31 July 2013

Teutenberg's gargoyles

Prussian immigrant Anton Teutenberg’s work on the heads of British and local VIPs that decorated Auckland’s new Supreme Court, constructed in Waterloo Quadrant in 1866, so pleased the architect Edward Rumsey that Teutenberg was then given free reign with the design of the gargoyles that were to decorate the rest of the building. And they are glorious examples of the Gothic grotesque!

Though common on the churches and cathedrals, houses and halls of medieval Western Europe, gargoyles are not so frequently seen in Antipodean latitudes, which is one reason why these are so very eye-catching. The other is their weird and wonderful shapes: two-headed scaly beasts with sharp talons and even sharper teeth, ugly flying dragons, cloven-hooved monsters, roaring fish, and what looks like a flying sheep with eagle-like beak and claws. Their sculptor obviously had a very vivid imagination and could quite easily have won a job making orcs and aliens with today’s blockbuster movie designers.

As well as decorating a building, some gargoyles also perform the practical function of funnelling water off rooftops. This concept apparently dates back to the ancient Greeks, who placed terracotta or marble lion heads on roof cornices to channel water away to the street. Wikipedia has some fascinating information about the history of gargoyles and some wonderful photos.

The early rain-heads also helped protect masonry walls from water erosion, so were typically quite long and projected out from the sides of buildings. On the more modern High Court building, which had guttering fitted, this idea has been adapted to produce the comical creatures with wide open mouths that divert water into the down pipes.

In medieval times, gargoyles had other functions. The frightening demons were a graphic illustration of evil, and could be used by the clergy to warn their parishioners of the horrors of hellfire and damnation. These grotesque creatures were also believed to ward off the evil spirits that might attempt to invade castles, buildings and churches.

The High Court gargoyles show a fascinating mix of characters. As an Auckland Star article, dated 15 February 1936, explains, Teutenberg has produced ‘a Puckish warning against evil spirits’ by carving personifications of ‘the morning after the night before’ in two of his designs:

Two of them merit more than the attention of a passing glance. They are set at the corner pieces of a polygonal bay window below the battlemented tower. On the right is portrayed the tortured face of a gentleman (adorned with the “belltopper” [top hat] of the fifties) who is apparently suffering some of the more violent agonies of alcoholism. A hand clasps his fevered brow. A somewhat similar figure adorns the opposite side of the window, except that a bandage replaces the hat and hand. The intrinsic meaning is the same.


Though Teutenberg had never carved in stone prior to producing the heads and gargoyles that embellish Auckland’s High Court, his fertile imagination and skilful hands have produced the most extraordinary examples of the sculptor’s art. If you ever visit Auckland, you simply must see these for yourself.









25 July 2013

Talking Heads?

Locations of some heads are circled
Anton Teutenberg would have had no inkling when he departed H├╝sten in Prussia on 11 March 1866 that he would be remembered almost 150 years later, in a small country on the other side of the world, for his stone carvings of famous people and gargoyles.

Born on 4 December 1840, Ferdinand Anton Nicolaus Teutenberg was the son of Ludwig Teutenberg, a gunsmith to King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia. It was his brother Frederick, who had travelled to New Zealand with Gustavus von Tempsky (a fellow Prussian, and a soldier and painter of some repute), who convinced Anton to come to New Zealand with his two sisters and a nephew.

Perhaps to amuse himself during the long trip out from England, on the Clyde-built ship the Rob Roy, Anton carved some wooden scrollwork for the ship captain’s gig. It was an auspicious amusement, as the captain showed the work to local architect Edward Rumsey, who was impressed enough subsequently to commission Teutenberg to prepare some carvings for Auckland city’s new Supreme Court (now the Auckland High Court) in Waterloo Quadrant in the central city.

The Duke and Duchess of Kent

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

Though he was an engraver by trade and had never carved in stone before, Teutenberg was paid 15 shillings a piece for a series of limestone heads of foreign and local dignitaries to adorn the label-stops of the grand new building, which sported imposing Gothic-style castellated towers.

According to an article in the Evening Post of 12 October 1926, Teutenberg ‘began with the figures on the colonnade, and moulded the figures of the Duke and Duchess of Kent (father and mother of Queen Victoria), Queen Victoria herself and her beloved Prince Albert, Lord Westbury and Lord Chief Justice Campbell, from sketches and photographs supplied by the architect.’ 

As well as these six heads, the portico features two more, ten heads adorn the windows high on the western side of the building (the side now enclosed in the foyer of the modern extension to the court building), and still others adorn the windows of the tall central tower. I counted thirty heads but there may be more as I can’t see the back part of the central tower. There are, in fact, some duplications: there’s a particularly grumpy-looking woman who’s been reproduced three times, there are two Queen Victorias, and two heads of Blind Justice, amongst others.

The three grumpy old women

The two Queen Victorias

The identification of many of these heads remains uncertain - if only they could talk. In his New Zealand Sculpture, author Michael Dunn states that the other heads included people of importance in New Zealand’s early history, twice-governor Sir George Grey and Edward Gibbon Wakefield. An Auckland Star article, dated 15 February 1936, says Teutenberg

girdled the building with a series of heads, including those of judges many of whom in the present day cannot be identified. There must have been a streak of Puckish humour in this artist of the 'sixties, for it is shown clearly in his arrangement of some of the figures and his personification of some characters, which may even be caricatures. Bossing the label moulds of the Gothic arches at the side of the portico are the partnered heads of Socrates and the Maori warrior Hone Heke, while below them are two other heads similarly opposite in character.

