha. He was 58 years old. The Coroner found that he had died accidentally from a self-administered dose of morphine. There was no suggestion that he meant to die; the attending doctor, who knew Wheeler was an addict, said 'Captain Wheeler had taken just a little more morphia than his system was capable of handling'. 

William Arthur Wheeler is buried in the cemetery at Te Aroha, where 'a number of returned soldiers attended as a last mark of respect for a fellow-soldier', as the local newspaper recorded. The inscription on his tombstone "I pray thee, then, Write me as one that loves his fellow men" comes from a popular 1834 Romantic poem Abou Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt, whose sentiment seems particularly apposite. 

In the will that all soldiers had to provide upon enlistment, then Private William Wheeler named his sister Kate in Belfast as his sole beneficiary. Kate was 2 years younger than her brother and as she was 53 and unmarried when he made his will he may have felt that she would need some financial support. Whether he left her very much money is not known, but she obviously felt the need to commemorate him appropriately. It seems likely that she provided the tombstone in Te Aroha and selected the epitaph which acknowledges his life of medical service. 

Kate Wheeler also commissioned from An Tur Gloine and Wilhelmina Geddes the stained-glass window in his memory in their local church in Belfast. It cost £122-17s-6d, which one online source suggests is equivalent to £80,000 sterling today. Kate took a close interest in the design and making of the window. Wilhelmina Geddes was apprehensive whether Miss Wheeler would like the window, and was relieved when she approved the first small-scale coloured sketch.

So this wonderful Irish stained glass window in a Belfast church commemorates the life and service of a colonial doctor who served his fellow man in Ireland, India, South Africa and New Zealand. It also reminds us, as a New Zealand medical historian has told me, that Wheeler's fate was a common one amongst colonial doctors, many of whom became addicted thanks to self-prescribing.