Many Feathers a Birdwoman Make ….


I’ve arranged to meet Tia Tuuta, Kay McGregor, and Jill Walker in the Rotorua library, curious to learn the story of the large birdlike work newly, although ever so briefly, on display in the foyer of The Arts Village, Rotorua. It emerges that Kurangaituku, Birdwoman of Maori legend, continues to weave her way through the lives of many, be it ever so briefly.

One feather, among the many, is that of Tia Tuuta. Tia told me : “Our site is called Te Maioha o Parekarangi. Kingslea School is based within the residence. So we chose Kurangaituku as the focus for our art work as in the legend of Hatupatu and Kurangaituku, the bird woman chased Hatupatu through dangerous lands filled with geysers and mudpools. Legend has it that she ran right past the site our Youth Justice Residence is built on.”

An earlier feather, perhaps a flight feather, was that of Jill Walker, a stalwart of community arts in Rotorua, operator with partner Brian Potiki of The Travelling Tuataras, and co-coordinator of Night Magic. Jill had travelled to Wellington, visited the Dowse Gallery, and come upon Rangimatua, the work of artist Reweti Arapere. Profoundly impacted, Jill brought back photos, and also a template which Arapere, eager to spread the approach, so generously shared with the public in general.

Back in Rotorua, Jill expressed the wish at a Night Magic preparatory meeting that they might develop something similar, as a focal piece when creating their spaces. Enter feather-carrier Kay McGregor, whose mind turned to Tia Tuuta, Senior Teacher specialising in art and music, at Kingslea School, Te Maioha o Parekarangi Youth Justice Residence. Night Magic has, as one of its kaupapa, a strong belief and passion to embrace inclusiveness. Kingslea School students were a strong match to this end. Today the material presence of Kurangaituku witnesses that Tia’s agreement and setting about bringing the idea to fruition with the youth in residence.

And here the cloak gathered feathers more quickly than might have at first been thought. ? Night Magic sourced suitable cardboard boxes, supplied by a local lawn mowing business, and various bike shops, and , through supportive funding (Creative Communities NZ, and Rotorua Civic Arts Trust), contributed some of the materials needed. Tia’s teaching colleague Gordon Leckey made the wooden frame for the body.

Some youths started, but then left the centre. Others came in later. Some became totally focused on the project. Planning and collaboration skills were tested, and built. Smaller prototypes were built – and eventuated in each youth having one to take with him on leaving the residence. Some of the Sharpie pen executed designs are one-offs, others can be found repeated in various places. Some of the patterns were spontaneous, others carefully practised elsewhere first. The cardboard itself presented problems of strength and how to go about having the figure stand upright. How to have the back portion integrated with the front. All in all, some 50 hour equivalents of effort went into the construction and decoration of Kurangaituku.

Here Kay McGregor picks up the account : “… and then Kurangaituku was collected on the morning of the Night Magic event, Friday 7th August, with the assistance of Kahurangi Robinson, whom we discovered has ancestral links with Tia’s whanau. At this handover I could sense the pride the boys had in their completed work. Thanks must go to her other team members who awhied Tia in this sometimes stressful, time constrained endeavour. Kurangaituku was and given pride of place in the story telling arena of the Rotorua Arts Village. There, staff, and Marc Spijkerbosch.. (Rotorua Lakes Council Community Arts Advisor) honoured her presence. Nan Miller gifted her calligraphy skills to create a title board”.

“Kurangaituku” has since travelled to the Rotorua Public Library where she has been placed in the Maori Language Children’s area, for all to visit. This is a fitting space as she continues to hold our kaupapa for reading and literacy.

 ….. and yet another feather …. As Te A and Kay were reconstructing the wings “we noticed a woman had been watching us. She then came to ask what it was all about. As the story was told she began to weep. She told us that her son had been in a reform school in Palmerston North. She said it was so great to hear a positive story for boys such as her son.”

Miriam Ruberl.
Miriam Ruberl is an established artist based in Rotorua with a significant arts and art teaching practice.  Miriam is the Rotorua Correspondent for ARTbop and reports and writes about the spectrum of creative activity and events in Rotorua and the Rotorua District.

If you have any information about an event or creative activity you would like to share with Miriam she can be contacted through ARTbop at



About Author

Leave A Reply