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Proud moment . . . Paul Deans and Esther Deans unveil the sculpture of Peel Forest artist Austen Deans. PHOTO: JOHN KEAST

by Chris Tobin

It was an all-Deans affair at Peel Forest when a sculpture of renowned Peel Forest artist Austen Deans was unveiled.

His grand-daughter, artist Esther Deans, unveiled the statue on Sunday, which had been sculpted by Mr Deans’ son, Paul Deans.

“The idea for the sculpture came from a Peel Forest local, Graham Carr,” Paul Deans said.

“He decided he would like to donate a sculpture to the community and approached the family. My response was it was a great idea and I would like to be involved.”

As a result, Mr Carr commissioned him to create the sculpture.

“I sculpted a portrait of my dad 20 or so years ago. If not for that I would have been quite lost.”

Mr Deans travelled regularly from his home in Christchurch to work on the sculpture, which is located in the heart of Mt Peel village.

“We got a couple of nice pieces of Mt Somers limestone from an old quarry.

“While I was doing the sculpture, a lot of locals would stop and chat about memories of dad. It was great reconnecting with the community.”

Austen Deans was also an accomplished mountaineer.

He died in 2011 aged 95.

Mr Deans said he had a lot of memories of growing up in Peel Forest with his parents and six brothers.

The family moved there in 1950 after his father had served in World War 2 during which he had been a war artist and prisoner of war.

“Because dad was painting we were always out and about in the countryside and we’d go with him.

“We grew up close to the bush; we had many days of exploring walking paths everywhere in the bush.”

Mr Deans said his father’s heart was very much in Peel Forest.

“He loved Peel Forest, the bush, the mountains.

“He knew all the Latin and Maori names of the forest plant life and he knew all the mountains.

“He grew up in Sheffield but he felt right at home in Peel Forest.”

As to his being remembered in his old home village with a sculpture, Mr Deans thought his father would have been delighted.

An exhibition of Austen Deans’ work was displayed in the Peel Forest Hall during the day, some of it from the family’s private collection that had not been exhibited publicly before.

Art expert Petrena Fishburn, who spoke at the function, said Mr Deans had not been attracted to abstract art as “he felt it was not telling the truth”.

“He preferred painting local landscapes for local people.”

She said Austen Deans was widely respected and admired.