|The Rotorua Daily Post 12 June 2008
About 80 people attended the
Official unveiling of a painting of Te
Arawa kuia Witarina Harris last
night.Rotorua Mayor Kevin Winters
unveiled the painting created by
Geraldine artist Peter Caley, at the
Rotorua District Council. The
painting was partially funded by
First Sovereign and the Whakaue
Charitable Trust, not the Ngati
Whakaue Tribal Lands as was
The Rotorua Daily Post
|Witarina lives on through portrait
By Kelly Makiha
Witarina Harris’ son Stuart looked into the painted eyes of his mother
“It bought tears to my eyes looking into her eyes again. Its like she
is still alive’” the Rotorua man told the Daily Post after seeing a
painting of the 101-year-old, who died a year ago on Tuesday.
The painting is to be officially unveiled to members of the public
today at a ceremony at the Rotorua District Council.
The idea to gift the city a painting of the prominent Te Arawa kuia
came from Sir Howard Morrison, who arranged funding from First
Sovereign and Ngati Whakaue Tribal lands.
Ngati Whakaue are yet to decide where the painting will go
permanently but Sir Howard said he wanted the opportunity for the
public to view it.
Geraldine artist Peter Caley worked on the painting last year after
being asked by Sir Howard.
“I was in Rotorua and bumped into Howard at a café in town. I said
“Maybe it’s time you had your portrait done”. He said, “There is
someone I feel is more important to Te Arawa who needs to be
painted, but I think you have only got six months’.”
Sir Howard was worried about the failing health of Te Arawa’s
much loved kuia, who starred in a Hollywood film Under the Southern
Cross, later known as The Devil’s Pit, in 1929.
Mr. Caley traveled to Rotorua six times last year to be with Mrs.
Harris before she died.
“She didn’t sit for me, Instead, I walked around Ohinemutu with her,
I would Sit and talk to her, get to know her, sketch her, take photos.”
But Mrs. Harris died before Mr. Caley finished the painting. She
had been such a huge part of Mr. Caley’s life for six months after her
death shook the artist, resulting in him having to take a month off.
“I was frightened when I saw her in state that I wouldn’t be able to
finish the painting and capture her again.”
But when he saw her he was overcome with emotion as if she was
speaking to him, saying ‘don’t you dare think that”.
The end result is a painting that her family says hauntingly
captures her smile and emotion. It was revealed to a gathering of Te
Arawa elders and family members on Saturday at Tamatekapua
Meeting House, at Ohinemutu.
Mrs. Harris’ only surviving brother, 84-year-old Sonny Mitchell, said
the painting was “typically her”.
“I’m quite taken with it. It’s lovely”.
Sir Howard predicted the painting would become of national
“You can’t put a value on it”.
He remembered Mrs. Harris as a “marvelous, marvelous woman”.
“She came to all the hui rain, hail or snow and sat right by the door
in her chair.”
He said the painting was a legacy and needed to be kept
somewhere special where it would be seen and appreciated.
I would like to see it in the council buildings roped off next to (Ngati
Whakaue carving) Pukaki because he is her direct ancestor.”