Tag Archives: plum in mouth

1925. Three minutes of fame

A true story to celebrate what in New Zealand is officially the first day of Spring (although I personally don’t drink to it until the equinox on the 23rd). The story has nothing to do with Spring as such. It’s to do with the only painting I’ve ever done.

My family were never much into art. As kids we had colouring-in books, but we never painted pictures. Perhaps Mother thought that pencils were less messy than paint. I did have a collection of coloured pencils however. You would get a different shade in the mail every week, and I think I had several hundred pencils all wonderfully cataloged. I don’t recall drawing; just colouring-in.

These days I’m not averse to the occasional surreptitious colouring-in – although I have only eight colours!

Even when I was sent to boarding school (age 13) the options were between Woodwork and Art. My parents chose Woodwork – and quite frankly I was not very good at it.

Years later, when I was in the Seminary studying for the priesthood, quite a few of the students were exceptional artists. I thought I’d try my hand at water colours. I still remember painting this picture. I talked to the lady as she emerged from the canvas. I called it Lady at the market selling potatoes. Apparently I abused water colouring technique, and instead of “laying” colours I rubbed them all together in a mess. Proudly I found an old frame and hung the painting in the book-binding room where I worked – just above the guillotine!

The Seminary was a long established institution in the province. It had the largest private library and the oldest vineyard in the country. Crowds of visitors would come to the cellars to purchase wine, and there on a hill behind the cellars was a large grand building where no visitors came because it was “The Mission Seminary”. It had a mystique. It was a place seen only from a distance, with its palm trees overlooking the city. Once a year the Seminary would have “an open day”. Crowds of people would come for a peek.

“And this,” I said to a visiting lady, “is where we bind and mend the books for the library.” The lady was clearly a snob. She had a plum in her mouth; or was that a silver spoon? Grandly she stood in front of the guillotine gazing at my painting.

“I’ve seen the original of that,” she said. “In The Netherlands.”