The other week we received the very sad news that long time Isthmus friend and collaborator William Jameson passed away. This came as a great shock to us; for those who worked with William it felt as though someone from our own studio had gone. Will was an integral part of the Cicada team that have worked with us to design and make the creatures, seedpods, kelp, flax and flowers that appear in our most successful play-spaces.
He was a creative genius, a warm friend, a carefree spirit, an artist and a master craftsman who cared about people before anything else. David, Helen, Haylea and Grant attended his funeral in Hawkes Bay, a truly bi-cultural expression of honour.
William’s work with Isthmus spans back to the Hastings CBD project 17 years ago. David Irwin wrote this:
On Wednesday the Ngaruroro River flooded with tears.
A lone Karuhiruhi, wing tips reflecting in the mirror-like water, led for a while before heading skyward. The casket made of hand woven steel and wood William had rescued from the floor of Ricks fire ruined house, was cradled by two joined waka being paddled by mates, followed by an escort of waka ama.
A Haka is heard from the far bank, young voices from the local primary school. A call was made from the bridge. Karakia whispered, feathers in hair and on flax flowers.
It was the first time for 100 years such an honour had been bestowed upon anyone. William was being honoured in a New Zealand way- paddled down the river by a fleet of waka. He was carried from the waka – metres from where Gavins’ grand fathers house stood- on to the local church on the banks of the Ngaruroro.
One would have thought the honour was for a chief, yet William was a pakeha. Regardless of his whakapapa, everyone who met him knew he was humble and genuine. He was being respected on this stunning Hawkes Bay, blue sky day.
While all death is tragic, this death was a true tragedy – as not all death is. At age 58 in the middle of the night he left without saying goodbye, he was gone with no warning.
Clarity comes with grief. He was a man that did what he felt was right, a man with immense skill, not only with his hands but in the way he related to people. He worked where my heart is – in his own workshop. He wore jeans and rough shirts wherever he went. He would rock up here with Ricks, with a load of crazy stuff loaded (often dangerously) on the back of the ute. A far-cry from computers and Audis, he was hard to get hold of by email or phone (any kind of phone).
He just made great shit. As Jacob Scott explained, they started projects “not knowing how to do it, but knowing they will find a way”. Anything we dreamed up, he could do it- and make it even better. No problem to build a birds nest, giant flax leaves, eggs, pukehos or kina, hermit crab shells, sea anemones, or nikau seeds, giant birds nests, sparrows or curling tendrils. All in giant scale.
The process was collaborative, we drew some crazy ideas and they (Cicada) would say ‘no problem’. Maquettes were made, and today they litter our office (in a good way). Then protoypes at full size, and then the real deal. We would often have to argue with our clients to trust the process, trust the people and trust us. Not once were they disappointed, and every time the project has won national awards.
The outcomes were unique in a global sense. New Zealand ecology at a giant scale, to be played on and learned from. It bypassed fine design and put the artisan craftsman in the centre of the creative process. I like this process, and from my experience the collaborative trust developed in these types of projects is built on long term relationships, and provides so much more depth than the refinement of an idea to ‘destruction’, to where the essence and soul are lost from the work. This was something I argued in my interview to get on the Auckland Public Arts Panel and why I got the job above a whole pile of pseudo fine art snobs. And there are still plenty of those. But to be truly and authentically ‘New Zealand’, to be part of and contributing to the vernacular of New Zealand, you do not need to come from Elam or Ilam or Charlotesville or Sydney.
But from Clive.
William in many ways was our hands. He could make what we could think, and for that skill I was always envious. His workshop was our workshop. He worked in steel. Together his team -with ours -could bring ideas to life.
Last night as Ricks predicted, I looked carefully in the sky and sure enough I watched as the stars were rearranged, a new better composition.
I know damn well who did it.
Will, William, Wiremu.