Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Two Avondale artists: W A Bollard and J W Ash

Once, there were two artists, both born in the late 1860s, both died in the 1940s, one was born in Avondale but would live elsewhere, the other born elsewhere but would live in Avondale. Today, they aren’t exactly household names but they were part of their respective artistic communities while they lived. 

The commercial artist
(Image below: Evening Star, 14 July 1941.)

William Allen Bollard was born, according to one family tree, 25 April 1869. His father was John Bollard, and his mother Jane née Ganley. John Bollard had an 86-acre farm on Rosebank beside the river leased from William Innes Taylor since 1863. As a boy, William would have attended the Whau School in the public hall opposite the Presbyterian Church. As a teenager, he developed a flair for the artistic, and was apprenticed to John Henderson in Wyndham Street in the City. Henderson’s “Decorative Establishment” boasted services in painting, glazing, paperhanging, artistic decorating, and sign-writing. But William also studied under the tutelage of artist Kennett Watkins, master of the Auckland Free School of Art in 1880, and president of the NZ Art Students Association in 1884. Watkins was known for his landscape paintings, and this would later be William Bollard’s main theme of work. 

At 18 years of age, two of William’s works, a view of J M Alexander’s Mt Albert residence, and John Henderson’s Ponsonby home, were put up on display in the window of Phillipps and Sons in Queen Street. They were described in the NZ Herald of 25 August 1888 as “equal in distinctness of lines to photographs.” By June the following year, aged 19, William entered into a partnership with signwriter and decorator Robert Henry Froude; “Bollard & Froude” began to advertise their business as “signwriters, decorators and gilders,” “paintings of New Zealand scenery always on hand. Pictures mounted and framed,” at 177 Queen Street. 

In 1891, William married Harriet Sankey, and the couple would have one son: John Henry Allen Bollard, born 22 June 1893. Sadly, Harriet passed away just weeks later, and was buried in Rosebank Cemetery. 

Bollard & Froude worked on the signwriting for commercial premises in central Auckland, and as a highlight were appointed the official signwriters for the Auckland Industrial Exhibition of 1896. In 1899 however, they parted ways, Froude buying William Bollard’s interest in the business. Froude carried on the business in his own name until he went bankrupt in 1913. 

William Bollard, however, became involved with the Auckland Society of Arts, exhibiting his work at their shows but also attracting criticism from the press such as “not as good as his work of several years back.” By 1904, he shifted to Dunedin, where he set up a studio. There, two of his paintings exhibited in the window of the Dresden Piano Company shop attracted much more favourable comment, said to “attract attention on account of their effective treatment and harmonious colouring.” By 1906, his work was exhibited and auctioned at McCormick & Pugh’s Art Gallery in the city.

In 1910 he married for the second time, to Emma Hawkins Meadowcroft. The couple would have two children, Margaret Jane Ganley Bollard in 1911, and Albert Ernest Bollard in 1912. Emma, though, died 14 June 1915, aged only 37. There was more sad news just over a year later – his first son John was killed by shellfire in action in France 25 September 1916. The shell blast flung John 60 feet into the air. When his body was recovered, it was described as badly mangled, with the clothes stripped away by the blast. John Henry Allen Bollard’s name is included on the marble roll of honour prepared by Avondale Primary as a past-pupil of the school. When William Bollard died in 1941, the Dunedin Evening Star printed a considerable obituary. 
“A familiar and popular figure to many Dunedin citizens passed away suddenly on Saturday in the person of Mr William Allen Bollard, the well-known landscape painter and teacher of art. Deceased, who was in his seventy-third year, was one of the best known artists not only in Dunedin, but also in many other parts of New Zealand, and landscapes from his brush are to be seen in many different parts of the country … 
“For the past 40 years he was a regular exhibitor at all the exhibitions of the Otago Art Society, and his landscapes, characteristic in their broad and colourful treatment, were always a source of interest to visitors. Mostly his subjects were local beauty spots, with which he had a very intimate acquaintance, and his style and manner on canvas became readily recognisable. Though he has left in pictorial record many charming views of Otago landscape, he was also fond of the picturesque country of the northern Maori, which he knew in earlier years, and sometimes used his brush effectively in such scenes. Mr Bollard possessed the individuality of the artist to a marked degree, and this was reflected in all his work, specimens of which will be greatly missed at future exhibitions of the Otago Art Society, with which he was connected for so long. In oil and water colour he was equally at home, using both, confidently and convincingly. Three of his pictures of Dominion scenes are hanging in New Zealand House, Loudon, and work from his brush is to be seen in hundreds of Dunedin homes. 
 “As a teacher of art he was also eminently successful, and he was always ready with advice and assistance to those seeking proficiency in the use of pencil or brush. Mr Bollard was a great believer in a sane outlook on art, and, while he did not condemn initiative, he was definitely opposed to the modernistic school. Even during the last few years, at an advanced age, he had as vigorous and colourful a brush as over, his exhibits being painted with characteristic freedom and attracting the eye with their admirable colour tones and atmosphere. In the community generally Mr Bollard had a host of friends who admired his genial nature and sense of humour. He was also a reader and a thinker, and one of his favourite authors, whom he quoted freely, was Charles Dickens, with whose numerous characters he had an intimate acquaintance.” 
He lies buried in Andersons Bay Cemetery.

