When, as an art student in Christchurch, I mowed lawns for a Mrs Reeves and she invited me into the house for tea, I was very excited by some modern paintings I saw there, of streets in Paris. They were powerfully organised into the simplest possible shapes, the plane trees on the sidewalks for instance being rendered by a simple dark vertical for the stem, and a flat disc for the foliage. Who had done them? I asked.
Her sister, Flora Scales. There was another picture she drew my attention to, very different, a large copy of a famous English painting – I forget by what R.A. – of a woman in the wind, holding her hat in one hand and three dogs’ leashes in the other – “Diana of the Uplands” [Charles Wellington Furse (1868-1904), 1903-1904, oil on canvas]. This full sized copy of the original had been made by Flora “before she went mad”.
Mrs Reeves asked me if I would give her private art lessons, because she was too shy to face even the restricted public of an outdoor art class. So, for half-a-crown an hour and with her daughter Patty, we went up onto the Cashmere Hills to try the landscape. She had asked her sister for lessons, but had been refused. Her sister, she told me, would take only “serious pupils”.
I began to see why. When she looked at my drawing and said “Oh, Mr Woollaston, how do you do those sweeping lines!” but still made her Southern Alps equal all across the paper, like the teeth of a saw, I realised that she was incapable of taking even my instruction seriously.
But she remembered me. The next winter, when I was in Mapua wondering where to go or what to do next for a needed new stimulus, a letter came telling me that Miss Scales was staying with a Mrs Rutherford, in Tahunanui, a suburb of Nelson. I wasted no time getting in touch with her. I asked if she would, for a proper fee, give me a term’s lessons.
She would not commit herself; but I might call on her for conversations.
How many, she did not specify. I hoped there would be no limit, and got myself board nearby, with a Mrs Tosswill on the hillside at Tahunanui. Mrs Tosswill was a distant relative, a widow who lived alone in a new house and was willing to board and lodge me for gardening in the mornings.