It is February 2018. We are visiting Peter and Roseanne Cranstone at their farm near Fordell, south of Whanganui. Roseanne has brought out the paintings and drawings by Emily and Edwin Harris she inherited from her father Philip Briant. Her cousin’s wife Judith is looking at a panorama of Nelson in Edwin’s sketchbook and says suddenly: ‘I think we have a painting of that two-storeyed house somewhere at home.’ Later the same day Godfrey (Goff) and Judith Briant bring the watercolour to our motel in Whanganui and we piece together a possible history of its movement from Nelson to Taranaki to Marton. The inscription on the back of the painting identifies the house as the post-New Plymouth home of the Harris family:
English-born artist Hugh Scott (1869-1944) established the Nelson School of Painting in 1924 and taught also at Nelson College. He became an early teacher of Mapua artist Toss Woollaston. Scott’s watercolour of 34 Nile St is undated but was probably painted in the last years of Emily Harris’s life and before the property was sold for £351 to local builders Fawcett and Butler in 1926. The builders demolished the house to make way for the Arts and Crafts home that still stands at the Nile St address.
It seems that Hugh Scott’s watercolour came into the possession of Miss Constance Moore of 73 Fulford St, New Plymouth, perhaps when the Harris paintings and papers were distributed among family members after Emily died in 1925. Constance Moore (1866-1942) was Emily’s eldest niece. She may be the author of the two inscriptions on the back of Scott’s painting. Goff and Judith Briant speculate that the painting may have been Constance Moore’s wedding present to Goff’s parents Godfrey and Mildred Briant in 1936. If that is the case, the watercolour has been with two generations of Briants in Marton for more than 80 years.
Last week Belinda Fletcher, the present owner of 34 Nile St, got in touch after randomly googling her address and finding our Emily Harris research. Belinda was delighted to find that Emily and her family were previous owners of the site. Since 1928 successive owners have lovingly maintained Nile St, respectful of its special character. Belinda has lived at Nile St for 20 years. She has a special interest in the arts and held many home exhibitions for artists from Nile Street until she moved her law practice there in 2006. Her partner Jason McCormick is an artist, and so the artistic legacy of 34 Nile Street lives on.
Lead writer: Michele Leggott
Research support: Makyla Curtis, Betty Davis