The Arts Society Wellington

The Decorative and Fine Arts Society of Wellington Incorporated (WeDFAS) was the third Society to be established in New Zealand and had its first lecture in August 2006. In 2018 we changed our name to The Arts Society Wellington, in line with the re-branding of our parent body in the UK. We offer the opportunity to hear eight top quality, diverse and interesting lectures each year covering a wide range of decorative and fine arts subjects. Recently our members have enjoyed hearing about architecture, glass, painting, fashion, porcelain, artists, sculpture, art history, design, craft, archaeology, literature and ceramics. Our lecturers primarily come from the UK where they have undergone a stringent selection process to qualify as lecturers for The Arts Society (based in the UK). The Arts Society lecturers have a reputation as excellent speakers who deliver well-researched and illustrated talks. Our membership currently stands at 240. At a Special General Meeting on 30 July 2018 the Society adopted its new operating name and updated its Rules. The current Rules, which were further amended at the 2021 AGM to cover electronic meetings, can be read here. Each year the Society donates $3,000 – $4,000 to local charities and causes, particularly those with a youth focus.

Programme Details

The Arts Society Wellington hosts eight one-hour lectures per year. They take place on a Monday evening with a 6pm start, at the National Library Auditorium Taiwhanga Kauhau, Aitken Street, Thorndon, unless otherwise advised. We round off the evening with a glass of wine and sandwiches, providing members with an opportunity to meet the lecturer and each other.

In 2021 we have made the decision not to attempt bringing any lecturers in from overseas. However, we are still offering a full programme of eight lectures, the four New Zealand-based lectures will be with us in person and the four UK-based Arts Society lecturers will deliver their lectures by live broadcast to our venues or to members at home if Covid-19 restrictions require this. We are optimistically anticipating an undisrupted year, but of course our arrangements may be subject to change if the need arises.


The Arts Society Wellington has a full membership and a waiting list. The waiting list operates in date order. Membership is not transferable. To express an interest to join, please download the Application Form 2021 and send it to the Membership Secretary at PO Box 19030, Marion Square, Wellington, 6141 or to To enquire about lectures or have your name added to the waiting list please contact our Membership Secretary, Denise Almao, at or PO Box 19030, Marion Square, Wellington, 6141.

Annual membership is $140.00 or $280.00 for two persons living at the same address. The membership subscription covers the cost of venue and equipment, travel and accommodation and fees for lecturers and refreshments after the lectures. As an incorporated society and registered charity, we are a non-profit organisation and support the arts within our community.

Because seating in our lecture theatre is limited, members are required to advise our Membership Secretary in advance if they wish to bring a guest. We regret that guests are restricted to attending just two lectures a year. There is a charge of $25.00 per guest. Members of other NZ Societies or international members of The Arts Society are welcome to attend our lectures at a charge of $15.00 on notification to our Membership Secretary.

2021 Lecturer Biographies and Topics

Pete Bossley

Wellington Lecture Date : Monday 22 February 2021

BArch (Hons), NZCD (Arch), Registered Architect (NZ), Fellow NZIA, RAIA, NZIA Gold Medal 2012, Alliance Partner Group GSA, Chair NZIA Auckland 2006-2008
Pete Bossley has an extensive reputation in architecture and interior design, with particular experience in galleries, museums and residential. He is known for several memorable buildings such as the Museum of NZ Te Papa Tongarewa, the Sir Peter Blake extension to the National Maritime Museum in Auckland, many iconic houses throughout the country, apartment buildings and social housing projects. He has exhibited and lectured extensively on his work here and overseas. He has also taught architectural design for over 25 years and was adjunct professor of Architecture at Unitec Architecture and Landscape School.  In 2012 Pete was awarded the NZIA Gold Medal, the highest honour in New Zealand Architecture.


Pete will discuss the importance of ideas to underline good architecture, identifying themes which have run through 40 years of architecture, using projects from his practice as examples. Themes which have been developed over the years and in numerous projects include…
-Fault lines: architectural responses to the perils of living in a faulted land. This is not in terms of seismic engineering, but more of the narrative arising from our fragile geological situation, and how this awareness has generated ideas which have driven the design of architectural projects.
-Encampments: a series of projects which respond to the New Zealand landform by referencing the traditional courtyard house, modified to accept the power of our landscape, incorporating it in to the design of the houses rather than precluding it. Camp formations ranging from Roman military bases to kiwi campsites suggest the value of creating a large whole from a series of smaller pods. Other themes will include the importance of our skyscapes, natural light, balance and imbalance.

