The Shield of Protective Gold Raising Funds Creatively for St Davids Future
Divine intervention may have put Paul Baragwanath on a path to save an iconic piece of Auckland’s heritage architecture yet in the process his ‘Art of Remembrance’ project has evolved into a far greater gift for us all to treasure.
It has captured the imagination of the whole country and given New Zealanders, ANZAC’s and people across the world and generations, a way to honour and participate in ‘Remembrance’.
Since ANZAC Day this year, St David’s Presbyterian Church in Grafton, also known as ‘the soldiers memorial church’, has successfully dodged the wrecking ball thanks to a protective gold shield of artwork which has swathed the exterior in extraordinarily spectacular fashion.
Comprising thousands of glinting gold quatrefoils by Max Gimblett ONZM, one of this country’s greatest living contemporary artists, the centenary installation called ‘Art of Remembrance’ is Baragwanath’s brainchild.
Each quatrefoil artwork represents a New Zealand soldier or nurse who served in World War I. The works are priced at $100 each so as many Kiwis as possible can afford to take part and ensure St David’s long-term survival. Many are buying more than one of the seven different designs. An anonymous donor gave $10,000 in exchange for one single artwork. Public institutions and corporate installations are on the horizon.
Paul was sure from the very beginning that there was a way to deliver the building to future generations by fundraising creatively to restore and ensure St David’s long-term financial “The key lesson I’ve learnt is that you’re only constricted by your perception. If you really believe in something passionately, anything is possible. When you think it isn’t possible, think again.”
Originally inspired by a memorial ceramic poppy from the Tower of London gifted to him by a cousin six weeks before ANZAC Day in April, the outdoor installation was Paul’s solution to fix an internal access problem after the doors of the church closed in December.
At the same time, the Friends of St David’s Trust founding patron, Ted Manson ONZM commissioned a building report on the Church building to establish what is required to bring St David’s up to the new building standard. It’s going to cost millions, maybe five or more, in a project that will include not only seismic upgrade but complete restoration.
Paul recollects that receipt of the report was a “real milestone moment” as they didn’t have one on the “civic-scale building” prior to that. He is sure that once restored St David’s can earn its keep due to its unique capacity for seating up to 600 and auditorium qualities of the unique, angled floor in the Presbyterian style – all while retaining its “spiritual heart.”
“We’ve had numerous challenges on the way too. Actually every day has had its challenges” he freely admits.
Like undertaking a massive art installation in six weeks when typically, big scale productions like this one usually take at least two years to bring to fruition. It also had to have dignity and beauty, qualities which were absolutely critical.
Never one to give up, Paul and his fellow Art of Remembrance volunteers continued to jump hurdle after hurdle and more doors opened again and again.
The project needed serious money to cover real costs and serious expertise to solve a multitude of logistical challenges in architecture, engineering, project management, branding, public relations, photography, graphic design and event management for the massive unveiling event.
Calls for help were answered and support from many quarters came. The Hon. Nikki Kaye, senior members of the Defence Force, Auckland Council, Aurecon engineers,
Warren and Mahoney architects, Consortium, Xigo Project Management, Jason Witehira of Victoria Park New World, the RSA, Gary Langsford, Trelise Cooper, Workshop, Fletcher Construction, and art patrons including Jenny Todd and Georgina Ralston and the Chartwell Collection, hundreds of volunteers and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre across the road, to name but a few.
Some people gave money, some lent as the project needed to find $180,000. Buy-ups of scale and super quick turnarounds were the norm.
Like purchasing the entire supply of sheet brass in New Zealand, 14,000 brackets, 40,000 pieces of gaffer tape and 1,000’s of metres of stainless steel wire.
Auckland Council remarkably turned around the building consent in a day which Paul praises as “Incredible. We couldn’t have done this without them.”
He describes another pivotal “oh my goodness moment” after it became apparent that a high-tech lightening conductor had to be found fast. It was sourced from Australia as there was no time for a traditional trenched lightening system installation.
Another “miraculous milestone” was the creation of the ‘organic fade’ and choreographing the quatrefoil clusters in a way that created movement through the façade. It needed a big architectural solution matched by a big engineering solution.
“It was incredibly difficult to achieve architecturally.”
“One of the main design challenges was creating an organic pattern with a structured grid as the framework. The spacing of each quatrefoil was vital and ensured that they remained in close proximity to one another whilst creating an organic ‘wave-like’ pattern” says Hannah Pierce from Warren and Mahoney architects.
She adds, “Finding a cost effective fixing solution that would support the brass quatrefoils whilst ensuring that the original brick façade was maintained provided many challenges for the structural engineer.”
On 23 July the first part, the installation on St David’s Church was formally closed. Now the second phase rolls out nationally.
As each quatrefoil is brought down the ‘Art of Remembrance’ isn’t over, actually it’s just the beginning as thousands are about to be labelled, boxed and dispatched on a ‘tour of duty’ throughout the country “from Kaitaia to Invercargill” to peoples’ homes, exhibition spaces, the Royal Engineers Chapel, public collections, corporate collections and venues such as Workshop retail stores nationwide.
Volunteers are always welcome to help process the thousands of pieces of artwork during this time and you don’t need to be strong, just have a shared belief about the importance of communion, human connection, heritage and character.
The Friends of St David’s have supporters from all sorts of backgrounds; Christian, Hindu, non-believer, Buddhist and Jewish. One common thread they share is a belief in preserving an important piece of heritage that would sustain the community for the next century and beyond.
“I’m not interested in a personal legacy. If I can see a way to improve life for people by making a contribution, that motivates me. I see great value in preserving St David’s Church and all it can serve. Someone had to do it although it was not in my career plan” he laughs.
To purchase or volunteer go to www.RememberThem.co.nz
Words: Sarah Sparks