The Johnstone Collection : An Overview
Alice Tappenden with a selection of works from the Johnstone Collection
Ngarita Johnston and Terri Elder (UC Art Curator 2006-2010)
An Insight into the Development of the Design Movement in Canterbury and the History of the Ilam School of Fine Arts
In 2009, Ngarita Johnstone donated a sizeable collection of artworks to the Macmillan Brown Collection. It spans generations, mediums, and artists, encompassing works by Ngarita, her father James Johnstone, and students whom she taught, offering insight into the development of the design movement in Canterbury and the history of the Ilam School of Fine Arts (previously known as the Canterbury College School of Art).
Originally from Scotland, James Johnstone immigrated to New Zealand in 1925, where he took up the post of Crafts and Design Master at the Canterbury College School of Art. He was an influential teacher, and brought with him the techniques and styles most strongly associated with the British Arts and Crafts movement. His daughter Ngarita was born in 1928, and would grow up to be immensely talented, despite often feeling as though she was in her father’s shadow. She attended art school from 1946-50, studying design and majoring in embroidery, as this was the only subject her father did not teach her in (even though she strongly disliked the subject!). James’ contemporaries and Ngarita’s teachers were some of the most influential and important artists in Canterbury, and included Francis Shurrock, Bill Sutton, Ivy Fife and Florence Akins. They were both interested in depicting the landscapes of Canterbury and wider New Zealand, and James regularly exhibited his oil paintings at shows such as ‘The Group’ and the Canterbury Society of Arts. Though Ngarita did not exhibit as widely as her father, she had a successful career as a high school art teacher, and several of her students’ works were donated as part of the collection. Following this, she retired early after thirty-eight years and spent her later career continuing to draw and experimenting with photography, exhibiting many works at The Fernery on Stewart Island.
The Macmillan Brown is extremely lucky to have been gifted such superb examples of artworks from a family so important to the development of art and design in Canterbury.
In 2011-12, the Johnstone Collection was catalogued and researched by Alice Tappenden a Postgraduate student in Art History as part of the UC Summer Scholarship programme. This exhibition is the culmination of her research.