Setting up a research website in February this year to host source materials and edited publications was a breakthrough moment for the Emily Harris project. The website is a way to organise some of the research trails we are following in order to draw attention to Emily’s art and writing. It’s great to be able to point people at The Family Songbook or Writing Lines, our two big editing projects, or to pull up reference images of New Zealand Flowers, Berries and Ferns and the Harris Weyergang Album Photographique. Then there is the blog with its weekly news bulletins showing the ups and downs of the research journey. We value the blog for its capacity to carry multiple voices: we’ve all taken turns at writing posts and have enjoyed working with guest contributors. We’re hoping that website and blog are forming a coherent base for further archival, critical and creative projects. We regard website content as a nucleus that foregrounds Emily Harris and grows new texts, artwork and performances that bring her work into the 21st century.
Thanks to Harris descendants and the many people who have helped us in libraries, museums and galleries, in person or via digital platforms, we have had a remarkable research year. Here are some of the Harris-related items that came to light in 2019:
- Emily’s watercolour in the Suter Gift Book, collection of Suter Art Gallery, Nelson.
- Emily’s oil painting of white-flowering mānuka and pōhutukawa, collection of Annabel Galpin.
- A small book containing copies of Edwin and Sarah’s letters from New Plymouth 1844-53. The book was bought at auction by Puke Ariki and joins the museum’s Harris collection.
- Emily’s watercolour of white convolvulus, bought by Puke Ariki in the New Plymouth hospice auction.
- Emily’s three body-colour paintings of alpine daisies and a gentian, collection of the Natural History Museum, London.
- Edwin’s oil painting Interior of St Andrew’s Church, 1825, collection of Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery.
- Edwin’s oil portrait of Sarah Harris, collection of Roseanne Cranstone.
- Edwin’s watercolour of a Taranaki bush scene, collection of Australian Harris descendant Sue Needham who inherited the painting from her aunt Dorothy Moore.
- Frances’ oil painting of a coastline with two girls, with Emily’s inscription on verso, collection of Sue Needham’s brother Peter Tregeagle.
- Dorothy Moore’s 1910 letter to her sister Constance, transcribed by Sue and Peter’s cousin Graeme Griffin.
- Emily’s 1910 letter to her nephew Harry Moore, another of Graeme Griffin’s transcripts.
Then there are the 10 complete hand-coloured sets of New Zealand Flowers, Berries and Ferns plus 4 partial sets that we have traced in museums and libraries in New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. We’ve assembled a database of images and descriptions that is beginning to yield detailed understanding of Emily’s technique and her ambitions for the only book publication of her work during her lifetime.
To celebrate almost four years of Emily Harris research, past and present members of the team got together recently at a cafe in downtown Auckland. We farewelled Betty, who is moving to Wellington, and welcomed Brianna and Dasha who are joining us over the summer.
Lead writer: Michele Leggott
Research support: Makyla Curtis, Betty Davis