The gafa or whakapapa and story of Wellington artist Hedy (Heidi Ankers) is vast. Her father was English/Norwegian and her mother English/Samoan. “Poor Mum. She was a singer attending University in Auckland and Dad whisked her away into obscurity to the Bay of Plenty to have a horde of children. I am the sixth of 16, nine of whom survived infancy.”

Hedy Ankers with some pots she made. Photo credit Penny GriffithHedy, who created five of this year’s trophies for Te Putangi Toi Arts Access Awards, says that when her parents and the family split up when she was six, she spent a lot of time in the matriarchal household in Auckland. It was headed by her Samoan grandmother, Teuane Ann Tibbo.

“In the 1960s Grandma, who was over 75, had a dream that she should paint her memories of Samoa, a dream possibly activated by Mum having taken up painting at Auckland Art School.”

Teuane Tibbo became the first Samoan artist of note in New Zealand and quickly found fame. Her paintings of Samoa are in the Te Papa Collection and in galleries and collections around the world. They were exhibited this year at Enjoy Gallery in Wellington.

“When I was eight or nine I became the family’s Taupau, a traditional role given to a daughter who best represents the family at chiefly events, and I began to serve or look after Grandma. This meant being immersed in her painting activities.

“I didn’t automatically grow up to be creative. In fact, I was very withdrawn, and had no confidence, or belief in any creativity.”

Deep interest in Zen and Zen art

In the late 1990s, Hedy began studying Buddhism and took up meditation, developing her deep interest in Zen and Zen art.

Hedy Ankers at an exhibition of her grandmother's artwork“After my own children left home I was introduced to Vincents Art Workshop and along with meditation, I slowly began to get a sense of my inner life and eventually was able to look at what I made at Vincents with a sense of my own creativity and a feeling of pride in the work.

“It took me 10 years to get comfortable with clay but after my little offerings began to sell at Vincents’ exhibitions, I gained confidence and everything took off really.

“My interest in art as a practice starts at the beginning of time: the marks left in prehistoric art and rock art are important for me. Understanding marks is about watching how a lineage might be leaving signs. Actually, my own art now might mean that some sort of lineage gets created. I don’t set out to do these things, they are instinctive. That appears to be quite reliable and also fun.

“Through Vincents, I became aware of Arts Access Aotearoa and the Awards that were given out, one of which Vincents received.”  

Asked to create trophies for five award recipients

Robert Rapson, the previous trophy-maker, died earlier this year. Hedy knew him and had occasionally helped him load his trophies into the kiln. She was “thrilled” when Arts Access Aotearoa asked her to create individual trophies for five of Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards recipients. 

Hedy Ankers volunteering at a Wellington toy library“Some were specifically about the feeling I had for the recipient after I had researched them. These vessels are slip cast in a mould and I hand-detail them by cutting, or adding handles and decorating. What I love most is decorating to suit the vessel, laying down textures on to the clay and scratching marks. It’s called graffito.”

Hedy works out of both the Wellington Potters Association in Thorndon and Vincents Art Workshop. Te Papa’s shop stock this line.

The trophies are magnificent: four large round pots with handles, and a tall urn for the Arts Access Accolade. Each is decorated quite differently – an eagle, an unfolding fern, a frigate bird, a candelabra – but common to all is a flower and a grid image.

“The grid began as ‘my symbol’ after my paintings of it would sell at Vincents exhibitions. The grid is important to me. It’s synonymous with the ie toga (fine mat) in Samoan culture and represents so many things: space and our navigation between islands. The flower is the basis of the grid and can be seen as a cross in a holy sense. This four-part flower also acknowledges the movement of life itself.”

“Looking at these trophies, I realise I have integrated my Samoan culture and I’m glad it’s become clear to me on this project: speaking to my Samoan-ness wasn’t something I wished to rush to claim. 

“It’s taken me years to move through all the non-Samoan culture my mind is saturated with. I feel these trophies are integrated, like me. I grew up absorbing the Samoan way in the house and so I feel that way but because I grew up largely in a white culture, I just feel like a New Zealander now. I’ve never been to Samoa because of the heat but I do hope to get there. Maybe I’ll do a residency in Samoa one day.”


Hedy Ankers recreates stories in clay


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