People who were regarded as “Arty” and/or eccentric by the locals in the Whangarei Heads area were pretty well tolerated from at least as far back as the 1950s; sometimes with bemusement, but often as wise people in their own fields. Though there wasn’t much interest in those particular fields, the eyes of the locals would always light up whenever the names of these “characters” were mentioned.
Yvonne Rust arrived suddenly, it seemed to me, in Parua Bay. It was the early 1970s and I had already left the area, but everyone was talking about her. On my frequent journeys back home, I’d gaze at the unusual structures taking place on her property on the other side of the bay. Could that large round shape really be a window? Unheard of when most new houses were mass-produced “little boxes”.
Later on there were stories of hassles involved in the establishment of her pottery and The Quarry Arts Centre. But, despite all the time I’ve spent in Whangarei, I’ve never had the pleasure of actually meeting Yvonne Rust. Reading Theresa Sjoquist’s book has got to be the next best thing.
Meticulously researched and lovingly crafted, Yvonne Rust – Maverick Spirit covers the full lifetime and legacy of its subject. Yvonne Rust came of age in Northland during the depression years and eventually moved to the South Island; alternating between the two areas for the rest of her life. Though she lived through an era of little interest in the arts, Rust managed to produce large bodies of work in both pottery and painting. These are amply illustrated in the book.
Rust’s own thoughts are cleverly woven into the chapters, as are the thoughts of her contemporaries. Her energy and generosity are legendary, and more than 400 people contributed to the research.
Although some previous research was unavailable, Theresa Sjoquist seems to have produced “as true a story as possible”. From being the only Pakeha child in Te Hapua (in The far North), going on to teach art when it was first introduced as a subject in our schools, meeting the Japanese Master Potter Shoji Hamada and becoming integral to the Pottery Movement of the 1950s; through to her return to Northland, a period in Opua to paint and her final years on the West Coast. The Rust family’s connections with the history of Whangarei are a bit of a revelation.
As a teacher, Rust aimed to inspire self-confidence and open-mindedness, learning for herself along the way. As an artisan, she pushed relentlessly for the development of our country’s raw materials, always expressing her belief in a unique New Zealand spirit. Apparently Yvonne Rust considered herself a failure. If she was able to see this book she might have other thoughts.