Maori Chief; Molly Macalister; 1964-1966; 35


Molly Macalister, sculptor


Maori Chief

About this object

'Molly Macalister: a memorial exhibition.' Alexa Johnston. Auckland Art Gallery, 1982
Dunn, Michael. 1982. 'The Fragile and the Monumental', "The NZ Listener", 18 Dec, p34.
Auckland City Council media release 14 October 2003

'This work was commissioned from Molly Macalister by the Auckland City Council in February 1964 and was unveiled in February 1967. The statue was the source of controversy in Auckland and details of the progress of the commission are given below.

1964: February Macalister was invited to provide the Auckland City Council with sketches for a large sculpture of a Maori chief to stand at the bottom of Queen Street. She produced a sketch, in the ten days allowed to her, which showed a warrior in a short cloak, legs astride, holding a taiaha (pointed staff/spear). She wrote on the bottom of the drawing:
"These drawing represent the germ of an idea - not the finished article". Macalister was then requested to begin the sculpture.

1964: March 11 "The Auckland Star" published a photograph of Macalister beside a small model of the sculpture - the third she had made. She said that the figure would now be wearing a full korowai cloak (prestigious cloak) and holding a mere (hand club), but stressed that this model was still an 'embryonic' stage of the design. She expected to make about twenty more before arriving at the final maquette.

1964: July 8 An article in "The Auckland Star" included a photograph which was described as "the final head study" for the Maori figure. This was in fact far from final. It was a realistic portrait of John Waititi which Macalister had modelled as part of the process of familiarising herself with Maori features.

1964: August The above article promoted a letter to the Town Clerk from Mr J. Te H Paora on behalf of the Ngati Whatua expressing their concern that there had been no discussion of the work with of representatives of Ngati Whatua or other tribes living in Auckland. They saw this as an unfortunate breach of Maori etiquette. Subsequently, Molly Macalister had several discussions with members of Ngati Whatua at Orekei and they came to support her ideas for the work.

1964: August An agreement was signed between Macalister and the Mayor, Councillors and citizens of Auckland. The artist undertook to complete the statue, the basic design of which was shown in a sketch, attached to the document. It was to be in bronze, ten feet high and completed to the satisfaction of the director of the Auckland City Art Gallery. The agreement allowed two years for the work to be done.

1965: February After a year of working on small models, Macalister began the full sized figure. She built it in plaster over re-inforced steel rods in a plastic tent in her garden.

1965: December Macalister informed the City Council that the plaster figure was complete and that work could begin on making moulds for the bronze casting. This was to be done by Mr Ranby of D.M.S. Foundries, Penrose. The statue represented a standing Maori figure wearing a kaitaka ceremonial cloak, a feather ear ornament and holding a mere.

After seeing photographs of the plaster figure, some City Councillors were angered by the difference between the original sketch and the final work. Macalister was asked to stop preparations for casting the statue while the councillors debated whether the figure should have been in a traditonal 'fighting pose'. The suggestion was made that the work should conform more to the tourist image of the Maori. In the following days there were numerous articles and letters in the newspaper discussing the argument.

"The New Zealand Herald" quoted Macalister:
"They asked for a Maori chief and after a lot of research this is the design I thought would be the most suitable. I agree it is not the tourist image of the Maori. I tried to get away from that idea."

The Art Gallery Director, Gil Docking stated:
"I think it is a very bold concept and most suitable. It gets away from the popular idea of the Maori figure."

The "Herald" editorial also included comment on the councillors' criticisms. It stated that Macalister had fulfilled the terms of the her agreement and had produced a design which possessed dignity and presence. Councillors were not elected on their qualifications as art critics. They had commissioned a statue and received a design which was admired by competent people.

The Statue received the support of many Maori people.
Mr M. Te Hau, Chairman of the Auckland District Maori Council said that Macalister had done a tremendous amount of research and had discussed her ideas with many Maori people.

Eventually a decision was reached to continue with the statue and Mr Ranby began the long task of making moulds from the plaster figure which could not be moved from Macalister's garden.

1967: June 19 The casting and construction of the statue was completed.

1967: July 2 The statue was unveiled at a civic ceremony at which there were several speakers. The Mayor, Dr R. G. McElroy referred to the controversy about the stance of the figure:
"Surely it is only right that since our two peoples have become one as New Zealanders, that the figure should be depicted in an attitude not of war but of peace with the mere - the traditional symbol of peace- replacing the accompaniments of battle.
It marks too, a civic awareness that we have in Auckland artists of the calibre of Miss Macalister and of the duty we have to provide such artists with the chance to create works of art that will reflect credit both on themselves and on the city in which they live and work."

The principle elder of Ngati Whatua, Mr P. Reweti chanted a waiata written 100 years earlier which described the arrival of the Pakeha, settling like a cormorant on the waters of the Waitemata Harbour.

Dr H. Kawharu interpreted the waiata: while a new civilisation had come basic human values remained, as symbolised in the statue.

1979: November. The statue was removed from the two meter high base when Queen Elizabeth Square was built, and placed on the present lower base, closer to the water, and still looking out to sea.' (Johnston, 1982, p21-22)

In 2000, the statue was moved to Quay Street. It was later moved again as part of the Britomart area upgrade. It now stands at footpath level on Quay street opposite the ferry buildings.


Molly Macalister

Maker Role


Date Made


Medium and Materials






Subject and Association Description

The artist's title is 'Maori Chief'. The piece has been referred to as 'Maori Warrior'.


Auckland City Council Collection

Object Type


Object number


Copyright Licence  

Attribution - Non-commercial - Share Alike (cc) Attribution - Non-commercial - Share Alike (cc)

Sam M 12 Sep 2016 23:05 PM,UTC

Does the lowering of the statue from its 2 metre perch down to ground level have any significance? I would have thought that something that has this amount of history and talent behind it could have been shown more respect than that??

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