Luncheon Under the Ash Tree: The Ian and Elespie Prior Collection

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Media Release: June, 2006. 

Luncheon Under the Ash Tree: The Ian and Elespie Prior Collection, currently on at City Gallery, presents the superb art collection of Wellingtonian Dr Ian Prior and his late wife Elespie. ‘Dr Prior has several projects on the go, all aimed at enriching the lives of New Zealanders, most of whom will never known the full extent of this unassuming man’s generosity to the arts,’ The Dominion Post hailed the exhibition’s opening.

Now in his eighties, Dr Ian Prior is still a very active supporter of the arts in Wellington and throughout New Zealand. Frontseat, like many others, rates him as one of New Zealand’s top five arts patrons. Among lots of other endeavours, this arts lover is a founding member of the Wellington Sculpture Trust, which recently unveiled Len Lye’s terrific Water Whirler. Prior also serves the National Library, the Lilburn Residence Trust and the Sounz Centre for Contemporary Music.

Prior is an eminent epidemiologist, known for his work here and in Polynesia. He is also noted as an anti-nuclear activist and for his work as an advocate for Maori and Maori culture. He has worked particularly with Tuhoe. ‘The Bible says “to whom much is given much is expected”. I don't know if anyone reads the bible these days but that's quite a good truism,’ Prior says.

Elespie and Ian, Memoir of a Marriage was recently published by Steele Roberts. The book is one look at how together the Priors’ amassed this special, deeply personal art collection, arising from their support, knowledge and passion for New Zealand art.

Some of the magic of the collection is the way it reflects the friendships the Priors enjoyed with major artists as diverse as Evelyn Page, Colin McCahon, Toss Woollaston and Ralph Hotere.

‘Good art opens your eyes,’ Prior says, adding that art can transcend ‘some tough problems.’ Whether involved in commissioning McCahon to paint the Urewera Mural or, more recently, supporting the building of Aratoi in Masterton, he has always upheld art to be an essential component in the life of individuals and their communities. All this is reflected in Luncheon Under the Ash Tree.

City Gallery Wellington Director Paula Savage says: ‘The Priors expect art to engage with the human condition—indeed the exhibition is an unfolding essay on the human condition. The works range from the sumptuous oil paintings of Elespie by Evelyn Page to the rigorous abstractions of John Drawbridge. The Priors always believed art should not only edify, it should challenge viewers. We’re proud to be showcasing this unmissable Wellington collection.’

Luncheon Under the Ash Tree: The Ian and Elespie Prior Collection

City Gallery Wellington, 18 June – 24 September 2006

Luncheon Under the Ash Tree: The Ian and Elespie Prior Collection is developed and toured by Aratoi – Wairarapa Museum of Art and History. With the support of BWX, Masterton District Council, Masterton Lands Trust and Willi Fels Foundation.