Though Teutenberg himself considered the carvings no more than a hobby, he went on to carve similar heads for at least two more Auckland buildings, the Shortland Street Post Office (now-demolished but catalogued in wonderful detail by local historian Lisa Truttman in her Timespanner blog) and the Pitt Street Methodist Church (watch out for a future blog). 

The simple lines of his work betray his exceptional artist ability, and Supreme Court architect Rumsey was so pleased with Teutenberg’s heads that he then gave the sculptor free reign to design the remarkable gargoyles that adorn the rest of the building … but that, as they say, is another story.

Possibly Lord Westbury and Lord Chief Justice Campbell

Identities unknown

13 July 2013

Hamilton Gardens

On a 50-hectare site that rolls gently along the northern banks of the mighty Waikato River sits the magnificent Hamilton Gardens.

The site used to be a sand pit and the city dump but over the past 30 years, it has been developed, both through the support of the city’s ratepayers and through the back-breaking efforts of local volunteers, to become one of Hamilton’s most important assets.

According to the Hamilton City Council, it costs about $3 million dollars per year, which equates to around $20 per resident but that cost is more than offset by the $22 million it generates in economic activity through the 800,000 people who visit each year and the 570 significant events held there.


Some of its more well-known attractions – like the world-class Rogers Rose Gardens – are obviously not at their best in the middle of winter but the gardens are still a stunning place to walk the dog and the kids, breathe in the cold but fresh Waikato air, and soak in some inspiration for what to plant in your own quarter-acre piece of paradise.

There’s a superb collection of themed gardens – from a Chinese Scholars Garden, with sculptures of turtles and lions, to an Italian Renaissance Garden, filled with tubs of fruiting orange trees; an example of a sustainable backyard from which you can eat produce all year round; as well as examples of gardens down the ages and from around the world – a Victorian Flower Garden that is looking a bit sad in this season and a splendid example of an Indian Char Bagh Garden. 

But enough from me … I’ll let my photos do the talking.







07 July 2013

The joys of Cambodia

I’ve picked out ten photos to showcase what were, for me, the never-forget and laugh-out-loud moments, the heart-stopping places and heart-warming days, and my all-time favourite things from my six months living and working in Cambodia. These images are in chronological order – I couldn’t possibly decide which is the most special.

The many and varied temples within the 400 square kilometres of the Angkor Archaeological Park never cease to fascinate and amaze me, with their skilful engineering and their stunning architecture, and though extremely destructive if left unchecked, the kapok trees and strangler figs are an integral part of the Angkor experience. This magnificent kapok tree has buttresses that prove just how skilled an architect Mother Nature can be.

The Silver Pagoda was definitely the highlight of the few short hours I spent exploring Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh and, once I spotted the reflections in the waterlily-filled urns, I couldn’t resist taking hundreds of photos. The combination of the superbly sculpted temples and shrines with the beautiful waterlily flowers, all reflected in the still dark water, was irresistible.

Sihanoukville turned on sunsets like this every night we were there and, as long as you walked past the boozy-bar, sleazy-tourist end of Ochheuteal Beach, you could enjoy the tepid waters and desert-island feel of this gorgeous white sand beach.

The two weeks I spent in workshops with creative artists from around the world and excited children from local NGOs, making the enormous puppets for the annual Giant Puppet Parade, were the most fun of my six months in Siem Reap. The children’s energy and enthusiasm were as charming as they were infectious, and performing as number two puppeteer on the Hanuman puppet on the night of the parade left me exhausted but wonderfully exhilarated – a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Another day, another temple. The combination of an hour-long tuktuk ride, relatively few tourists, a magnificent temple to explore IndiAnnie-Jones-style, and like-minded company to share the pleasure with – a perfect combination! I had been to Beng Mealea before, I went again in March, I would repeat the day at the drop of a hat!

In Cambodia I discovered the delights of waterlilies, their infinite variety of patterns, the delicate subtlety of their colours. Feast your eyes on these beauties and smile!

Cambodian children are wide-eyed, cheeky, desperately poor, smart, smaller and thinner than they deserve to be, cute, capable, hard-working, affectionate, creative, playful, sensitive.… And one of the joys of my last few months in Siem Reap was managing the transition of Helping Hands, the project these three girls attend, into the Globalteer family. I hope their future is a bright one as they each deserve to be stars!

Even now I laugh when I look at this photo. Whenever my spirits were low – which, luckily, was seldom – I would visit the pond at Wat Damnak where there is a healthy population of these little frogs, and their comic antics would always make me laugh out loud.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll be aware of my obsession with the pagodas of Siem Reap. This one, Wat Po Banteaychey, is probably my favourite, though each is special in its own way. I think it’s the combination of splendid architecture, the vibrant technicolour decoration, and the tranquillity of the pagodas that made them my favourite places for exploration and lingering.

Here’s another creature that made me smile, with its hilarious dance-like actions, its ability to change colour when aroused, and its truly impressive tail. Both these Oriental Garden Lizards and the tiny geckos that inhabit every nook and cranny of every building in Cambodia, as well as the Tokay geckos that cry out “okay, okay, okay”, charmed and entertained me, and helped provide me with the memories of Cambodia that I’m sure will never leave me.