Exhibition highlights selection of beautiful Louis Hay plans

1 December 2018

The team are currently working on installing our next exhibition, which opens 8 December. Titled, The Architectural Legacy of J. A. Louis Hay, this exhibition will highlight a selection of beautiful Louis Hay plans held in the collection: some of these buildings grace our streets today, others were never realised.

Peter Shaw, in his book Louis Hay: Architect, described Louis Hay’s work as: “Every so often, in a distant place, there comes into existence someone with individuality and refined genius.”

“They live their life, not in a great city, at the centre of power. Instead in a quiet town … they choose to do their work: to solve problems with imagination, to create buildings of pleasing ornament and symmetry: to add to the sum total of beauty in the world.”

James Augustus Louis Hay chose to set up his architectural practice in a place of beauty: the quiet, seaside town of Napier in Hawke’s Bay.

He was born in 1881 at Akaroa, Banks Peninsula. His family later moved to Napier, where he attended Napier Boys’ High School before joining the architecture firm of Charles Tilleard Natusch.

At the conclusion of his three-year apprenticeship, Louis accepted an architectural position with Walter Finch’s well-established practice, also in Napier.

In 1906, he set up on his own: his first known buildings in Napier were finely crafted modern houses that were simple and modest in scale.

True to his nature, he was attentive to the smallest detail: including bespoke fireplaces, doors, interior lights, lead light glass, built-in furniture, sundials, fences and pergolas.

The 1920s were Louis Hay’s most prolific years, designing buildings primarily of a domestic nature with the exception of the Central Fire Station, Tennyson St (1921) and the Mothers Rest, Clive Square (1926).

Fondly remembered as a genial, sociable man, in his professional life Louis Hay was also a perfectionist: intolerant of shabby work and shortcuts.

His commitment to detail engendered great loyalty and respect from his employees.

Thelma Williamson, a drafter in Louis Hay’s employment for many years, recorded that: “everything he touched with pen and pencil was sheer art”.

At age 50, Louis Hay was in his third decade as an architect in Napier.

Following the February 3, 1931, Hawke’s Bay earthquake, he became a vital member of the Napier Reconstruction Committee along with the Associated Architects: both formed to ensure that primarily local architects would undertake the rebuilding of the town

During the years 1931-1933, Louis Hay’s office was extremely busy and he was fortunate to have in his employ the highly skilled drafters Leonard Wolfe, Thelma Williamson, and Arthur Milne.

Louis Hay’s practice was solely responsible for about 13 constructions in the Napier central business district and Ahuriri, one of which was his own office building: a slender and elegant example in Herschell St.

During this period, he also completed what is generally regarded as his best-known building, the new National Tobacco Company premises at Ahuriri.

Louis Hay’s most ambitious project during 1934 was the Australian Mutual Provident Society (AMP) building.

The following year, Leo Bestall, director of the Napier Art Gallery, commissioned him to draw up plans for a Hawke’s Bay Art Gallery and Museum.

Both buildings derived their ornamentation from American architects Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.

As the rebuilding of the town slowed down, so too did architectural contracts.

By 1940, Louis Hay’s practice was in decline aside from small jobs commissioned by wealthy tobacco merchant, Gerhard Husheer.

Louis Hay died February 4, 1948, and is buried at Park Island Cemetery.

MTG Hawke’s Bay appreciates sponsorship from the New Zealand Institute of Architects (Hawke’s Bay branch) for this exhibition.

* Exhibition tour House of Webb: A Victorian Family’s Journey to Ormondville with Curator Gail Pope. December 4, 11am, meet in front foyer – free entry, no bookings required

* Twilight Art Class, held in the exhibition space, explore various mediums used by the Webb family throughout their journeys. This session focuses on comic illustration. December 4, 6-8pm. $35 per class ($30 for friends of MTG). Please register to secure a place 06 835 7781

* The Architectural Legacy of J. A. Louis Hay exhibition opens to the public Saturday, December 8.

Gail Pope, Curator – Social History, MTG
Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 1 December 2018

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