"What in art is praizworthy [sic] is first of all courage, a courage of which the ordinary man has no conception."
– Handwritten notes on Balzac, presumed by Flora Scales, Untitled [Loose Leaf Pages] [BC112]
Untitled [Lemon Tree] [BC086] 1976 oil on canvas 220 x 255mm Photo by Sam Hartnett
I first met Flora Scales, at the invitation of her niece Patience Tennent, at Lake Rotoiti in 1975, just after her solo exhibition,Helen F V Scales, opened at the Auckland City Art Gallery.
Astounded by her story and the gumption, grit and tenacity it had obviously required for her to pursue her artistic goals and enthralled by the times through which she had lived, I determined to discover more about this relatively unknown artist and her beautiful paintings.
With the generous support and kindest encouragement of Patience I began the research, eventually enlisting the help of my mother-in-law Marjorie who, with her husband Theo, visited Scales on many occasions in the Rotorua Masonic Village between 1981 and 1985. Marjorie, with great skill, recorded verbatim notes of their conversations and wrote colourful descriptions of the drawing and portrait sittings Scales had with Theo as her subject.
Gradually, research intensified and material accumulated, the number of located paintings multiplied and the jigsaw puzzle, if still incomplete, became at least decipherable.
At this stage, my husband Angus and I decided to take up the challenge of cataloguing and publishing online as much of our information as possible. Behind this decision lay several driving points. Firstly, we were conscious of the trust invested in us by Flora Scales and Patience and the benefit of the open access we had been granted to family records. The responsibility of holding research material, not all of which is still readily available, also weighed on our minds.
Another important consideration was our hope that by publishing Scales’s story some misconceptions and imbalances in art history would be adjusted. There are many examples of women artists who relinquished their art practice because of family demands or because they felt invisible in the eyes of critics and curators. Scales experienced both of these conditions; managing to escape her family for freedom in Europe only to find herself memorialised as the woman who introduced Toss Woollaston to European Modernism. Our aim has been to respect the trust placed in us and to bring Flora Scales out of the shadows so that she can be seen in her own light – her art recognised and her life appreciated.
We hope you enjoy the story and the life work of this indomitable and distinguished woman. It has been the greatest privilege to walk close to her and we are proud to share what we know so far of her exceptional life.