Nelson's Public Art
Nelson has a range of public art works, many, but not all, of them located in the central city area.
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.
“Seven Rivers” by Motueka artist Tim Wraight are a set of panels inset into the h-section poles leading from the corner of Halifax and Trafalgar streets towards the river. The pillars are constructed of wood, 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 and installed 2005. 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, and was created by Chris Rendell and installed in 2000. The macrocarpa was from a tree felled on the Botanical Hill as part of the revegetation with natives.
Further on, there is another work by Grant Palliser – his High Flyers (2002) – 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.
Family Tree - in 2020 a carbon fibre kinetic sculpture was installed in Nelson's Rutherford Park. The creation of renowned artist Phil Price, it is and mesmerising to watch with its blue discs resembling branches and leaves swirling in the breeze.
The Oracle is a two piece sculpture of the fingers and thumb of a hand emerging from the ground in a cradling fashion. It is sited outside Stoke Library, sculpted by Grant Palliser and installed December 1996. The sculpture was inspired by advice “never let an opportunity slip through your fingers”. The sculptor described the piece as a “sheltering hand”, related to the sheltering band of hills surrounding Nelson and represents the artistic hand of many craftspeople in the regions. The sculpture includes several endangered native snails (Powelliphanta) , under threat from forestry in the Nelson region, climbing their way up the underside of the thumb. Their slow progress signified the inability of some creatures to adapt quickly to change. They are representative off hanging on to the good things about Nelson and the things of the past.
Arrival and Beginning, on the Railway Reserve near Byron Place, were sculpted by Mike Hindmarsh and installed April 2003. The sculpture is two towers of stacked sections of railway sleepers, shaped and joined together with steel poles.
Up the Creek without a Paddle - located at the edge of the spillway pond of Orphanage Creek near Saxton Field. This piece was created by Fiona Sutherland and installed in 2012. Fiona has referenced the site in a number of ways, saying “the two lost boys could be from St Mary’s Orphanage, (after which the creek is named) or boys from today, as their sports tee shirts feature numbers on their back. The two numbers added make the total of 1986, which is the year when Saxton Field became a sports ground. The collection of wildlife in the boat includes the white faced heron, mallard duck and inaga fish, all of which are found in the area. Made of darjit, a paper pulp material, mixed with sand and cement over a metal armature and is very durable. To ensure that the art work is well clear of any flood waters, the artist has the boat marooned in the air as if after a flood. A pile protrudes two metres above normal water level, with stainless steel flax leaves curling up under the hull of the boat.
Welcome Cloak - Te Korowai Aroha
The Cloak, korowai or kākahu, designed by Nelson artist Adi Tait, is a structure of old anodised aluminium pieces suspended from high tensile wire between two poles. It was designed to be hung over Saltwater Creek near the footbridge leading to the Trafalgar Centre, so that it appeared to hover over the water and reflect light off the ripples. The ‘cloak’ is symbol of protection and prosperity and correlates with the cloak of the heavens and the guidance it gave to early visitor to our shores. It was installed in 2016, but was removed after wind caused the artwork to become entangled, resulting in the need for repairs. The artwork was to be relocated to a new, static position on the outside of the Millers Acre building, but an alternative location was sought when water-tightness issues meant the building required cladding repairs. The size, weight, and engineering required to secure the Cloak meant it took some time to find a suitable new home to display the artwork. Pūtangitangi Greenmeadows Centre was chosen following assessment from an engineer and architect, and with the approval of the artist, Council's Art Selection Panel, iwi and Centre management. The Cloak, made up of strands of gold "feathers", is associated with traditional korowai and complements the Centre's name "Pūtangitangi", gifted to the Centre by iwi when it opened. Traditionally, the site of the Centre was home to wetland birds and pūtangitangi refers to the paradise shelduck. In keeping with this theme, the rooms inside the Centre have been named after native birds.
Sentinel sits in the Eel pond. It is 3 metre steel sculpture. The base of the nikau palm frond was the inspiration for the work including references to the waka and ships which brought waves of people to New Zealand; evolving into its present form. It was created by Dominique de Borrekens and Grant Scott and installed June 1998.
