James McDonald

"New Zealanders of the present and future," writes "Tangiwai" in the "New Zealand Railways Magazine," "should be grateful to those faithful recorders of its natural beauty and its Maori and pioneer life who have passed on after their strenuous and faithful work. Such artists as John Gully and Kennet Watkins, such landscape photographers as Josiah Martin and Henry Winkelmann did a vast amount in their day to make known the peculiar charm and wonder of our scenery and to preserve pictorial memories of remarkable phases of the Dominion's life and character. 

"Such vigorous veterans of the camera as we have with us still, such outstanding men as Leslie Hinge whose work for the Railways is before us every month in this magazine can speak of the difficulties and troubles they met a generation ago in the never-resting duty of photographing wild scenes and great events. It was not easy to get about New Zea and in their time when they penetrated all but unknown country in the search for something new. It is different now, with the aeroplane to conquer once inaccessible regions.

"Mr. James McDonald, who died at Tokaanu recently, at the age of seventy, was one of those who had done a vast amount of good photographic work to make New Zealand known in the outside world. For six years he was almost constantly in the field for the Government Department of Tourist and Health Resorts, in the pioneer days of that office under its very energetic head, Mr. T. E. Donne now living in London. Later he was artist and assistant director in the Dominion Museum.

"'Mac' was an all-round able man in the artistic side of our national advertisement work, before that much used term publicity had been coined. He was an artist with a special liking for Maori life as a subject for pencil and brush.

In his young days at the Melbourne Art Gallery McDonald studied under McCubbin, and he was contemporary there with Longstaff, John Roberts, and other Australian artists of note. In 1890 he married May Brabin, of Hawksburn, returned to his native Otago some twelve years later, and it was not long before the newly-established Tourist Department engaged him as the needful man for the picturemaking campaign that was to make the Dominion's scenery famous. He travelled from end to end of New Zealand, he illustrated the Department's books; he was a sculptor also and modelled the heroic Maori group that decorated the main hall, in the big exhibition in Christchurch in 1906.

"Mac was not only a good artist but a good sport, a capital travelling mate, always cheerful, resourceful in camp. I write with knowledge, and affection for 'Mac,' for we travelled some thousands of miles together and camped in all sorts of queer corners in those days. There was the faithful trio of us, with T. E. D. to boss the party in his genial capacity as official head.

"I see them now, 'Mac' jogging along on his horse with a brace of cameras slung over his shoulders; far down the bush tracks of Westland — we had a wild week of it there once, a hundred and fifty miles from the Franz Josef Glacier over the Haast Pass and out to civilisation again at Lake Wanaka.

"Rough country! There was only one bridge in all that journey, and there was a swift alpine river to ford every few miles. All the better for picture making, was 'Mac's' point of view. There was a whole bookful of adventures on those backblocks horseback cruises — and in our Tongariro National Park climbs, long before a Chateau was dreamed of.

"Depicting Maori types and Maori tattooing, carving and all manner of native artistry was quite a passion with, James McDonald. When he retired from the Museum's service he settled at Tokaanu, as a suitable place for pursuing his Maori work, and he was a greatly popular character with the Native folk all about the Taupo shores."
Evening Post, Volume CXIX, Issue 152, 29 June 1935, Page 29

No comments: