Tag Archives: College of Arts

Maurice Askew (1921-2020)

10th March 2020

By the time Maurice came to New Zealand to teach Design at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts in 1962, he had already amassed a lifetime of adventures and a long legacy of ground-breaking creative work.

As an RAF flight engineer on Lancaster Bombers during World War Two, he was shot down over Germany in 1944. Parachuting into a field of snow, he spent the next year and a half marching from one Prisoner of War camp to another. With his wry sense of humour, he once told me that he “…had seen enough of Germany… I don’t feel the need to go back again.”

After the war he had the opportunity, like so many demobbed soldiers, to retrain rather than go back to the old Anglepoise lamp factory that he worked in before his enlistment. He now had the chance to go to art school and follow his love for design and drawing. Subsequently, in the early 1950’s, he was employed by the fledgling Granada Television Studios where he created award-winning animations and amongst other things, was the set designer for the iconic Coronation Street television series.

Teaching was one of Maurice’s passions throughout his life and, in the early sixties, along with Doris his wife and a young family, he embarked on yet another challenge to sail to the other side of the world, to the University of Canterbury and to make Christchurch his new home.

His influence on the shift of design thinking in New Zealand in the 1960’s has been highly underrated but can be seen most strikingly in a series of decimal currency stamps from 1971 especially if compared to earlier designs. Here, Maurice was part of the winning design team alongside a number of recent graduates. During this time he worked on many other design projects such as the University of Canterbury Centenary and the 1974 Commonwealth Games held in Christchurch. The 1970’s was also a time when the Court Theatre evolved and part of their success was due to the vibrant theatre sets designed by Maurice.

By 1975 the demand by his students for film-making was so great that a separate Film Studio at Ilam was created. It remains arguably the oldest Film School in the country and I am very proud to say that it is still going strong today. Amongst its early students, it included NZ directors Vincent Ward and Gaylene Preston as well as the famous Australian producer Timothy White.

Maurice retired from UC in early 1981 and started yet another creative chapter in his life illustrating a number of children’s books and developing his distinctive watercolour style as he rendered striking landscapes locally, and from all over the world.

It is during this time that I first met Maurice who was still heavily involved in the Canterbury Film Society that he revitalised in the 1960’s. I will always remember his wonderful sense of humour and his kind, gentle and generous mentoring which stayed with him right until the end.

John Chrisstoffels
Senior Lecturer in Film
School of Fine Arts

Antigua Boatsheds 1990 M.V.Askew