War memorial - the Boer War memorial commemorates the lives of Nelsonians who joined the many contingents of Mounted Rifles which sailed from these shores to uphold the British flag in South Africa and gave their lives during 1899 to 1902.
The Water wheel was a centenary project of the Nelson Rotary Club. The wheel was chosen as it is the emblem for Rotary International and installed February 2005. The wheel is 2 meters high and made from 50,000 year old kauri from Dargaville. The wheel demonstrates the continual circulation of the effect of Rotary International throughout the world…providing the energy keeps rolling – in this case the water – it never stops producing the goods. The water that turns the wheel is diverted via a 15 metre long flume. The flume carries the water to the top of the wheel and in theory it should run until the steam dries up. The source of the water is from the Brook Stream via a man made stream within the gardens.
The Cupid fountain in the Rose Garden was sculpted by Johann Earnest Christina Blecher (stonemason) and installed – c1894. It is a cupid on his mushroom base. This classically inspired fountain features Priapus, god of beekeepers, gardens, herbs, fishermen, sailors and procreation. He captures the spirit of the formal Victorian layout. Has four decorative lions’ heads at the base of the plinth. Donated to the city by a group of women led by former mayoress Mrs Trask in 1894. The Cupid mould was imported by the stonemason at a cost of 12 pound.
Abel Tasman Statue was created by Anthony Stones and installed January 2000. It is a life size bronze statue of the 17th century Dutch explorer, Abel Janszoon Tasman. Commissioned by the Abel Tasman Statue Trust, the statue is a gift to the people of the Nelson region from Dutch descendants who have made the Nelson-Tasman region their home. The Dutch explorer’s voyage to New Zealand in 1642 marked the first contact between Europeans and Māori in the Nelson region. The statue is positioned looking out to Tasman Bay. Its subject and location have been controversial.
Change of Tack – Sails Sculpture is located at the entrance to Tāhunanui Beach carpark and is of two sails that stand 3.6 meters high. These sculptures are polished aggregate, stainless steel and resin detail and were commissioned by Cliff and Ann Nighy who very generously donated three pieces of art to the city for everyone to enjoy. The sails were created by Michael MacMillan and installed - 2008.
- Pouwhenua – Founders Heritage Park
Nga Iwi o Te Waipounamu. Kaiwhākairo Matua Mark Davis was commissioned by Nelson City Council to carve this Pou Whenua on a Matai Tree, retaining part of its natural form. This beautiful trunk of a Nelson City mighty Totora tree, was in guardianship of Whataku Marae after it fell in the Nelson windstorm of 2008. The Marae was pleased to have this heritage timber used for a project that can now be enjoyed by all. The Pou Whenua was unveiled on 19th April 2011 at a dawn blessing.
- Moller Fountain on Haven Road
Mrs D L Moller gifted an illuminated fountain to be erected in AnzacPark to the city in 1940. Anzac Park was not an acceptable site by the Council and its present location was agreed. The fountain was named in memory of Mrs Moller’s husband who was a loved and respected person in Nelson. Mr Moller was a prominent figure in sporting circles and an active supporter of many local organisations.
- Miyazu sister city sculpture
This sculpture was gifted to Nelson by the city of Miyazu in 1996, and was originally installed in the welcome garden at Nelson’s airport. A plaque on the monument’s base reads: “To celebrate the twenty years since Nelson and Miyazu became Sister Cities we present this monument to Nelson city. With this monument, we vow our eternal friendship, which contributes to world peace, under the blessing of the sun and on the earth. Commissioned to mark the 25th anniversary of the sister city relationship with Miyazu in Japan. 7th May 1996. Mayor of Miyazu – Toshio Tokuda Chairperson of Miyazu-New Zealand Association – Atsumi Maruyama.” When the airport was renovated in 2020 the sculpture found a new home in Elma Turner Library.
Mosaics in Buxton Car park (toilet building)
These were created by Tejas Arn and installed in 2004. They represent the primary produce in the Nelson Region.
Also see Prow stories covering other public art works around the City:
- Art and Architecture of Trafalgar Street
- Art of Wakefield Quay
- War Memorials
- Nelson's Murals
- Riverside Murals
- Nelson's gateway sculptures
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