In this week’s instalment of the Weekend Name Drop, I’m featuring another historian-artist from the Ruapehu District of New Zealand. Meet Merrilyn George.
Name: Merrilyn George
Creative field: Historian, Fibre Artist, Writer
Location: Ohakune, New Zealand
My connection: I met Merrilyn at this year’s Ruapehu Writers Festival in her hometown of Ohakune. Johnny Greene, head of English at Ruapehu College, introduced me to Merrilyn as newly retired from the school and local historian. I soon learned more about Merrilyn, listening to her speak about the area alongside Martin Edmond in their session, Ohakune Stories. Throughout the weekend, we periodically crossed paths and made further connections, discussing my wife’s attendance at the Emmaus Retreat held in Ohakune earlier in the year, Taumarunui historian, Ron Cooke, and our shared interest in Suzanne Aubert. Merrilyn also introduced me to Ohakune’s parish priest who bought a copy of my novel, The Chain. Since then, Merrilyn and I have connected on Facebook and she has allowed me to use photographs she took during the festival.
Inspiration for this writer: Despite my enthusiasm and confidence in participating, as a new writer and as an introvert I felt overwhelmed when I first arrived at the Ruapehu Festival. Thankfully, I knew Johnny Greene through our mutual roles as English department heads, and thankfully he introduced me to Merrilyn. Perhaps as tangata whenua of the area, perhaps because of our Catholic backgrounds, perhaps because of her gracious and warm nature, Merrilyn helped me feel at home. In her session, she proved to be profoundly knowledgable and communicated her stories with that same grace and warmth. It was only near the end of the festival that I had a chance to see some of her fibre art, the likes of which I had never seen before, and related to some of the themes I explore in Redeeming Brother Murrihy.
Why you should check her out and share with others: I really have almost no sense of the aesthetic when it comes to visual arts, but I do know when I’m drawn to certain styles. Similar to when I first encountered the work of Taumarunui sculptor, James Cannon, I was taken aback when I first saw Merrilyn’s work, and similar to my mate, A.D. Thomas, Merrilyn’s work blends words with daring combinations of colours to express themes of spirituality grounded in organic settings. However, I only know one other quilter (my Aunt Norma back in Nova Scotia), so I have minimal appreciation for this art-form. According to Sue Seconi in NZ Catholic, Merrilyn is “one of New Zealand’s top quiltists,” who, in her works honouring the life of Aubert, “brings together her spiritual giftedness and natural abilities in a powerful and beautiful expression of this extraordinary French missionary woman whose cause for sainthood is now underway.” If that sounds interesting to you, check out Merrilyn’s work on her website and at her exhibitions. You can also purchase a copy of Set Apart, featuring full-colour and detailed photographs of her large-scale artworks.
Sample of work:
This quilt is called Hiruharama I, from Merrilyn’s series, The River Calls. Many thanks to Merrilyn for providing this image and the description below.
The River calls: The river runs through the blue and orange fabric full of the richness of Suzanne’s story which could not have happened without the open hearts of a people.
I first heard Whaea Meri’s name uttered by Kui Wiki, when as a child I sat with her as she prayed. The love of Suzanne runs through the River and the families of the present day. The angelus bell had already rung out strongly on the Whanganui River, and the Catholic prayers taught during the Lampila mission were remembered and still being said.
For the mission there had already been many ups and downs, like the curves in the river, but now it was time for ‘Meri’ to begin her mission from up the River. As a lay sister Suzanne was in a large party moving up the river and was startled on arrival to recognise the schoolhouse described to her by the Cure many years before.
She knew then that this place was her destination, and she said later, “Don’t forget that a Maori village was the cradle of our institute”.
Officially re-entering religious life was a time of great happiness for Suzanne.
Find out more: merrilyngeorge.webs.com
The Weekend Name Drop is a weekly feature on this blog, promoting people I have encountered who are doing creative things.