Museum backdrop dusted of f

Brendon McMahon
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A canvas backdrop painted 56 years ago by West Coast artist ‘Dusty’ Rhodes for a Hokitika Museum display has re-emerged years after being rolled up and forgotten.
Museum director Julia Bradshaw found the backdrop while rearranging Drummond Hall for a whitebait heritage display a couple of years ago.
The huge piece, painted on saddle canvas, sat atop the cabinet housing the model of the Kaniere gold dredge, covered in dust.
“It just seemed too good to keep rolled up,” Ms Bradshaw said.
However, at over 5m wide, where to put the canvas took some figuring out.
“It was so big, it was really hard to find a wall big space to display it.”
An obvious solution finally emerged: curve it across the corner of a room. It now sits pride of place behind the old Adamson Ross-Waiho (Franz Josef) mail coach, part of a historic Westland transport interpretation display currently being developed in Drummond Hall.
Ms Bradshaw said use of the canvas backdrop over the past 56 years was not well documented.
“Its movements are unclear. However, it’s now on permanent display and provides an interesting, and colourful, backdrop.”
In itself the painting was not “a museum item” and was being used as originally intended, as a display prop.
However, it really brought life to the museum by lifting the ordinarily black and white tones of the interior, Ms Bradshaw said.
“It’s just nice to have something colourful.”
A newspaper article held by the museum from the time Rhodes was working on the backdrop called him “possibly the West Coast’s best-known landscape artist”.
The article describes how Rhodes regarded the work as a mural rather than being a “work of art”.
At the time, after “a near lifetime” of painting, the mural was his biggest, although Rhodes was well known for theatre and hall backdrops often depicting bush, lake, and glacier scenes “with a true Coast flavour”.
The article went on to say that Rhodes had a lifelong interest in painting but took serious interest and studied for two years at the Canterbury College of Art after World War One.
Rhodes was apparently “reluctant” to discuss his museum work as strictly art, calling it “a background”.
“If my work is to be considered from the Royal Academy (of art) aspect, it will fall well down the ladder,” he said at the time.
“I just paint as I see it, and try to put a little of the beauty of the Coast on to canvas so that many more people may enjoy it.”