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Unearthing Taupō's don't-miss art with artist Jeffrey Addison

Artist Jeffrey Addison is on a mission to document Taupō’s urban artworks and forgotten rock carvings.

The playwright, musician, composer, puppeteer and stone carver is scouring hills, gullies and back alleys to help catalogue centuries of creativity in the region.

“Historically, Taupō was known for fishing and outdoor adventure but increasingly, it’s also becoming this hub of visual art,” he says.

Jeffrey Addison

“The extent of what we have is staggering for a town of our size, whether it’s sculptures or murals or Māori rock carvings. I’ve tallied 244 public artworks round the central business district alone and the work and talent I see is just incredible.”

Jeffery Addison

It is Jeffrey’s community engagement role at Taupō Museum that has spurred him to assess, record and register every one of the region’s contemporary public artworks.

Discover Jeffrey's 5 don't-miss artworks in Taupō

Art in overlooked locations

However, he is also determined to help protect some of the region’s oldest artforms. These include rock art carvings that were created hundreds of years ago.

The latter quest began after Jeffrey and his wife, fellow multimedia artist Whaitaima Te Whare, turned their backs on city living to return to her hometown and raise their family in 1999.

“On the one hand, I’m an outsider. Tribally, I’m not from here. On the other, my wife and children are Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāti Raukawa so I feel a deep interest in and connection with their cultural history. I have a real passion for understanding it, so I can pass on what I absorb to my mokopuna (grandchildren) and others.”

He and Whaitaima have been skirting Lake Taupō with a local archaeologist and historian, to map and digitally document designs that have been carved into cliff faces or rocks around Lake Taupō.

Most are in hard-to-access places, where old settlements or fortifications once stood.

Protecting history

“We’ve recorded 50 or 60 videos, where our pūkenga (expert) friend speaks about the history of these sites.

Jeffrey Addison curating the region’s contemporary public artworks.

“There are many footprints from the past in a vulnerable state, which is why we formed a local rock art collective called Te Waka Hihiri, to assist in the care of these taonga tuku iho (handed-down treasures.)”

Jeffrey Addison

He describes thumb prints on a cave wall, made using red ochre rock that has been pounded to a powder and mixed with oil. Most of these kōkōwai markers and symbols have faded with time or been obscured by moss and lichen. In some places, carvings made with stone chisels date back hundreds of years.

Making of an artist

Art has always loomed large in Jeffrey’s life. Growing up in a theatrical family of Kāi Tahu, Te Ātiawa, Irish, English and Scottish origin, he played the piano and taught himself to carve as a boy, then busked around the world with his guitar.

He has worked in professional theatre, television, radio and film, and is currently making a Radio New Zealand audiobook series with Whaitaima. Together, the couple formed bilingual puppet troupe Toro Pikopiko Puppets that performed at festivals, in schools and on-air before their fascination with rock art led to a puppet musical show that premiered at Wellington’s Te Papa museum.

Jeffrey continues to create theatrical shows and host pumice carving workshops at Taupō Museum. He has also been writing waiata (songs) designed to teach children and adults about some of the region’s cultural touchpoints. One song relates to the award-winning Te Ātea sculptural complex on the town’s lakefront reserve.

Wondrous splendour

“My own art is always evolving, and this place has certainly affected my practice. The serenity of the lake seeps into you. Living beside it, you can’t help being affected by its moods and of course I’m using materials that are found in the landscape.”

His own work with volcanic pumice is often coloured with an ochre-obsidian mix that turns the soft stone salmon pink.

“Art is definitely blossoming in Taupō. I was quite amazed to find there are 25 different galleries in and around Taupō, all displaying and selling art by local and national artists."

Jeffrey Addison

“The inspiration for it is all around us. It’s the lake and the maunga (mountains) that are the absolute wondrous splendour of this area. No art can shade nature.”


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