Benny Castles

Wellington Lecture Date : Monday 22 March 2021

For 20 years Benny has been associated with WORLD, a fashion brand now in its 3rd decade as one of NZ’s most iconic and Avant-garde fashion houses and retail experiences. WORLD was the first fashion brand in NZ to be given a retrospective at the Auckland War Memorial Museum in 2005. Benny started his career with WORLD in retail and is now a partner, designer and director of the company. Benny’s face may be familiar from his appearance as a judge on the recent TVNZ reality fashion show Project Runway.


Unlike the older nations of Europe, New Zealand has little or no history or culture in fine fragrance and scent. The talk will focus on fragrance etiquette and scent profiles, but most importantly brand and fragrance history. Many of the brands date back to the 1700’s and some earlier. They touch on historical figures like Napoleon, Marie Antoinette, Grace Kelly, JFK and Winston Churchill, as well as moments in time and object history. Benny’s presentations have been extremely successful with both men and women and especially for those less interested or experienced in fragrance as they are a wonderful eye-opener into history, culture and the cult of fragrance that has become such a globalised and dominant industry. The talk promises to be educational and informative as well as being fun and thought-provoking.

Nigel Bates

Wellington Lecture Date : Monday 10 May 2021 – broadcast live from the UK

Nigel Bates was the Music Administrator of The Royal Ballet from 2012 to 2020 and has been a performer for nearly forty years in and out of London’s Royal Opera House, including seventeen years as Principal Percussionist with the Orchestra. He has worked with many of the leading figures in the classical music industry and was also a producer for both the BBC’s Maestro at the Opera and Pappano’s Classical Voices documentary series. He is a regular contributor to the printed and online content of the ROH. Nigel has given lectures for over twenty years, including arts societies and conservatoires in the UK and across Australia.


Tantrums & Tiaras is a look at backstage life at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and the pressures faced by performers, be they singer, dancer, conductor or musician. We see how the building copes with the demands of modern productions and examine audience expectations both inside the theatre and out. We also look at some of the highs and try to understand some of the lows that have been the fortune of this world-class performing venue over the years. Fully illustrated including audio and video clips.

Dominic Riley

Wellington Lecture Date : Monday 21 June 2021 – broadcast live from the UK

Dominic Riley is an internationally renowned bookbinder and teacher. He specializes in the restoration of antiquarian books and the creation of contemporary fine bindings. He teaches bookbinding both in the UK and USA, and his prize-winning bindings are in collections worldwide, including the British Library. He is a Fellow of Designer Bookbinders and President of the Society of Bookbinders. In 2013 he won the prestigious Sir Paul Getty award in the International Bookbinding Competition, and his winning binding was acquired by the Bodleian Library in Oxford.


Why was the best paper made from the worn out clothes of peasants? Why did leather have to be tanned outside the city walls? Why is gold leaf so thin that it is measured in atoms and cannot be touched with the hands? Why do printers have to do everything upside down and backwards? Why did gold finishers get paid more than other bookbinders despite not washing their hair? And why is the art of bookbinding itself, surely the most complex of all hand crafts, as beguiling and enchanting today as it was when it was invented on the banks of the Nile 2,000 years ago. This lecture is a ‘Through the Round Window’ for grown-ups, and tells the fascinating story of everything that makes a traditional hand bound book.
Contact for Guest Registration


Wellington Lecture Date : Monday 2 August 2021 

Bee Dawson is a Wellington based social historian who enjoys researching and writing books on the history of people, places and gardens. Her 19 books include: Lady Painters, the Flower Painters of Early New Zealand, A History of Gardening in New Zealand, and several family/farm histories – including The Plimmer Legacy which was published in May 2019. A former psychologist in the RNZAF, Bee lives with her husband Sandy on a windswept hill above Wellington Harbour.


The missionaries who arrived in New Zealand in 1814 planted a wide variety of food producing plants. When crops failed due to poor terrain and infertile soil, they gave up on gardening and traded guns for food brought by local Maori. Later mission stations were much more successful, both in spreading the word of God and in creating wonderful gardens: by the 1840s fruit, vegetables, flowers and bees were all flourishing. The lecture is illustrated with paintings of the era.

Nicholas Merchant

Wellington Lecture Date : Monday 6 September 2021 – broadcast live from the UK

Nicholas Merchant’s career has mirrored his abiding interest in antiques. He has worked for some of the major auction houses in London as well as running his own book business devoted to the decorative and fine arts. His particular interest is English 18th century furniture and country houses; he enjoys discussing objects, particularly in their historical context. He lectures extensively in the USA, South Africa, Europe and UK, including the V&A, as well as for the principal cruise lines. He is the Art Fund’s West Yorkshire Representative. He arranges specialist short breaks for collectors and a range of prestigious clients including groups of The Arts Society who enjoy visiting the treasures of the UK.


