Marlborough's Clem Mellish becomes Living Cultural Treasure

Two celebrated Marlborough artists will be receiving a top cultural award on Friday night. Havelock carver Clem Mellish and Fairhall ceramic artist Fran Maguire are the latest recipients of the Marlborough Living Cultural Treasure Award. Maguire said the accolade was a huge honour. "It's a bit too much to absorb." 

The award was established in 2012 by the Marlborough Museum, in partnership with the Marlborough District Council and The Marlborough Express

Marlborough Museum chief executive Steve Austin said the two were selected from 20 nominations. 

"They were very, very worthy of recognition," he said. 

Previous recipients of the award included children's author Joy Cowley, who received the award jointly with theatre director Duncan Whiting in 2013. 

In other years there was only one recipient, but this time the selection panel decided both Maguire and Mellish deserved the award, Austin said. 

"It's just such a lovely event to be a part of, it's an honour," Austin said. 

Austin said nominations were received for people in all sorts of artistic fields, including music, theatre, and the visual and decorative arts. 

Maguire, president of the Marlborough Community Potters, described herself as someone who had always created things. 

She became a ceramic artist after moving to Marlborough in the 1990s, but before then she had turned her hand to bookbinding, jewellery, painting and screen printing, she said. 

Mellish, 80, was born and bred in Havelock and said he had been a carver for more than 30 years. 

He worked mainly in jade and argillite. 

Mellish said it took him seven or eight years to find his style. 

"Well, I'm still finding my own style." 

He was the first carver of his generation to make traditional Maori instruments from stone, and two of his instruments were in the British Museum along with three of his carvings. 

The prolific carver was still learning new things, and said he was creating something different all the time. 

"If I find something new I love it at the time, but you've got to move on and start something else," he said. 

He found inspiration everywhere, he said.

His inspirations included sculptors Auguste Rodin and Constantin Brancusi. 

"I've done a lot of faces, I keep going back to faces," he said. 

He also enjoyed carving jewellery and said he kept going back to pendants. 

He found much of the materials he used in the Pelorus River, he said. 

Maguire said when she began learning to create pottery, at night classes, she found "throwing" the pots very difficult. 

"I was hopeless at it. I was the worst in the class," she said. 

"That was why I stuck to it. It was a constant challenge to me." 

Maguire went on to have solo and group exhibitions in art galleries around the country. 

Her work was a way of expressing what was going on inside her, and a way of documenting her thinking, she said. 

She loved depicting simple everyday items in her art, she said. 

Last year, she became involved in an ongoing project with the Cancer Society, to encourage school children from primary schools around Marlborough to create ceramic daffodils. 

 - The Marlborough Express