“In Pensive Mood”: Albert E Bollard’s study of his father William Allen Bollard, from Otago Daily Times, 15 May 1936

The art teacher 

The other artist was one John Willsteed Ash, whose former residence at 88 New Windsor Road was recently put on the market and attracted some concern as to its fate in this era of property development and apartment blocks. 

Born in Hampshire, England in 1868, Ash’s father was a bank cashier, but apparently could also afford a servant in the family household, according to censuses. In 1898, Ash married Hannah Beauchamp Bellows in Wales, and they settled in Dudley, a market town in the West Midlands, 10 miles or so from Birmingham. His art training is said to have come from Leicester, Birmingham and South Kensington schools, according to his obituary. By 1900, Ash became assistant master at the Dudley School of Arts. The couple had four children: Christabel (c.1902), Norah Bellows (c.1904), Margaret Beryl (c.1905), and John Stanley (c.1908). The Ash family in Dudley also had a servant, so John W Ash was likely relatively well-to-do middle class. 

In 1907, when the Dudley school of art’s headmaster died, Ash was not chosen to be his replacement (the position worth a £250 per annum salary). He remained as the assistant for the new man, but it must have been a disappointment. In 1913 however, a new opportunity presented itself: he successfully applied for the position of arts master at the new Seddon Memorial Technical School in Auckland, New Zealand. The family packed up, waved goodbye to Dudley, and sailed from Plymouth aboard the Ruapehu for Wellington, travelling via Tenerife, Capetown and Hobart, Tasmania, on 15 March 1913. The Ruapehu had a few delays, but but arrived in Wellington on 3 May, just four days late. Ash was present at the opening of the new school at Wellesley Street on 4 June 1913. He would remain as the senior art master there for the next 27 years.

The Ash family started to live on New Windsor Road c.1916. At that stage, the property was a two-and-a-quarter acre section which was part of the Methuen Hamlet, and by 1914 was owned by Henry John Watkins. The house at 88 New Windsor was probably either built or moved onto the section around 1915, when a land agent named Robert Brown lived there. Ash bought the property outright from Watkins in 1920, and he retained ownership until his death in 1943. Hannah Ash died there on 12 July 1927, aged 58, and was cremated.

By 1931, Ash was on the committee of the Auckland Society of Arts. Some of his landscapes featured in exhibitions held at the Auckland Art Gallery. It may have been him who planted so many trees on his section that the 1940 aerial shows it simply packed as an almost solid canopy, with his house at the roadside corner where it is today. His “Study in Pines” may have had inspiration there. He may have had a friendship with Arthur Athelstan Currey of the tomato greenhouses fame on the other side of the road near Bollard Avenue – Currey was one of the witnesses to the signing of Ash’s will. 

By the time of his death in December 1943, Ash was survived by his three daughters, and his son John who was an architect at the time. There were seven grandchildren. The Auckland Society of Arts held a memorial exhibition for him 31 August 1944. 

