The Art of Wakefield Quay


Wakefield Quay  named after Captain Arthur Wakefield of the New Zealand Company was where many early European Settlers first set foot in New Zealand. It  boasts beautiful views of Nelson's sheltered harbour and is also home to a collection of varied and exciting artworks that enhance the setting. Take a real or virtual walk along the Quay using the audio guide and map.

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Art Walk Map. NCC
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The Early Settlers sculpture (1) depicts a young migrant family arriving in Nelson around 1842 and marks an early landing site for both Māori and early settlers. The man, his wife and daughter stand facing their new life ahead with some of the basic necessities they would need in the new colony - tools to work the soil and grow the seeds they would have brought with them.

English born artist Anthony Stones, famous for his works in bronze, was commissioned by the Nelson 2000 Trust to create this piece. It was largely funded by generous donations from the Baigent and Goodman families.  Stones has created a number of bronzes across New Zealand, mainly of famous people such as Captain James Cook and Abel Tasman. He is known for his research and meticulous attention to detail such as here, with costumes and belongings of the trio. His work is in public and private collections worldwide.

Early Settlers Memorial, Wakefield Quay, Nelson. Tony Stones, 2000Click image to enlarge

The statue is adjacent to the fascinating Early Settlers Memorial wall (2), which is also a Nelson 2000 Trust project, conceived as a way of recognising the pioneers who built Nelson as we know it today. Facing seawards, the panels of engraved granite give an overview of Māori and European settlement in the area, and lists of the Nelson passengers and the ships which arrived here from 1841-1850. This list is also searchable in full on the Nelson City Council Early Settlers database. Many ship names are remembered in Nelson landmarks and street names.

In the nearby garden a carved wooden totara globe sits atop a pillar of hardwood. The Navigator (3) is by Tim Wraight, who is an artist who has trained with John Mutu, a traditional Māori Master Woodcarver, at Te Awhina Marae in Motueka. The work was commissioned by Cliff and Ann Nighy and gifted to the city.

The idea behind the work was to reflect the varied themes of navigation and travel to Nelson from other parts of the globe by Māori, European settlers and the modern maritime industry.  The globe at the apex has rings of stars used for Māori navigation; there is a reference to the compasses, used in early European navigation, and the globe is also the same shape of satellites, vital for the global positioning used in modern navigation. The supporting post has representations of harakeke/flax rope for Māori waka; hemp rope for European sailing vessels; and steel chain for modern vessels. The overall form of the work is that of an abstracted human shape to refer to the peoples involved in navigation to and from Nelson.

Nic Channon's whimsical Lighthouse weathervane (4) sits atop the Sealord Search and Rescue Centre. He was chosen by Sealord to create the artwork as, at the time, he was developing systems for making windvanes, which are delicately balanced to respond to a light breeze yet durable enough to withstand a vigorous wind. The artwork celebrates the lighthouse seen across the Haven on the natural phenomenon of the Boulder Bank.

Jim Mackay preferred to leave his sculpture (5) unnamed to allow people to choose what they saw in it. Mackay is a contemporary Nelson artist producing highly sought-after works in cast glass and glass sculptures. When Cliff and Ann Nighy commissioned this work to gift to the city they first worked with the artist on a design for glass. However it was soon agreed that Corten Steel would be more suitable for the site. Corten is the same material as the hulls of the commercial ships coming into the harbour, and the containers on them. It is also known as weathering steel and consists of a group of steel alloys which were developed to obviate the need for painting. Corten develops a stable rust-like appearance when exposed to the air. This piece has an enduring beauty and has oxidised to a rich deep orange. 

Jim Mackay lived on the waterfont near this site, and he recalls  the eerie sensation of the large container ships entirely filling his window.

Mackay also created glass components at two sites on Wakefield Quay at Nelson City Council's request.  These are art glass blocks in seats, which have been engraved by Patrick Day, as an acknowledgement for donors who gifted seats and tables all along the waterfront.  The blue glass atop the concrete columns nearby are also Mackay's work.

Darryl Frost, best known in Nelson for his stainless steel art at the airport, created the Spyhole. (6) The weathered, hand-forged, steel gate-like structure focuses the viewer's eyes on the water between the path and the road. At night a magical effect is created with lights reflected on the water when the tide comes in.

Commissioned by Nelson City Council, this artwork is a good example of a policy to weave art into functional items, where possible, in new developments, as the work doubles as a necessary barrier to the drop from the wharf. Frost first qualified as a builder before moving into art in the 1980's.  Best known for his ceramic work, which he started to produce after completing advanced training craft and design in 1989, he has more recently done some outstanding work in steel. He currently works from his Nelson studio.

Chris Finlayson mural.
Click to enlarge

Christopher Finlayson said of his mural Aotearoa (7) "Whatever I painted there on the edge of land and sea ...would stand as a portal of softer human expression within the context of a hard edged, often unforgiving artificial urban environment." This talented artist is one of New Zealand's leading mural artists, first creating this iconic work in 1984 on the side of a heritage building.  Over the past 30 years he has completed over 300 outdoor art projects throughout New Zealand.

In recent years Finlayson has been working with community groups in Marlborough, Nelson and in Golden Bay where he lives. Using many coats of commercial arylic/latex paint he has create a number of popular and striking local works, the "Urban Jungle" mural at the top of Trafalgar St, the "Peace" collective mural on Tahunanui Drive, and the "Knowledge mural" in Nelson Library on Halifax St. His latest work, the "Ko Nga Tangata" mural at Victory Square, won the best professional mural in the 2010 Resene Mural masterpiece national awards.

