Museum pays tribute to Rodney Wilson

Press Release – Auckland Museum
Dr Rodney Wilson, who died in Auckland on Saturday evening, was today remembered by colleagues for his spectacular achievements during his thirteen year tenure as Director at Auckland Museum as well as the major contribution he made to New Zealand’s cultural landscape.

“Wilson was a man of vision and substantial intellect, one of those rare individuals able to integrate multiple facets of a project into a more meaningful whole. His broad knowledge of the cultural sector along with his tenacity in aligning public support with a vision for the Museum are evident in the iconic building we see today and all so admire. Rodney’s contribution to the Auckland War Memorial Museum will endure as a key element in the history of this revered institution,” says Trust Board Chairman, Dr William Randall.

When Wilson took over the Museum in 1994, renewal plans had already been drafted, but well before Stage One of the refurbishment was completed in 1999 it became clear that more funding was needed. In 1995, Stage 2 was born. On the Museum’s 150th anniversary, in May 2002, the Government announced that it would be contributing half the funds needed for the $52.7 million project. Wilson and his team set about raising the balance of $23.5 million over the next few years, with no drain on local councils. It was a triumphant moment, when the project was officially opened in 2006. That year the NZ Herald named him a New Zealander of the Year. In 2007, Wilson was appointed Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

“New Zealand has lost a fine figure who was influential and respected at the apex of the countrys cultural and arts sector. Rodneys contributions to galleries and museums – not just ours – have been highly significant and internationally acknowledged,” says Director Roy Clare CBE.

In addition to his significant achievements at Auckland Museum, Rodney will be remembered for his outstanding contribution to Aucklands cultural landscape, including the establishment of the National Maritime Museum, and his time as Director of the Auckland Art Gallery, where he broke numerous audience attendance records for his innovative arts programmes.

Alastair Aitken, Chair, NZ National Maritime Museum Trust Board recalled: “Rodney started what is now Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum with, in his words “no buildings, no collection, no staff and no money”. A daunting challenge. We are privileged to progress the success of but one of his legacies. His contribution to telling the stories of New Zealand’s unique maritime heritage is huge.”

A refined scholar and entrepreneurial businessman, he was renowned for rallying goodwill and support. It is a measure of his charisma and determination that Wilson convinced the New Zealand Navy to tow a dredging barge from Lyttelton to Auckland as a ‘training exercise’. His colleagues at Auckland Museum remember a man with exceptional vision and creativity, and predilection for bow ties and leather jackets. He was the first director to drive to work on a motorbike.

Rodney Wilson’s initial training was in Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury, and shortly after was appointed director of the Wairarapa Arts Centre in Masterton. During the early 70s he studied at the Katholieke (now Radboud) Universiteit in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, gaining a ‘doctoraal’ in Art History. He returned to New Zealand as the first appointee to the new Art History Department at the University of Canterbury, but, after five years of University teaching and gaining a Ph.D in Art History from Canterbury, he resigned to become Director of Christchurch’s Robert McDougall Art Gallery. In 1980 he was appointed Director of the Auckland Art Gallery and after a successful term there was appointed Director of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. He returned to New Zealand to establish the National Maritime Museum on Hobson Wharf, and was later director of Auckland Museum from 1994 until 2007.

In recent years, he formed his own company Site Specific and consulted on numerous projects, including a Review of Dunedin City Museums, an exhibition honouring Christchurch architect Sir Miles Warren, and the development of “The Shore” Exhibition Centre, Takapuna for North Shore City Council. His outstanding contribution to architecture was honoured in the 2010 New Zealand Institute of Architects President’s Awards.

The chairman of the museums Taumata-a-Iwi, Martin Mariassouce, also paid tribute. “We acknowledge the passing of Dr Rodney Wilson, a wonderful intellect. We farewell not just a man but a contributor to the heritage landscape of Auckland and New Zealand. Rodney was a friend, a confidant, a combatant and fond memories of our agreements and differences continue in our hearts. There were serious times, hilarious times, heavy times and many a lighter moment; and at the end of the day we are that better off for sharing together at least that part of the pathway laid before us by our ancestors. Rodney’s legacy will forever remain in the Museum as testament to his vision and fortitude. May you continue your debates in the presence of your forefathers. No reira e te rangatira pupuri taonga haere koe ki ara karere kore ki muri.”

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