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Published: 26 August 2022

By Andy Ross

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Sculptor Margaret Butler.

Margaret Butler in her studio Margaret Butler in her studio
Margaret Butler in her Studio, 1918-1930, maker unknown. Te Papa (CA000259/001/0001/0005)

Greymouth Mawhera continues to surprise with its art connections.

The town on the banks of the Grey River/ Mawheranui is not well-known for its artistic connections but it has produced and nurtured poets, writers, painters, sculptors and weavers for centuries. Many of their names are lost but research is uncovering some, such as Margaret Butler.

Born in 1883 in the town, Margaret with her family moved to Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington in 1884 where her art education began. Margaret and her sister, Mary,  lived for 11 years in Europe from 1923 before returning to New Zealand Aotearoa in 1934 to acclaim. 

This essay by Mark Stocker reveals the "Invisible Sculptor" who is perhaps most known, if known at all, for her portraits of Maori people, notably the dancer, Miriama Heketa. (More pictures of Miriama can be seen here.) The dancer posed for La Nouvelle Zélande and was also probably the model for the beautiful and calm Maori Madonna.

Many of the sculptor's pieces are in the National Collection at Te Papa. They deserve to be better known and appreciated.