Nelson's Public Art
Nelson has a range of public art works, many of them located in the central city area near the Maitai River.
A good starting point to explore the works is Millers Acre. This has always been at the heart of the city, and the artwork here now reflects important themes in Nelson’s story.
The Vessel sits on the Trafalgar Street face of the Millers Acre Centre. The work was designed by Nelson jeweller, sculptor and former design lecturer at Nelson Polytechnic, Gavin Hitchings and constructed by Haven Marine and Engineering Solutions in 2005. Four metres long, and made of stainless steel, Vessel refers to Nelson's maritime heritage. It can be seen as an abstract de-constructed maritime vessel, with its exposed ribs, fallen spars and sail or centre-board, or as a sailing ship or waka.
The pillars leading from the corner of Halifax and Trafalgar streets towards the river and past the iSITE entrance are worth a close inspection. Wood, glass and concrete have been used in a series called “Seven Rivers” by Motueka artist Tim Wraight, with the glass sections produced by Jim Mackay. Tim Wraight specialises in wood sculpture and spent eight years working with the traditional Māori woodcarver John Mutu, at Te Awhina Marae in Motueka. He has worked on four of the region’s traditional meeting houses, as well as having works commissioned around New Zealand and overseas. The wood panels, which are inset into the h-section poles, are carved in totara wood from the hills above Motueka. They are arranged in pairs, with one side depicting a stylised design of native flora. The other side depicts a corresponding native fauna species. Underneath the wood panel is a cast lead crystal glass insert which has been carved with the same design as the corresponding wood panel. At the base of each pole is a cast concrete panel. The aggregate (gravel) in each pair of panels is taken from a different major regional river, and corresponds with the wood panels on that pole. This gives a true regionality to each pole and to the work as a whole.
The traditional Māori kowhaiwhai designs on the poles adjacent to the main entrance continue this regional theme:
- Motueka Gravel
- Riwaka Gravel – Matai and Fantail
- Kawatiri Gravel – Beech and Kaka
- Maitai Gravel – Seaweed and Mangopare (Hammerhead)
- Waimea Gravel – Nelson City Kowhaiwhai design – Patiki (Flounder)
- Takaka Gravel – Totara and Powelliphawia
- Aorere Gravel – Rata and Insects
At the entrance to the Millers Acre building is a pair of seats, crafted by John Shaw and Mike Hindmarsh. A concrete base represents the strong form of the Boulder Bank and the shape of the seats resembles an aircraft wing or a boat, symbolising people arriving to Nelson. The top of the concrete has been polished to reveal small pebbles. The individual slats are shaped from Australian blue gum and have weathered to a grey-brown. There are 100 slats in both seats and only four are the same.
Other works around and inside the building include Tukutuku panels by Whakatū Marae weavers; Pou Whenua figures inside the doorway of the visitor centre by carver Mark Davis, and artwork in the Latitude Nelson foyer (during open hours only) by weavers from the Te Awhina Marae in Motueka
Reef Knot, by Nelson sculptor Grant Palliser, is on the Maitai River side of the Millers Acre building, beside the Trafalgar Street bridge. It is an open design, through which the view of the River and the architectural features of the Millers Acre building can be enjoyed. The reef knot is a maritime knot with several references. The two strands of the steel nautical knot symbolically link the history of the past with the present. The grounded strand acknowledges the Tangata Whenua and the early British colonisation of the area. The free strand extends positively into the future, reflecting the independence that we now value. It was unveiled by HRH the Duke of York, Prince Andrew, in 2005, and was commissioned in conjunction with Nelson’s Trafalgar 2000 celebrations.
Grant Palliser has exhibited widely throughout New Zealand and specialises in using bronze and stainless steel to create sculptures ranging from small table pieces to large site specific commissions. Grant and his partner Esmé cast the smaller bronzes and run workshops from their studio-workshop/foundry located overlooking the Waimea Inlet in Nelson.
The Trafalgar Street bridge features different coloured lights, as a visual signature.
In the vicinity of the Riverside Pool, a distinctive wooden seat can be found facing out to the River. This was installed by the Society of Authors to celebrate Maurice Gee – the distinguished author, whose life and work has strong local connections.
Further on, there is another work by Grant Palliser – his High Flyers – five moveable poles of high-tensile stainless steel, topped with five aluminium “boulders”. The stainless steel reflects the surrounding environment, while the boulders echo the stones in the river. .” Grant says of his work: “I believe sculpture works best when it activates a space and at the same time relates in some way to its location, and is not likely to work as well in any other. I also like to make my works interactive.... I love seeing kids crawling through the hinake (eel trap) under the Aratuna bridge, sliding down the thumb of the Oracle at Stoke Library, or shaking the High Flyers and wondering if those rocks are going to fall!”
The Aratuna (Bridge Street) Bridge features a range of artworks. These, and other features of the bridge, are described in the Aratuna Normanby Bridge story.
In 2020 a carbon fibre kinetic scupture was installed in Nelson's Rutherford Park. The creation of renowned artist Phil Price, it is called 'Family tree' and mesmerising to watch with its blue discs resembling branches and leaves swirling in the breeze.
Edited March 2021
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Further sources - Nelson's Public Art
- McNaughton, E. (n.d) Our painted city: Nelson's mural art. Suter Gallery Education kit. Nelson: Suter Gallery
- Artistic bridge receives official blessing (2008, June 5) Nelson Mail, p.5
- Dover, M. (2005) Fingers of light. Staple. 10, p. 26 [on Jim Mackay]
- Gibbs, P. (2006 Jul/Aug), Architecture New Zealand, 4, pp 60-61
- Arts award for Millers Acre (2006, July 18) Nelson Mail, p.3
- More accolades for architects of Millers Acre (2006, September 29) Nelson Mail, p.2
- Neal, T. (2001, May 16) Settled at last. Nelson Mail, p.17 [Grant Palliser]
- Eel Walk. A Nelson Heritage Walk. Retrieved 1 March 2011 from:
- Maurice Gee. Retrieved from New Zealand Book Council, 22 September 2014:
- New Zealand Society of Authors: Writer's Trail. Maurice Gee: chair on the riverbank honours writer. Retrieved 2 March 2015:
- Public art in Nelson. Retrieved from Nelson City Council, 22 September 2014:
- Visitor Centre - ISite at Millers Acre. Retrieved from Nelson City Council, 22 September 2014:
- Local Street art guide https://www.nelsontasman.nz/our-story/blog/a-locals-guide-street-art-in-nelson-tasman/
- Family tree sculpture https://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/119572112/nelsons-new-family-tree-sculpture-homecoming-for-artist