New Zealand Sculptors and Medallists, Paul and Betty Beadle
One of the fantastic things about working with the collection at Auckland Museum is getting to meet people who know far more about it than we do! In November 2016, it was my coworker Anika Klee’s pleasure and mine to welcome Jim Wheeler and Marté Szirmay into Auckland Museum’s Collection Hub. The two artists visited to look through and teach us about a collection of objects from Paul and Betty Beadle’s home and studio. We learnt a lot from the visit, and will be able to enrich the information we currently hold about Paul and Betty’s work and life.
Who were Paul and Betty Beadle?
Paul Beadle (1917-1992) was an influential sculptor and medallist born in England. He was a submariner during the Second World War, and then went on to hold various positions at art schools in Australia. Paul arrived in New Zealand in 1961, where he became Professor of Fine Arts at Elam School of Fine Arts. His medal and coin designs are influential, and Paul submitted popular, though ultimately unsuccessful, designs for the new coins when New Zealand changed to decimal currency in the late 1960s.
Paul’s artistic style changed dramatically after his arrival in Auckland when he received a commission to create a chess set. The commission made Paul think about expressing his ideas in a smaller format, and was the catalyst for him to create technically complex sculptures which reflected his sense of humour and wit. His favourite subject matter was human beings. Paul Beadle found inspiration for his art in a wide range of sources – Ashanti gold weights, medieval religious art, and his own observations of the world around him.
Betty Beadle, née Cutcher (1924-2002), was an accomplished ceramicist, sculptor, and medallist, and the collection at the museum holds several of her ceramic pieces. She supported Paul in his art as well as completing her own. In 1988, Betty co-founded the New Zealand Contemporary Medallion Group, now known as Medal Artists of New Zealand (MANZ), to champion Paul’s medallic works and that of other contemporary medallic artists.
Paul and Betty Beadle’s estate bequeathed the collection of objects to Auckland Museum as Paul and Betty left it. The museum holds many of the above objects, photographed in situ in Paul’s studio. The collection largely holds tools, pieces of wax, and other objects from Paul’s workspace, as well as a collection of Betty’s ceramics. Jim and Marté emphasized that Paul was a practical man - he used whatever he had on hand to get the effect that he desired, and every tool did a specific job. Wire spikes, dental tools, and ice cream sticks are all present in this collection, as well as special precision tools Paul had made and some that were only possible to purchase in Europe.
The centrepieces of the collection are the wax maquettes that Paul sculpted, which would normally be ephemeral. The maquettes show an important part of the process of “lost wax” sculpting. The process involved casting a mould around the original wax sculpture into which the molten bronze would be poured. The original wax sculpture would be lost, dripping into a pan at the bottom of the kiln. Jim explained that the skill in casting these sculptures came from directing the molten metal around inside the mould and forcing air out of the sculpture so that there would be no air bubbles. This was especially difficult in the very complex figurative sculptures that Paul created.
Paul worked from a very simple range of shapes: balls, rods, and discs. Paul would use long wax rods, called sprues, as the basis for his works, which he would manipulate to create sculptures full of vitality and movement. The collection includes a filing cabinet which contains these shapes, as well as the wax balls that Paul and Betty would roll between their hands at night as they watched television. Marté described this filing cabinet and its contents as a “treasure,” because it really illuminates the way that Paul went about his sculpting process.
We greatly value the expertise shared by Jim Wheeler and Marté Szirmay. Cataloguing this collection is an ongoing process, and it has been a pleasure to increase our knowledge of Paul and Betty Beadle’s works, tools, and processes.
Cape, Peter; Artists and Craftsmen in New Zealand; 1969
Dunn, Michael; New Zealand Sculpture: A History; 2002
Stocker, Mark; ‘Coins of the People’: The 1967 New Zealand Decimal Coin Reverses; British Numismatic Journal, Vol. 70, 2000
Post by: Louise Weston
Louise is a Project Leader/Senior Collection Technician, Human History (Collections Cataloguing Project) at Auckland Museum.