The Nun & the Poet: Jerusalem
New works by MB Stoneman

Printmaking exhibition exploring philosophies at Jerusalem through research and residency at the old convent up the Whanganui River.

Interview with MB Stoneman

When did you first hear about Jerusalem and when did you, how long spent there?

I’m not sure - maybe at school, studying NZ poetry and Baxter’s sonnets came up.

I moved to Patea in 2004 and went on a few missions up the Whanganui river road, discovering the small settlements with Pakeha/Maori names; Athens/Atene, London/Ranana, Jerusalem/Hiruharama. Familiar names, different places. I stayed at the Sisters of Compassion convent at Jerusalem/Hiruharama in May 2011 to celebrate the birthday of a friend who had a connection there. The first time was just women, I remember lots of cackling.  I found myself back again, twice, with her collected whanau - kids, good banter and plenty of feasting. While I loved this energy I realised I yearned to spend time there alone.  So I went up to stay in August 2016 for five days and again the following winter, lucky to be the only person there both times. My intent was to treat it like a residency, to learn more about these two people who I was intrigued by and to translate this into writing and visual artworks.  

First Impressions?

The convent, St Joseph’s church, the Sisters house and surrounding gardens are very well cared for. The whole place seems to evoke a feeling of being looked after - that’s how I felt there. 

Because of its isolation and quiet pace, it invites contemplation and reflection. It is a unique and special place. 

Did you feel empowered/inspired?

I didn’t feel particularly empowered, but I do feel different when I am there - my thoughts are clearer, not so restless. Perceptions around space and time change, the air is different. I read a lot of books while I was there, drawing on the wealth of words written by Aubert and Baxter, their philosophies are all tied in with the energy at Jerusalem.

Do you like to spend time alone?

Yes. It offers uninterrupted space and time. I fell into a gentle rhythm and routine of the basics - reading, walking, preparing food, drawing, thinking and writing.  Everything is simpler up there.  I didn’t feel lonely, a building like that holds a lot of energy. 

Who would you say inspired you more, Baxter or Mary Aubert and why?

I am greatly inspired by them both, and the works for this show became centred around them and their personal experiences there. They were both highly astute and compassionate people who left a legacy of words and actions for us to learn from.

Do you think the two had anything in common?

Yes, they had many similarities and shared philosophies. Both in their fourties when they arrived at Jerusalem - James K was 42, Suzanne Aubert was 48. They cared for others and believed love/aroha was the most important thing over all. They both held a strong attraction and affinity to Māori culture.  They were both Catholic. They both established at Jerusalem a safe environment where orphans – foundlings in Mother Aubert’s time, Ngā Mōkai in Baxter’s – were welcomed and cared for.

​Would they have co-existed happily?

Hard to say, I think there would have been common ground between them and they also would have found things about each other challenging. She was a very hard worker and I imagine she probably would have thought he and his tribe were lazy and lacked focus. Baxter referred to Mother Aubert and ‘the nuns’ in many of his poems, not always favourably.

How do you feel your work embodies these two people?

Colour, tone and simplicity.  I aimed to create evocative images, conveying a mood or feeling.  I’d been planning some of the works since my first solo visit in August 2015. They evolved slowly, often due to needing to learn and experiment with new printmaking techniques to produce what I wanted to create, such as the rosary cyanotypes.  Printmakers are a special breed, keen and generous with their knowledge, skills and tools. I was lucky to learn manual letterpress in Marty Vreedes Whanganui workshop and had help from another mentor, Julia Ellery, to hone my mezzotint skills.

Did you experience any spiritual awakening or clear view while there?

Yes. It was indeed a very personal journey that will continue to resonate in many aspects of my life.

Is Jersualem going to become a go-to place for renewal etc?

Yes! I will go up in summer for a different seasonal experience, swim in the river.  It is a place I will keep returning to. I love being there. 

How would you sum up the exhibition in one sentence?

A body of printmaking works reflecting personal philosophies based on research and residency at the old convent in Jerusalem/Hiruharama.

Selected Works

'Mother Aubert' - Mezzotint, woodcut
'Mother Aubert'

Mezzotint, woodcut

(detail) 'Luminous Mysteries : Joy, Light, Sorrow, Glory' - Cyanotype, etching, blind emboss (woodcut)
(detail) 'Luminous Mysteries : Joy, Light, Sorrow, Glory'

Cyanotype, etching, blind emboss (woodcut)

'Hemi' - Mezzotint
'Hemi'

Mezzotint

'Poutama' -  Solarplate, cyanotype
'Poutama'

Solarplate, cyanotype

'No Exit' - Photography
'No Exit'

Photography

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