“His oil landscapes, carried out with careful attention to detail and texture in the trunks end of trees, and with a real feeling for New Zealand sunshine, were often to be seen in annual exhibitions of the Society of Arts. Among more exciting modern work they were apt to be overlooked by visitors, but the society recognised their merit in 1942 with an award of the Bledisloe Landscape Medal for a painting of rugged West Coast scenery. The special exhibition, which will be open to the public for three weeks, includes nearly 30 oils, loaned for the occasion, and showing the development of Mr Ash's art over half a century. There are almost as many watercolours, mostly executed in his earlier days, and two specimens of illumination.”

 (NZ Herald, 1 September 1944) 

The Auckland Star wrote much more about the man, and the memorial.

“One could see the artist walking across a field in England, along a country lane, or through a village street... perhaps he would stand on a clifftop, or on the rocks near a fishing village. He would be a quiet man and it would be hard to tell his thoughts. Then he would sketch out his idea for a painting, perhaps after some minutes of close concentration. He would not be the sort to go to work on a painting immediately. He would be very patient. And now, 54 years after that artist worked in a fishing village in Cumberland, or above the Tyne Valley, or in a valley above Devonshire village, or in the Waste Country of the Midlands, or in Ireland, or in Wales, the results of his work may be seen in a small room in Auckland, a long way from his birthplace … 
Many artists must have had similar training, must have painted much the same sort of subjects: "Fishing Boats, Calm Day, "Fishing Boats," "Cove With Boats, "Cart," "Cottage Near Waterford, and so on. But there is a difference with this artist, for somebody has written: "The art of New Zealand in general, and of Auckland in particular, is poorer by the death of John Willsteed Ash."
“That is a strong statement and the grounds for it must be found. His work in this country? It is the familiar material as far as subject matter is concerned. In 1914 he painted the Sugar Loaf Rock and Valley at Piha, in 1915 the Manukau Heads on a grey morning, in 1916 the Whau Creek, in 1918 Blockhouse Bay, in 1920 a scene near Mount Albert, and so on up to 1943, when he painted gums with the Waitemata in the distance. In 1943 he died. There is certainly nothing of a radical nature about his work in this period. One comment overheard at the present exhibition was: "Some of it's all right, but it's very Victorian, and some is worse than the rest. In fact, some of it's downright rotten." When one remembers the vigour of the work of the younger Auckland artists and their experiments, in line with world movements, that is possibly fair comment. It would be useless to deny that the greyness and quietness of the paintings of Ash are out of step with the modern way of things. But, for all that, there is the tribute paid to him in the society's catalogue and by those who knew him. And occasionally there are moments, when one views the exhibition, that arouse genuine admiration —"Study of Pines (Afternoon Light)," for example. There are fewer than half a dozen paintings, though, where the sunshine breaks through the gloom.
“It is in the teaching career of John Willsteed Ash while he was in this city that the value of his contribution to our art is to be found. He accepted the appointment of director of art at the Seddon Memorial Technical College in 1913 and remained there until 1940. He executed several fine back cloths for operas performed at the college. He was awarded the Auckland Society of Arts Bledisloe Medal for New Zealand landscape in 1942. The society's catalogue pays a final tribute: "Mr. John Ash was of a retiring nature who found his joy and satisfaction in the practice of arts and crafts. He was not greatly concerned with either popularity or applause." 

(Auckland Star, 9 September 1944)

The Ash family's home at 88 New Windsor Road in November 2015. Google streetview.

John and Hannah Ash’s cremains are in the Columbarium Niche Wall at Waikumete Cemetery. The trees are mostly long-gone, removed when the property was subdivided in the 1950s. Little remains of John W Ash’s time here except scattered mentions, and some works that appear for auction from time to time. 

But while Bollard and Ash are mere footnotes in the story of art in New Zealand, they are both connected to Avondale.


  1. Interesting reading on J W Ash. I am his great grand son and am the lucky keeper of some of his fine pieces. It is often passed over that his pieces were selected to represent NZ at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition

  2. I have Christchurh Ash family connections, and have recently moved to Nelson. I came across an intem in the Nelson Historical Society "The first 50 years" p 20 AND 82, which mentioned Chistabel Ash.
    I thought she might be related to my Ash family of Christchurch, but found out from her will, (on Archway) that her father was John Willsteed Ash, so not related.

  3. Christabel Ash was my great Aunt - a very special person to me as a child. We lived relatively near and visited her home in Nelson. John Ash is my great grandfather.