Arnold Wilson was born in Ruatoki North and was educated at Ruatoki North Native School and Wesley College in Paerata. In 1948 he attended the Elam School of Art and graduated with a Diploma of Fine Arts in 1953 with first-class honours in sculpture. He attended Auckland Teachers’ College in 1954 and subsequently taught art at Kawakawa District High School and Okaihau District High School. In 1958 Wilson became an art teacher at the Bay of Islands College in Kawakawa and in 1963 was appointed head of the Art Department at Mt Albert Grammar School, a position he retained until 1986. In 1987 he was seconded to the Education Department in the Northern Region as an advisor and as an education officer dealing with art and craft within secondary schools.
In the 1970s Wilson devised the Pakeaka courses which brought secondary school students and tertiary students into a marae situation where they made murals of myths and legends of the local areas. Wilson started the first Pakeaka course in Kaipara in Helensville and many others followed including ‘three times in Waitangi, four times in Whangarei Forum North, three times in Auckland, [and also at] Tira Hou, Khyber Pass, Otara Township, Whaiora, Hamilton, with all its secondary schools at Kimiora at Ngaruawahia, then on to Kokohinau, Wairaka in Whakatane, then down to Te Kaha, then across to Wellington, to Maraeroa and up the West Coast to Ratana, then across to Christchurch to Rehua. Then back to Auckland seeding the areas with a new approach to schools and community about community art programmes introducing mural making – drama, music, poetry, plus art, craft, sculpture, pottery to community involvement for the community by the community. The Forum experience was for 5 days instead of 3 days.’ This highly successful teaching programme continued until the introduction of Tomorrow’s Schools in 1988.
Wilson was been active in his own art work and in building and running an urban marae on the North Shore of Auckland. Towards the end of his time as a student at Elam, he studied the art of his own area, looking at a bicultural approach to the art of this country and tryed to incorporate that into imported art. He acknowledged the pivotal role of Gordon Tovey stating that “he opened the door for me in terms of my own art because of the emphasis he put onto young people in primary schools, teaching people, and introducing all sorts of things. I also devised a way of bringing it out of the schools; my job was getting children out of the schools, putting them into a marae within a different holistic teaching method, introducing drama and music and other things. This is what Pakeaka was all about”.
Wilson collected and wrote stories for preschool and primary school reading with Katerina Mataira and others in Whakatane publishing for the first Kura Kaupapa at Ruatoki. His main forte in the arts was sculpture. Wilson was awarded the QSM in 1989 and the New Zealand Commemorative Medal in 1990. He was on the QEII Arts Council and was part of MASPAC [Māori and South Pacific Arts Council]. He was a founding member of the Northern Arts Society and a member, VP and fellow of the Auckland Society of Arts (ASA). Wilson was a member and chairperson of the New Zealand Painters and Sculptors’ Society. He worked with Garfield Johnson and Jocelyn Tarrant from 1986-89. In 1990 he was involved with the opening of Awataha Marae on the North Shore. Wilson was the kaumatua of the marae, and is also kaumatua at the Wellington Polytech, the Whangarei Polytech, and Manukau Polytech. He exhibited in New Zealand and overseas; his work is held in galleries throughout New Zealand.
He attended the Young Māori Leaders’ Conference in 1959, and organised meetings with Mat Te Hau - Education Officer for Adult Education, in Kawakawa and Kaikohe for the Young Māori Leaders’ Conferences from 1958-1960.
"Arnold exhibited extensively in New Zealand and overseas including Recent New Zealand Sculpture (1968) at the Auckland City Art Gallery, the South Pacific Festival of Arts (1976) in Rotorua, Ten Māori Artists (1978) Manawatu Art Gallery in Palmerston North, Haongia te Taonga (1986) Waikato Art Museum in Hamilton, Kohia Ko Taikaka Anake (1990) National Art Gallery in Wellington and the United States tour of Te Waka Toi: Contemporary Māori Art from New Zealand (1992).
Arnold received a Nga Tohu a Ta Kingi Ihaka/Sir King Ihaka Award from Te Waka Toi in 2001 for new directions in contemporary Maori art. Arnold was a Toi Iho artist who was awarded honorary status of Te Ara Whakarei in recognition of his creative accomplishments in 2002. Toi Iho is the Maori-made cultural trademark of authenticity and quality. He received an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon Award in 2007; an honorary doctorate by AUT University, Auckland, acknowledging his work in education and the arts in 2008 and he was made a Member of the said Order (MNZM ): for services to Māori and the arts, as announced in the 2010 Queens Birthday honours list.
After retirement from the position of Director of the Cross-Cultural Community Involvement Art Programme in the Department of Education, he continued his educational role as kaumātua working with young urban Māori and as advisor to a number of public art programmes. He worked for many years to establish the Awataha urban marae complex in Auckland.
Arnold Manaaki Wilson died on 1 May 2012 at the age of 83."
- Phone conversation with Arnold Wilson on 30 Aug. 1998.
- Correspondence from Wilson on 9 Nov. 2004.
- People Like Us: Celebrating Cultural Diversity. Ed. Anthony Haas, Allison Webber and Pam Brown. Wellington, N.Z.: Asia Pacific Books
- N.Z. Govt. Printer, 1982. 17.
- “The Sculpture of Arnold Wilson.” Photography by Ans Westra. Te Ao Hou 52 (1965): 32-33.
http://www.thearts.co.nz/artists/arnold-manaaki-wilson 23 September 2016