A Short Article By My Mum...
The Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo was built as a centre of worship for the scattered population in the vast alpine basin of the Mackenzie Country. This humble church bears many of the hallmarks of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Commissioned in 1935 during a time of economic recession, the church had to be built within a strict budget, using, as far as possible, materials that came from the locality.
The site, on a rise of land overlooking the lake, was donated by a local run-holder [Mr George Murray, Braemar Station] on the condition that it be preserved in its natural state.1 The well-known landscape artist Esther Hope lived in the area and because of her special understanding of the Mackenzie Country, the building committee asked her to submit a suitable concept for the church. She drew a series of sketches and made plasticine models which were handed over to the Christchurch architect, Richard Harman, to develop working drawings and specifications.
Harman had a special interest in church architecture and had studied in London where he had been introduced to Arts and Crafts ideas. He had also spent a year working for the Ancient Monuments Branch of His Majesty's Office of Works and had gained useful knowledge of medieval stonework.2 In a locality such as the Mackenzie Country which had no trees, the church had to be built of stone and was to be carefully crafted by experienced tradesmen. The builders were J. Miller, D. Rodman and L. Loomes.
The stone had to be procured from within a five mile radius of the lake, together with shingle and sand from the lakeside. Many tons were carried in bags on shoulders and pipe and bag stretchers. The stonemason, Jack Miller, then selected these stones for their colour, shape, size and quality. They were to be left in their original form, neither chipped nor treated to remove lichen. Most had been worn smooth by glacial action but some still had sharp edges and angles and these were used for the angles of the buttresses and belfry, around doorways and windows. The stones formed the outer cladding of poured concrete walls, 400mm at the bottom and 330mm at the top, built with a slight camber which gives the church a squat solid look which anchors it to the ground. The coping is of pre-cast concrete slabs and a cross, also of concrete, was placed on top of the north gable.
The roof was originally clad in shingles of Australian forest oak 'weathered to a pleasing grey which softens the stone-work and enriches the appearance or the building'.3 However, the shingles did not last in the extreme climate and were replaced with Welsh slate in 1957. There is no spouting because of the heavy snowfall in the area.
From the beginning it was decided that the main feature of the church was to be a plate-glass window behind the altar forming the reredos, the church to be sited so that the window would frame the magnificent view of the lake and the distant mountains. The rest of the interior was kept very simple, the heavy, dark-stained rimu ceiling timbers contrasting with the cream-coloured, rough-textured cement walls. The massive rimu door was hung on wrought iron strap hinges and all the timber-work was tenoned, pegged and bolted together and given a natural finish.
Harman was responsible for the design of all the fittings while the carving was by Frederick Gurnsey. On the suggestion of Mary Tripp, and in the spirit of the Arts and Crafts emphasis on ornament based on nature, Gurnsey included representations of New Zealand flora and fauna. Many of the furnishings were executed in oak in an apparent contradiction of the Arts and Crafts emphasis on local materials, but the choice was deliberate, expressing a link with British forebears and symbolising the endurance, stability and strength which had made possible the development of the Mackenzie Country.
Harman's design responded to the feelings and aspirations of the local community who wanted a church of quiet strength and simplicity, embodying what they felt to be the essential qualities of the Mackenzie settler.4 Built in seven months, the church was dedicated in August 1935, although, as it serves an interdenominational congregation, it has never been consecrated. In true Arts and Crafts spirit it stands in perfect harmony with its surroundings, a part of the landscape and inseparably linked with its environment.
- Boulders on the site, even along the wall lines, were to remain and matagouri and tussock were to be left untouched.
- R.S.D. Harman, Mostly Medieval, N.Z.I.A. Journal, February 1935, p. 80.
- Home and Building, June 1941, p. 10.
- Foreword to Order of Service, Ceremony for Laying of the Foundation Stone, 16 January 1935.
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