Atua artist

16:00, Sep 28 2013
Deone Greer
Artist Deone Greer and grandaughter Amber Greer, 3.

A mountain, a river and the Wither Hills are among the landmarks shown on a mural helping Seymour Kindergarten pupils see themselves as Kiwi kids.

The long painting, created with acrylic paints by Blenheim artist Deone Greer will be hung beside the kindergarten entranceway.

The artist, who usually favours abstract works, says the mural is her first foray into the world of representative painting. It is one of many new directions life has taken her in the past two years.

That was when the Blenheim woman with a three-year diploma from the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology became the main caregiver of her two grandchildren, one aged 2, the other an 8-month-old baby.

She doesn't want to give any more details but says the new responsibilities forced her to quit a regular commute to the NMIT Nelson campus where she hoped to complete her four-year arts degree.

All art then came to a grinding halt as she adapted to her new responsibilities. There simply wasn't time, she explains.

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Two years on, the children attend either afternoon or morning kindergarten sessions and Deone does voluntary art therapy work at Hospice Marlborough.

Then this year Seymour Kindergarten's head teacher Heather Graham asked Deone how art might complement some cultural studies the children were doing.

A "learning journey" had focused on their identity and the country they lived in, from a Maori perspective. Blenheim landmarks like the Wairau River, the Wither Hills and Mount Tapu o Uenuku had been pointed out, and stories told about the legendary Maori guardians that look after them.

Learning about the atua or guardians like Papatuanuku the earth mother, Ranginui the sky father, Tawhirimatea the wind and Tane Mahuta the guardian of the forest, helped the children understand the importance of being good guardians themselves to the world around them.

Deone grew up in Marlborough, but says she had never really felt connected to its landscape. That disconnection started making sense when she was 25 and met her mother's birth mother, a woman from the North Island iwi Ngapuhi.

As she designed and started painting the Seymour Kindergarten mural, the symbols it contained started making sense.

"At first I was just painting a mural for the kids, then it became really significant for me and for the little girls, to have the sense of belonging in the community that the kindergarten provides.

"There's a strong sense of family [here] and it's really lovely. And all the kids are my friends now."

The Marlborough Express