Imagine, late 19th century Southern Ireland, a young girl of “good family”, living in an 18th century mansion, a tranquil rural existence. It sounds idyllic, the sort of life colour supplements write about with floods of purple prose. This was the life of the subject of this lecture, as the 19th century drew to its close. In 1900 Eileen’s Mother took her to the Exposition Universelle in Paris, and as the saying goes “she never looked back”. An imaginative, and determined girl, Eileen was determined not to see Enniscorthy again. She enrolled in the Slade School of Art, progressed to learn the true art of lacquer in Paris and after the First War became one of Paris’s most recherché and sought-after designers. Not for her the stuffed Victorian furniture of her home but for her, what we now call, “cutting-edge” design. In her studio in the rue Bonaparte she created works which rivalled all the great 20th century furniture makers of Paris. The Art Deco Exhibition of 1925 was the turning point of her life when the world became aware of her. Ever restless, she built in the late 20’s an extraordinary house at Roquebrunne which became the envy of one of the best- known architects of the period, Le Corbusier. This is a fascinating story of the girl from Enniscorthy, who became one of the most innovative designers of the 20th century.

Michelle Brown

WELLINGTON Lecture Date : Monday 11 October 2021 – BROADCAST LIVE FROM THE UK

Michelle Brown, FSA, is Professor Emerita at SAS, University of London and a Visiting Professor at University College London. She was formerly the Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library. She is a leading expert on Late Antique, Celtic and Anglo-Saxon culture and on manuscripts such as the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells. She has published, lectured (including in Australia) and broadcast widely. Her many publications include: Art of the Islands: Celtic, Pictish, Anglo-Saxon and Viking Visual Culture.

Note: This lecturer replaces Gregory O’Brien, who is rescheduled to February 2022


The Luttrell Psalter offers a fascinating insight into life in England in the turbulent 14th century. Made in Norwich and Lincs for Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, Lord of the Manor of Irnham (Lincs.) in the 1330s, its margins contain a riot of imaginative images peopled not only by saints and grotesques, but by the family and the ordinary folk who worked their land. Their successes and scandals are explored in coded images. For this was an age when kings were deposed by their adulterous queens, heiresses eloped with clerks and the property-merger marriages of barons risked incest. The Black Death was about to decimate Europe, the Scots and French were hostile, and the peasants were getting restless, stalking the margins of society and of the pages. Meanwhile, a hard-hitting Dominican friar sought to get Sir Geoffrey and his people to heaven and painted his spiritual teachings for them, illuminating the age-old cry ‘de profundis’ of the Psalms.

Mary Kisler

Wellington Lecture Date : Monday 15 November 2021

Mary Kisler is an author, art historian and Radio New Zealand art commentator, having recently retired as Senior Curator, Mackelvie Collection, International Art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Mary earned her master’s degree in art history and Italian at the University of Auckland in 1994. She has been a curator at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki since 1998, caring for a collection that spans from c.1150 to 1950, a large part of which is European art but which also includes a small collection of Indian miniatures and Japanese ukiyo-e prints. In 2010 Godwit published her book Angels & Aristocrats: Early European Art in New Zealand Public Galleries. In 2019 the Auckland Art Gallery published her Hodgkins catalogue raisonnée to accompany a major Hodgkins exhibition.


Whereas in 17th century Dutch still life painting, every piece of fruit or tableware was redolent with symbolic meaning, modern French artists preferred to paint their families, lovers, and friends, either enjoying a meal, or savouring a glance of wine in one of Paris’s new and exciting Café-concerts. This lecture explores the central role such images play within the development of European Modernism.

Supporting the Arts

The Arts Society Wellington is one of the sponsors of Artsplash, Wellington’s annual primary and intermediate school arts festival, a week-long festival that brings together thousands of primary and intermediate school children from throughout the region to celebrate and perform dance, drama, music, visual arts and wearable art in one of the city’s premium venues. We have also supported The New Zealand Portrait Gallery to enable it to bring students from lower decile schools in the Wellington region to view the Gallery’s exhibitions.

Contact The Arts Society Wellington


Chair  :  Robyn Vavasour /
Vice Chair  :  Karin Beatson /
Treasurer  :  Julian Proctor /
Membership Secretary  :  Denise Almao /
Committee  :  Jane Kirkcaldie, Belinda Langford, Richard Eats, Penney Moir, Lucia Tubbs