Olivia Spencer Bower
by Marti Friedlander
"Olivia Spencer Bower’s death in Christchurch on 8 July
1982 while drawing to a close a richly productive artistic life, marked
the beginning of a quite different contribution to the visual arts in
New Zealand. Since 1987, the Olivia Spencer Bower Award is building a
reputation as one of the most valuable and prestigious forms of sponsorship
available to New Zealand artists.
The award is unique in this country in several ways. It was initiated
and established by the artist whose name it bears, is entirely funded
from the proceeds of her bequest, and is imprinted with her personality,
values and concerns. Directed specifically at "emerging" painters
and sculptors, the Award bypasses well-known and established practitioners,
who may have already received recognition by substantial Awards or representation
in major collections."
Elizabeth Hartrick "Art New Zealand" No 88/Spring 1998
Trees and tents, Totaranui
Olivia Spencer Bower was born in St Neots, Huntingdonshire (more commonly known as Cambridgeshire), United Kingdom
on 13 April 1905 and died in Christchurch, New Zealand, on 8 July 1982.
Olivia, encouraged from her early years by her mother, painter Rosa Dixon,
pursued a serious artistic career, throughout her life. During the nineteen-twenties
and thirties, a period in which New Zealand women artists flourished,
Olivia aligned herself with a circle of artists, which formed the basis
for The Group and the New Zealand Artists’ Society. They were artistically
progressive, critical of the limitations of art institutions and predominantly
women. However, in the following decade, serious attention was systematically
withdrawn from the achievements of these women, including such other significant
artists as Louise Henderson, Rita Angus, Evelyn Page, Rata Lovell-Smith,
Flora Scales, Lois White and Doris Lusk.
Pohutukawa, Cape Reinga
It was during that period, when she saw woman artists and their interests
overlooked, that Olivia began to frame in her mind the idea of an award,
initially intended to support women artists only but now open to promising male artists and sculptors.
In her later years, she gave serious consideration to these intentions,
which resulted in her setting up a Charitable Foundation, the final details
for which were only finalised five days before she died, in early July
Under her Will, Olivia left all her art works to the Foundation, and these
have been gradually realised by the Trustees to form a capital fund. In addition,
a substantial body of archival work represented by some 1000 to 2000 image
pages has been established permanently at the Christchurch Art Gallery
in Christchurch, which material will be available to future art students
and art historians.
While the instigation for the Foundation was the perceived inequity between
male and female artists, the terms of the Award do not include gender
discrimination. The Award is open to both men and woman artists, but selection
is made by a committee of which at least half must be female.
The main provisions and purposes of the Trust Deed as set out
by Olivia are:
1. The general purpose is to encourage and promote New Zealand artists
and sculptors with particular emphasis on future artistic potential rather
than financial need. It was Olivia’s specific objective to assist
New Zealand artists and sculptors with talent so they could devote their
energies, on a full time basis for a twelve month period, to painting
and sculpture freed from the necessity to seek outside employment.
2. The Art Award is open to an artist or sculptor of either sex who has
been resident in New Zealand for a period of not less than five years
at any time. There are no age requirements.
3. No formal qualifications in art or any other discipline are prerequisites.
4. All Awards are for one calendar year. The annual value of the Award
is fixed by the Trustees. This is currently $30,000, payable in monthly
5. To save on administration expenses, applications for Awards are called on a bi-annual basis. Two separate Awards are made for the succeeding two years. Example applications will be called mid 2018 for the two following calendar years 2019 and 2020.
Veranda at Claxby
6. The Award winner is free to undertake any particular artwork and
is not required to submit or complete any particular projects. Olivia’s
whole idea was to free up the artist or sculptor completely. She hated