Enga Washbourn


At the Bay 

Enga Washbourn's heart was in Golden Bay. "She absolutely loved it," her son Jeremy Goulter says. Long treasured family connections with the bay inspired her to write Courage and Camp Ovens, about five generations of her family there. As a prolific watercolourist, Golden Bay captured her imagination.

Enga Washbourn was born in 1908 in Nelson. Her father, Dr H.E.A. Washbourn, was one-time President of the Nelson Suter Art Society. At Nelson College for Girls, Enga excelled in art which led her to study at Canterbury College School of Art in Christchurch between 1928 and 1932. One of her paintings hung in the Dominion Art Exhibition in London in 1937.


Canterbury College School of Art Students in about 1930. Francis Shurrock, the sculpture teacher, stands in the back row and Enga Washbourn is seated centre front. Courtesy: Jeremy Goulter

For much of Enga's life, following her marriage to Gerald Goulter in 1939, she lived in Nelson Province, on farms near Lake Rotoiti, in Golden Bay and out of Wakefield. After her husband died in 1966 she resided in Nelson.

Nelsonians grew to know and love her landscapes; she exhibited regularly with Nelson's Suter Art Society between 1936 —1974. Enga became the society's vice president and, at her death in 1988, the Nelson Suter Art Society noted that she would be sorely missed.

Neil Roberts, senior curator at the Robert McDougall Art Gallery and Canterbury Art Galleries between 1979-2006, says Enga Washbourn was one of a generation from the Canterbury College School of Art who continued painting as a traditional watercolourist. He talks of her commitment to painting. "Many women went through the art school," he said, "then married and never picked up a paintbrush again".

Washbourn Onekaka

Looking along the Onekaka Beach, a watercolour by Enga Washbourn. Courtesy: Tom Sturgess

At this time Christchurch led New Zealand in the visual arts. On one hand traditionalist landscape artist, Archibald Nicoll, dominated the art scene while on the other hand, "The Group", with its more independent spirit, was in its formative phase.

Enga Washbourn's painting teachers, Rata Lovell Smith and Richard Wallwork, taught their students in the traditional manner — to "set down shapes and colours of objects in nature". Although Enga Washbourn wasn't a member of The Group, which included Rita Angus, they were her contemporaries. In Nelson Enga Washbourn developed her own distinctive style, reviewed often as 'full of colour, light and movement'. In some watercolours, blocks of water shimmer, beaches are in subtle golds and creams and mountains in glorious shades of blue. Others are more sombre and painted in loose washes of dark blues, and green, browns and grey.

Following Archibald Nicholl's tradition, Enga Washbourn repeatedly painted her favourite landscapes. "In Golden Bay" Jeremy Goulter said, "Enga would always try and get the Knuckle Mountains in". This range, with Mt Burnett behind Collingwood, appears in many of her watercolours, and was often painted from the beach between Collingwood and Onekaka. This isn't surprising, for she'd holidayed and lived, on and off, in this area of Golden Bay since a child. Enga and her husband built a bach there in the 1960s and one of Enga Washbourn's four watercolours, held by Nelson's Suter Art Gallery, is Onekaka Beach with its wharf.

The director of The Suter Art Gallery, Julie Catchpole, says what made Enga Washbourn separate from many of her contemporaries was that she managed a full family and farming life with her painting. This involved cooking for shearers, as well as teaching her three young children, Angela, Tim and Jeremy, Correspondence School lessons along with plein air painting on outdoor trips.

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Jeremy Goulter with a watercolour by his mother, Enga Washbourn, of Jeremy aged seven at work on his Correspondence School lessons. Painted in 1949.

One of Jeremy Goulter's earliest memories is carrying his mother's multi-striped canvas bag on picnics. "Slasher picnics," he called them. "She'd take us as a family, with all our cousins, and we'd trudge through dreadful scrub and gorse up the Baton Valley or somewhere in Golden Bay. And she'd suddenly sit down and say, "I want to do a picture!"

I asked Jeremy how his father reacted to her painting. "My father encouraged her. He was very proud of her. As we all were". Despite her prolific output and her work being regularly selected for Roto exhibitions that toured New Zealand, Enga Washbourn didn't market herself. "She was shy." Jeremy said. "She didn't like speaking in public." Enga's daughter-in-law, Pam Goulter, speaks of Enga's beautiful gardens and her dismay at pine trees in the Marlborough Sounds in place of natives. She climbed Mt Rolleston with her father in the 1930s; the photo caption tells of a sixteen hour day.

Between the wars Enga and Gerald Goulter farmed on the eastern side of Golden Bay. Here at Rock Glen, amongst the beautiful limestone range behind Motupipi, their neighbours were artists Angus Gray, Cedric Savage and Lady Mabel Annesley.

Nelson's history is richer for Enga Washbourn's love of painting her watercolours, especially at the bay.

Published in New Zealand Memories magazine. Issue 125 April/May 2017, pages 60-62.

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Further sources - Enga Washbourn



  • Goulter, Jeremy and Pam (2016, July 29) Personal Interview.

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