It was with a celebratory atmosphere that the Charles Brasch Studio at the Caselberg Cottage was officially opened, by Mayor Dave Cull, Alan Roddick and Nigel Brown on Saturday 1st April.
Around 70 people gathered to enjoy the new space and experience what months of fundraising and hard work had achieved. We are so pleased to be able to share with you photographs of the event and the speech made by Trust founding member Alan Roddick about the Brasch/Caselberg connection. The project was also finished just in time for our Creative Connections resident Victoria McIntosh, who moved into the cottage the following day.
“I doubt that Charles Brasch ever painted a picture, but it is very appropriate that the Caselberg Trust’s new studio should bear his name, because we have Brasch to thank for Anna and John Caselberg’s presence at Broad Bay. Let me tell you how this came about.
This story begins on a mid-winter night in 1938, as the Tasman bus from Nelson is heading for Mapua when it’s stopped by a flashing torch, and Charles Brasch climbs down to meet Toss Woollaston for the first time.
Living abroad, Brasch had struggled for years to make himself ‘a New Zealand poet’, and now here in Nelson he’d found this talented new painter Toss Woollaston who was already, as Brasch wrote later, ‘part of [New Zealand]… ‘yes, he was New Zealand, … the New Zealand that was coming to be.’ (Charles Brasch, Indirections)
For three days they ‘walked and talked and looked’ together – looked at Woollaston’s paintings, and looked at the Mapua landscape. It was Brasch’s first visit to the Nelson area, and he revelled in the experience of seeing it through the painter’s eyes: ‘country clearly made for a painter’ he called it – ‘a rich landscape, different every hour, every few yards.’ Discovering this new artist on that brief visit would prove to be one reason why Brasch decided, after the War, that New Zealand might be a good place to come back to.
But the visit also opened Brasch’s eyes to how hard it was for Toss to be a painter, when it took him and his wife Edith most of their days merely to live:
- They had no mains power, so Toss had to keep cutting and stacking firewood for heating and getting the kerosene lamps ready for the night-time,
- With no running water, they had to fetch it all up to the house by the bucket,
- And Toss had to dig and drain the section to grow their vegetables for the table…
- And of course the clay-brick house that Toss had built, brick by handmade brick, was still not finished. The Woollastons themselves seemed to be happy enough with it, but Brasch thought that ‘in wind and rain and in winter it must have been bleakly uncomfortable, draughty, cold, probably leaky.’
Being comfortably off himself, Brasch wanted to help in some way. He couldn’t conjure up a weatherproof house or mains electricity, but he could buy Toss’s work, and he also joined the poet Ursula Bethell in funding what they called ‘a painting scholarship’ for the painter and his family. And when the family was living on the equivalent of $3.90 a week unemployment benefit, $40 from Brasch for a painting went a long way!
As far as I know, this was Brasch’s first venture into the patronage of artists, and he was to help Toss Woollaston for the rest of his life, as he helped many other artists. Even in 1973, when the recently-knighted Sir Tosswill Woollaston was better able to make a living as a painter, Brasch put a clause in his Will to forgive any debts that he owed.
And of course Brasch made one further generous gift in his Will, this time by leaving his cherished crib here at Broad Bay to the Woollastons’ daughter Anna and her husband, the writer John Caselberg.
Writers can often get by with little more than something to write with, and something to write on; but artists who make things need a place to work in: they need a studio. Anna Caselberg made her name as a painter in her own right, and when the Caselbergs later bought the house next-door to the crib and moved here to live, the Brasch crib was her studio for some years, until they decided to sell the crib, and she had to make do with the garden shed out the back – ironically, putting up with much the same problems as her father used to do.
Broad Bay was an important place for Brasch, and it’s fitting that this studio should be the first building in Dunedin to bear his name. With its opening, Dunedin has a new bit of history, and I know that if Charles and Toss and Anna were still here, they’d be watching with interest to see what’s going to be made, here.”
We also thank those who made this project possible.