Karen Zelas of Pūkeko Publications is delighted to introduce Robynanne Milford and her most recent publication, Legacy – a tribute to women artists who painted Central Otago, Aotearoa New Zealand, from 1880 to the present day.

This large format, 143-page publication reproduces artworks, each accompanied by an ekphrastic poem and a biographical summary, researched by Milford.



In the words of Robynanne Milford:

Each artwork gives us a vignette into the life and times in Otago that no longer exist unaltered. Some offer us a painted work before the camera was readily available to record the sights.

Otago provided a rich resource for the arts. Forefathers established Dunedin’s School of Art in 1870. They encouraged the attendance of women, in order that they be better placed as wives and helpmates for their husbands. Some women, such as Frances Hodgkins, were artists foremost, while others, such as her sister, Isabel, a talented artist, married, and art became her recreation.

Annette Pearse was the first Curator, then Director of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Her painting reflects life in Alexandra in the 1960s.

One group of artists who spent their summer holidays fruit picking near Clyde included Doris Lusk, Anne Hamblett, Colin McCahon. These friends forayed on days off to paint the local area.

Anne Hamblett, who won many prizes at art school, married Colin McCahon. Where were her works? And so a spark was ignited in me to find names / works painted in Otago by women.

The first, in 1880, Maryanne North, created a botanical legacy before photography became refined — and the pursuit began.

Often in artworks there are elements inviting us to ponder consequence in what may appear to be a simple landscape, for example, the need for conservation of the Clutha River, in Doris Lusk’s painting, Gold Dredging, Central Otago 1938:

……. No idyllic Goddess

of Mercy here. A grey squat dredge

filling the gorge shrinks

surrounding mountains

scours this desolate land


Doris speaks in paint

of this silent battle on the Clyde

whose eerie sound


resounds day by daynight

a Grimms nightmare grinds

ossicles, shakes teeth loose   untethers




I sought to examine the artists’ works, glean a little about their lives, and respond in a poetic or ekphrastic form to their work. Many of these women knew each other, ventured out into the wilds of Central Otago together; this was not for the fainthearted.

Olivia Spencer Bower, painting with her cousin Janet Poulton, conveys the wilderness up the Matukituki Valley in her poem Tapatapātiu:


Downside unleashed, Tapatapātiu

howls, powers Aituia’s scream

bring sting-shivers, curdles spines of mountaineers and

downdraughts draw

even wary airmen.


The way we were in the 1950s is projected by Jessie Wigley in her painting Arrow Lane, Arrowtown 1950s:


After war people could breathe here

children dawdled down the lane

                     air had space for a natter

                               stroll to your neighbour, bread baking

                                          a good day for drying


Meeting with descendants, finding generations of artistic families has been a rich journey and I am humbled by their assistance and generosity in bringing these women back into their lives, for us to appreciate.’


Esther Studholme Hope Lake Hayes 1920s, watercolour Image International Arts Centre; with kind permission of the Hope Family 


A home like Lake Hayes

for Esther Hope 1920s

You might be a painterly
swallow swooping with brush
trees that have born
the burden of harvest
their glory flung equinoctial

solace for one who swapped
ambulance driver, under fire
in a foreign war, for station wife
with easel and
thistle grubber

Your gift, a view for respite,
serene sweep of colours soft-washed,
curve of lake-line before hunger
to own, the cut and paste
of strip-homing obscured. Until wild climate
claims its own

and willows return

– poem by Robynanne Milford,  from Legacy




Legacy is the third book of Milford’s ekphrastic poetry about women artists and pioneers to Otago, published or edited by Pūkeko:

Aspiring Light (out of print)

Finding Voice: Women on the Dunstan 18601900


Copies of Legacy and Finding Voice may be purchased via any independent bookstore or through the Pūkeko Publications website: www.pukeko-pukapuka.com




Legacy is Robynanne Milford’s fourth book of poetry. Songcatcher was published in 2009 and Grieve Hopefully, 2012. Aspiring Light (2015) and Finding Voice: Women on the Dunstan (2018) explore the essence of the environs, and pay homage to pioneers and people of Central Otago. In 2010, Milford was runner up in the International Manuwatu Poetry for Performance competition. Her work has been published in Landfall, Poetry NZ, Catalyst, The Press, Voices Print Three, and in Anthologies: broken lines / in charcoal, Crest to Crest, Roses and Razorblades and In this Bitter Season. Retired, she lives in Christchurch, a place of curve balls, confrontation and impetus for the pen. With time now to guide at the Art Gallery, sing in a choir and cherish her family.