Dowse art museum given Bob Gerrard's floating flotilla of imagination

Upper Hutt man Bob Gerrard makes intricate models of Noahs Ark.
Craig Simcox

Upper Hutt man Bob Gerrard makes intricate models of Noahs Ark. PICTURE: DOMINION POST

A generous gift will mean the wonderful carved and painted arks of the late Bob Gerrard will sail on in the imaginations of visitors to the Dowse.

The Gerrard family has donated six arks and more than 50 paintings by the former Silverstream resident to the Lower Hutt art museum, and some of these feature in an exhibition opening this Saturday.  World Builders presents works by three artists who imagine other realities - Bob Gerrard, carver Harry Watson and graphite and pencil artists Susan Te Kahurangi King.

Faye Johnson, one of Gerrard's two daughters and two sons, said her father, a carpenter, emigrated from Scotland in 1950.  Like the Kiwi girl he  married, Mary, he painted in his spare time.

"He was self-taught and initially would paint nursery rhymes and children's themed things for our enjoyment."

Later his repertoire extended to landscapes and battle scenes.

But it wasn't until he retired from building houses and the death of Mary that he started making arks.

"He'd always had an interest in biblical history, even though he was a staunch atheist," Johnson said.  "He particularly liked the story of Noah and the great flood, and how civilisation developed thereafter."

What got him thinking was an article about Edwardian 'conversation pieces' - novelty items that people would place on their coffee table to spark conversations when visitors came around.

Gerrard's elaborate arks certainly sparked conversations.  Multi-storeyed, things would be going on above and below the decks as he depicted Heaven and Hell, a fairy tale or a famous battle scene.  He would deliberately mash up scenes and characters from different eras, and incorporate fun sayings and silly signs.

So viewers would see a steam engines in a medieval village, a mermaid doubling as a chimney sweep - all in an effort to make people smile.

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Johnson said his largest, an entire floating township exploring the story of Moll Flanders, is an "extraordinary piece...full of character.

"Dad had a wicked sense of humour."

Te Papa purchased several of Gerrard's works - including the front of his work shed, which also incorporated carvings.  Other of his arks or paintings are in the National Library, the Maritime Museum, the Embassy of France and in overseas collections.

He was as much a character himself as the arks he poured countless hours into.  As his throat cancer worsened, he moved from the Home of Compassion in Silverstream to Te Omanga Hospice.

"He was there for six weeks but in the end they said to him, 'Bob, you'll have to won't stop going out the back to smoke with the nurses," Johnson said.

"He'd been given three weeks to live but he stayed with us another 18 months."

Johnson said the family was "tremenously proud" of Bob, who died in 2009.  The gift of his work to the Dowse was so that more people could enjoy his creativity.

■ Faye Johnson and Bob Gerrard's other daughter, Wendy Jones, will talk about their father in a Q&A session with World Builders curator Emma Bugden at the Dowse on Saturday November 14, at 11am.

 - Hutt News

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