The recently appointed Director of the Pataka art gallery and museum complex in Porirua completed a BA majoring in politics, but made sure she kept her passion for art alive.
“Art history wasn’t offered at Victoria at that time so a group of us began a Visual Arts Society where we brought artists, including well-known names like Toss Woollaston and Don Binney, to the campus to lecture each month.”
A European education followed, with Helen studying both art history and fine arts in Paris while living there with her husband Chris Laidlaw, then a diplomat.
Learning entirely in French had its challenges but Helen went on to graduate as top student for her year from the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts.
“I learned what so many New Zealanders discover when they head overseas—that we can succeed on the international stage.”
Helen specialised in Chinese art, sparking a lifelong love of non-Western art that ultimately led her to Pataka, New Zealand’s leading gallery for exhibitions of contemporary Māori and Pacific Art.
She has been with Pataka since it opened 15 years ago, initially as a curator, then senior curator and now director.
“We make sure that our exhibitions reflect the fact that Porirua is the most multicultural city in New Zealand. Māori culture and the cultures of our Pacific populations is what distinguishes Porirua from other cities in the country—and of course in the world!”
Helen’s own colourful abstract paintings have been shown at exhibitions throughout New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Zimbabwe and India, but for now she’s not adding to her body of work.
“I’d love to be painting but the new job simply doesn’t give me the time. One day I hope that will change.”