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Launch of Letters to Lilburn

Audio from the book launch of Letters to Lilburn, held at the Milk and Honey Cafe, Victoria University of Wellington on 14 November 2022. A special thank you to the organisers for allowing the event to be recorded and shared.

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  • 00:01 - Sophie Thorn, Curator Collections - Adam Art Gallery
  • 00:44 - MC Sonia Cahill
  • 03:15 - Piera McArthur
  • 07:58 - Margaret Nielsen
  • 10:36 - Peter Walls
  • 21:30 - Anna Cahill
  • 31:48 - Stuart MacDiarmid
  • 36:50 - Sonia Cahill


On November 14, 2022, an event to celebrate the launch of the book “Letters to Lilburn” took place at the Milk and Honey Cafe, Victoria University of Wellington. The recording of this occasion spans 39 minutes and features a series of speakers including Anna Cahill, Margaret Nielsen, Peter Walls, Piera McArthur, Sonia Cahill, Sophie Thorn, and Stuart MacDiarmid.

During the event, the speakers paid homage to Douglas MacDiarmid, a multifaceted artist with passions ranging from painting to music and language. The gathering marked dual milestones: Douglas's centenary and a tribute to the late MacDiarmid family elder, who had passed in 2020. In the recording, Sonia Cahill, Anna's child, and MacDiarmid's great-niece/nephew, opened the event by acknowledging attendees and detailing the establishment of the MacDiarmid Arts Trust, which safeguards Douglas’s creative legacy.

Fellow New Zealand painter and close friend of Douglas, Piera McArthur, who was unable to attend, shared a heartfelt recording about their enduring friendship and mutual respect. Their tribute reflected on Douglas's qualities, dedication to the craft, and profound influence on their work. Margaret Nielsen, a colleague of the renowned New Zealand composer Douglas Lilburn and a pianist who interpreted their compositions, provided insights into their relationship with both Douglas Lilburn and MacDiarmid, shedding light on how the two related to one another.

The event also celebrated the connection between Douglas Lilburn and MacDiarmid by the release of the book “Letters to Lilburn,” compiled by Anna Cahill, which documents an epistolary exchange full of emotions, detail, and a shared love for music and art. Anna shared their journey of compiling the letters that form the core content of the book, emphasizing the unique insights they provide into MacDiarmid’s internal world.

Peter Walls contributed by providing an appreciation of the contents and context of the letters, noting the underlying love story between the two, their shared connection to the New Zealand landscape, and how these were reflected in their respective arts.

Participants of the event were also treated to a visual presentation of MacDiarmid’s artwork. The collection on display captured various facets of Douglas's techniques and thematic interests, from still life to landscapes and travels. A particular focus was placed on the “Creatures in Series,” which was inspired by Piha. One noteworthy piece discussed was a painting that used to reside in the living room of Douglas Lilburn, presently maintained by the Lilburn Trust as a residence for visiting musicians.

The event concluded with Stuart MacDiarmid, a relative of Douglas, proposing a toast in honor of the accomplished artist. Following this, attendees were invited to have their copies of “Letters to Lilburn” signed by Anna Cahill.

The event not only recognized the artistic achievements and deep-rooted friendships of Douglas MacDiarmid and Douglas Lilburn but also provided an immersive experience into the legacy left behind through art, music, and written word. The audio recording can be accessed online for those who wish to experience this tribute.

This summary is created using Generative AI. Although it is based on the recording's transcription, it may contain errors or omissions. Click here to learn more about how this summary was created.

Record date:14th November 2022
Location:Milk and Honey Cafe, Wellington
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Archive:The master recording is archived at the Alexander Turnbull Library (OHDL-004691).