OBITUARY: When Judith Gifford arrived at 112 Manchester St in early 1975 to see potential space for a new shopping arcade business, she was confronted by a cheerful but clearly anxious owner. Not surprising. He was about to show this elegant woman utter calamity.
On her way up the stairs, Judith came across a room full of old motorcycles leaking oil on an ill-fitting carpet. The floor of the large room at the back of the building was splattered with coats of thick paint. Judith and her business partner Barbara Brooke were not deterred.
The main room had good proportions for a gallery, and there was room for an office, warehouse and a second exhibition space. This building, the couple decided, was the perfect location to launch a new shopping arcade, the Brooke / Gifford Gallery (BGG).
The last time Judith left the building was shortly after the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011. The building was totally destroyed. Judith’s long affiliation with this iconic place began with some chaos and ended dramatically with even more chaos.
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Meanwhile, Judith, who was known to many as Judy, was the manager of one of New Zealand’s most respected malls. From 1975 until it closed later in 2011, the BGG represented some of New Zealand’s greatest artists including Bill Hammond, Tony de Lautour, Séraphine Pick, Peter Robinson, Euan MacLeod, Richard Killeen, Joanna Braithwaite, Shane Cotton , Terry Stringer and Andrew McLeod. .
Judith offered her support to the many artists she encouraged in the early years of their careers. After learning of her death, artist Tony de Lautour emailed the family to say “the faith she showed in me very early in my career, when many found my paintings confronting, helped me to reassure myself and to have confidence in myself to continue working in this way. ”.
Judith was born in Alofi, on the island of Niue, in November 1937, after her mother Marjorie Gifford (née Shadbolt) thought it was better to stay on the isolated island rather than risk a sea trip to the New Zealand. Judith’s father, Emil Algernon ‘Algie’ Gifford was chief engineer in the public works department. The family eventually returned to New Zealand, but with World War II casting a shadow over the Pacific region, Algie was deployed to Singapore with the Royal New Zealand Air Force as an engineer for the Construction Squadron. ‘aerodromes.
Algie was killed in a Japanese air raid on the port of Singapore on February 3, 1942. Judith’s brother, Donald, was only a few months old at the time.
Judith was 4 years old when Algie passed away and, like many child victims of war, had only vague memories of her father. Years later, in 1994, it was a profound moment when she finally went to her father’s grave at Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore to lay a wreath.
When she was about 7 years old, Judith was sent to boarding school at Diocesan Girls’ School in Auckland, then Avondale College in West Auckland. She graduated from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Arts in 1958 and attended Auckland Teacher Training College in 1958.
In 1959, Judith married artist Quentin MacFarlane in Hamilton, and they moved to Christchurch for Quentin to take up a teaching post shortly thereafter. They bought one of the iconic Hurst Seager homes in Clifton Spur, Sumner.
The house became her haven and she stayed there until 2020. Her favorite style was art deco, with each piece of decor carefully chosen for its artistic appeal. Her art collection grew as she knew and represented more New Zealand artists. She was also an avid reader, with a collection of classics filling the house.
Her first foray into the Christchurch craft scene began in 1970, when Judith and three friends established Mollett Street Market. They encouraged an array of skilled craftsmen to set up booths in the building, including toy maker Bill Hammond. Judith also worked for architect Peter Beaven at Beaven, Hunt & Associates Architects. It was a call from Barbara Brooke to visit the premises at 112 Manchester St that changed the course of her professional life.
Preparing the dilapidated upstairs interior to launch a new merchant gallery was a collaborative endeavor and carried out on a very tight budget. Barbara Brooke, who had previously been director of Gallery 91, requested the favors of her artistic community.
Rodney Wilson (former museum director) developed the site and lighting plan and Max Hailstone designed the distinctive BGG logo, which was printed at Caxton Press. Judith’s husband, Quentin, spent many hours revitalizing the space, including hand sanding the matai floors and turning the hospital curtain rods into a hanging system for art. Judith admitted a few setbacks at the time, such as when one of the assistants stuck the only bathroom door.
The Brooke Gifford Gallery opened in May 1975 with a solo exhibition by artist Tom Field and was followed by a series of group exhibitions with artists such as Colin McCahon and Toss Woollaston. This area of Manchester St had a quite different vibe in the 70s.
There were massage parlors on every corner, the Smiths Bookshop was across the street and below the gallery was an antique store run by George Arneric. He hired the back room to the wizard of Christchurch, where his “army” would prepare an assortment of flour and water bombs for their mock battles.
Things changed after Barbara Brooke’s untimely death in March 1980. Judith now has to run the business on her own. In the years that followed, she proved her worth as a savvy businesswoman, and her professional credibility was recognized with her appointment to the selection committee of the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of NZ, alongside Hamish Keith. and Pat Hanly.
His iconic style has never gone unnoticed. Fashion-conscious, she was a distinctive sight driving through town in her black and white VW Karmann Ghia. She was also a politically minded feminist, coming from a family of strong characters: her aunt “Sis” was a nurse during the Spanish Civil War and her cousin (whom she remained close to) was the writer Maurice Shadbolt. She joined the Vietnam War protest marches in 1971 and supported HART in 1981.
In 1985, Judith organized “Seven Woman Artists” to celebrate the Gallery’s 10th anniversary, recognizing at the time that “it’s different today, women’s art is taken seriously now”.
Judith has always advised people to buy works of art they liked and regularly acknowledged the personal circumstances of some buyers, allowing many to pay for works of art over long periods of time. She was also generous to artists who were trying to establish their careers.
In the last period of her working life, Judith was supported in the gallery by her son-in-law Stephen Munro and daughters Anna Munro and Kirsten MacFarlane. The family organized a last exhibition – “36 years in the zone” – in 2011 in the Chambers Gallery space. The gallery officially closed a year later.
Judith MacFarlane (née Gifford) was born November 23, 1937 and died September 9, 2021. This life story was written by her daughter Kirsten MacFarlane.