He created this iconic work, Aotearoa, in 1984 on the side of a 1922 heritage building, which once housed the electricity generating plant providing power to Nelson City. The mural combines an arrangement of windows, cloud, hand carving and familiar scenery to bring qualities of mythology, human creativity and natural phenomena into the present. The motif along the top is derived from a "Stairway to heaven" pattern, inspired by the carved ornamental panels found in the whare whakairo on marae throughout New Zealand.

Finlayson is known for encouraging the community to be a part of the painting process, so they feel ownership of the local landmarks created. When he refurbished Aotearoa in 2009 he had 28 willing helpers helping block in the giant work, which was supported by the then tenants, Crop and Food Research.

Grant Palliser's bronze Seafarer (8) depicts a sailor at the helm of ship on a turbulent sea. It was commissioned by the New Zealand Fishing Industry to be a memorial to "lost seafaring men who led a life at the whim of the sea".   A moving poem by poet Geoff Waring is found on the column, and it touches on the challenges of the sea and the effects of the loss of any sailor on their friends and family. Nelson is one of the largest fishing ports in the Southern hemisphere and many local men and women are employed in the industry.

Grant said that the making of the Seafarers' Memorial  took on a personal perspective when local fishers would come in off the wharf to check on progress. Grant worked in a large warehouse space provided by one of the local fishing industry plants and he said the fishermen would tell him their stories. One even modelled for him from time to time. During this time Grant developed a huge respect for the men.

The sailor Grant depicts is scanning the way ahead and, from his expression, you get the sense that the way forward is going to be challenging.  This is echoed by the angle of the bridge which vividly captures  the skill required in mastering an unforgiving sea. The figure was cast using the lost wax process, while the sturdy bronzed column base was cast in sand and on this Grant has depicted the various species of fish caught by local fisheries. The column height and size gives a  sense of the fathoms below the boat where the fish swim in the calmer depths of the ocean.

Seafarers Memorial by Grant Palliser. Click to enlarge

The Sunderland Marine Pier was built by the Seafarers Memorial Trust as a site for the artwork and is a favourite spot for fishermen of all ages. Nearby, towards the yacht club the Neptune war memorial (9) records a naval disaster of WWII. The HMS Neptune sank in December 1941 with the loss of all but one of her ships' company,  after the ship ran into a minefield off the coast of Libya. Four Nelson men were among the 150 New Zealanders who died that day.  The sole survivor, Norman Walton, flew to New Zealand in 1991 to meet the friends and families of former shipmates and unveiled this memorial in Nelson.

A memorial yacht race - the Neptune Cup - was held by the Nelson Yacht Club and has run for many years.  Always a highly social affair, Returned Services members team up with yacht club members for a fun event that see teams competing for the coveted silver cup.

Michael Macmillan is a fourth generation potter and first explored sculpture through this medium. His work Evolution (10) in front of Haven Apartments, is a 2.5 tonne water feature incorporating stone, copper, stainless steel, ceramics and polished aggregate. Michael started to cast bronze at the age of 18 and held his first exhibition two years later, when he was selected for Wellington’s prestigious ‘ New Faces’ exhibition. From 1988-89 Michael further developed his skills and continued to produce limited edition bronze sculptures.Since that time he has explored larger sculptural forms using concrete aggregate as his primary medium.  The larger sculptures are produced by developing an iron armature onto which aggregate is applied. Once the primary form is achieved the aggregate is then polished smooth, cutting back the surface by hand and diamond tools to reveal various colours and textures within. Michael created ‘Evolution’ in 2002.  It is enhanced by water flowing over the work, making it glisten invitingly under the hot Nelson sun.

The Anchor Shipping and Foundry (11) building is an example of a beautifully restored heritage building in Nelson.

Note - Much of the information comes from either the artists themselves or from those who have commissioned the art.


Checked January 2021

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  • There's a nice 360 VR panorama at the Seafarer's Memorial and other photos on the Nelson 360 website:

    Posted by Steve, 03/06/2022 10:48am (2 years ago)

  • Several links are not working , takes me to page "this site cannot be reached", are you able to fix them?
    Thank you for pointing this out. We will fix these.

    Posted by Chris, 22/03/2021 12:56pm (3 years ago)

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Further sources - The Art of Wakefield Quay



  • Michael Macmillan
    Bassant, B. (1986) New faces. New Zealand Crafts. 14, pp.4-9
  • Jim Mackay
    Dover, M. (2005) Fingers of light. Staple. 10, p. 26
  • Grant Palliser
    Neal, T. (2001, May 16) Settled at last. Nelson Mail, p.17
  • Frost, Darryl

    People (1991) New Zealand Crafts,35. p.32-34

    Grzelewski, D. (1999) A feeling for clay. New Zealand Geographic,43. p.74-103

  • Anthony Stones

    Dudding, A. (2002, October 20) The headhunter. Sunday Star Times, p.F4
    Ireland, K. (1992, January 27) Listener, 132 (2704), p.42-43

    NZ artist casting women in bronze (2001, August 29) Southland Times, p.5

    Smith, C. (1994, September 13) Good sculpture 'should be impersonal', Otago Daily Times  p. 19

  • Chris Finlayson

    Gardner, K. (1996, November 28) Chris back from China to help with mural here. Marlborough Express p.3

    Gardner K. (1996, May 28) Tapping into art. Marlborough Express,  p.5

    Minchin, W. (1992, April 4) Creating a sight for jaded city eyes. Evening Post,  p.26

    Newland, C. (1991, November) What you see is what you get. North and South,  p. 7

    Chappell, L. (1986, April) O wall, thou wall. Wellington City Magazine,  p.9-10

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