Meet the artist on the island

Words and photography by Milly Brunel

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for Capital online.

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This year the Kāpiti Coast Arts Trail have added Waiorua Gallery on Kapiti Island to their annual line-up. Milly Brunel took a trip out there to take a peek and meet Kapiti Island resident and exhibiting artist Adrienne Spratt.

On Kapiti Island’s northern end lies an extraordinary piece of whenua of which Adrienne Spratt and her husband Wayne (Ngāti Toa Rangatira), with other whānau members, are the proud kaitiaki. 

Artist Adrienne spends as much time as she can on the island, travelling to the mainland to teach at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa or to visit whānau. She is on the boat with us as we arrive for a preview of her gallery, part of the 2023 Kapiti Arts Trail.  

Gumbooted Wayne seems to embody doggedness. He greets us warmly and helps unload the boat. Wayne recites a whakataukī to welcome us, as manuhiri, onto the whenua; Adrienne says visitors on the Arts Trail in November will receive a similar welcome.

Up the stony beach path, we gather on the deck, for tea and coffee. A big army-style kettle and milk and sugar are passed through the window. Adrienne offers brownies and muffins, telling us to watch out for the cheeky kākā from the bird sanctuary that surrounds their home.

Exotic species introduced in the 1840s, when Kāpiti and nearby islands were farmed, led to much ecological harm, including the extinction of more than 40 species of birds. Eventually legislation allowed the Crown to acquire Kapiti Island and establish it as a bird sanctuary. But Māori didn’t want to sell their land, and Wayne’s great-grandmother, Utauta Parata, was adamant that it would remain with the whānau. It is almost entirely her doing that the family still hold Waiouru Bay to this day. 

Adrienne began weaving harakeke there, almost 30 years ago. Initially self-taught, she developed her skills with the aid of master weavers from around the country. Phormium tenax or harakeke flax surrounds the property at Waiouru Bay, much of it gifted by the weavers who helped her refine her skills. She started with a simple kete which she says “was really ugly”; following tradition, Adrienne buried her kete on Kāpiti, and started on another. 

She weaves daily, and has several projects underway when I visit. “I’m always on the go because I get bored.”  Adrienne says often she will begin a piece, not knowing where it will lead her, “I think I’m privileged in that I can pick things up, see how they’re made, and then try and create something different.” 

Adrienne’s children Hona and Kahu inspired her to pick up the craft, and she is now teaching her granddaughter these precious skills. With Czech, Hungarian, Scottish, and Irish ancestry Adrienne is seeking to weave her cultures together, using traditional Māori styles. She is working towards a PhD exploring this relationship. 

Wayne lists the iwi who have inhabited Kapiti Island for around 800 years – Kati Māmoe, Waitaha, Rangitāne, Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Kahungungu – and recounts its conquest in the 1820s by Ngāti Toa Rangatira, led by Te Rauparaha, from Kawhia. With him came Te Rangihiroa, brother of the Ngāti Toa paramount chief, who was Wayne’s great, great, great, great grandfather who now rests in the urupa here on the island. There was one unsuccessful attempt by displaced iwi to reclaim the island; Wayne recounts vividly the sea of invading wakas repelled in the battle of Te Whakapaetai. Ngāti Toa were not challenged again and became the kaitiaki of the whenua in 1824. 

The importance of the whenua is palpable in conversation with Wayne and Adrienne, and it’s clear that they’re constantly inspired by the motu.

Adrienne’s creative space has changed a lot since she first began on the island, starting off in a tent, then shifting to a caravan which was flown over to the island. Outgrowing the caravan, the family moved in with some of Wayne’s family, “and once that got a little crowded, we decided to build our own house.” 

When Adrienne and Wayne welcome visitors on the Arts Trail (weekends 4–5 Nov, 11–12 Nov) they will also see work by others. Adrienne has asked a couple of other weavers to bring their work to the island. There are three unfinished pou on the deck, and their carvers have been invited back to put in some more time. Another invited artist will be practicing traditional Māori tattoos, or tā moko. 

Not many people get to visit Waiouru Bay, and the opportunity to visit a whānau that is so intrinsically linked to the whenua shouldn’t be missed.

Waiorua Gallery on Kapiti Island, Kāpiti Coast Art Trail 2023.


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