Tributes flow for local painter and teacher who ‘lived for art’

Colleagues say a love of creativity was central to the life of artist and teacher Peggy Lee, who regarded Raglan as her spiritual home despite having moved to Auckland late last year to be closer to family.

News of her unexpected death a fortnight ago has left the local arts community reeling.

“She was the most giving, caring person I know, and intrinsic to her being was this love of art,” fellow artist and teacher Susan Flight told the Chronicle. “Art was definitely the core of her life.”

Susan this week reminisced about “the old days” when she and Peggy both taught during Raglan Old School Arts Centre’s annual summer schools. Susan says Peggy was a potter back then but her creativity later “slipped into” the painting career for which she will be best remembered.

“She was a marvellous teacher,” Susan recalls of the off-site workshops – in ceramic sculpture, drawing and painting – which Peggy ran from her then home on the estuary in Raglan West, the same spot where her three sons were raised.

Peggy also taught art and technology at Hamilton Girls’ High School for many years before her retirement and was “much loved by the students”, says a colleague from the prestigious school, Silvia Huser. She recalls Peggy as a “dedicated” teacher striving to educate the next generation, and says she will be “sadly missed”.

Examples of her talent as a painter can be seen on the walls of both the Girls’ High school and hostel, and in the homes of her friends and colleagues – a reminder of her kind heart, Silvia adds.

Peggy specialised in landscapes and seascapes that captured the essence of Raglan, and often exhibited in downtown galleries like Show Off Aotearoa where her work was flanked by paintings from the likes of fellow locals Jane Galloway and Jenny Rhodes.

In fact this trio – along with local photographer Stuart Mackenzie – all participated in a tribute exhibition at Show Off back when the design for the new Kopua footbridge was being debated. Their work also complemented each others’ at Show Off’s 14th birthday exhibition some six years ago.

Another “great exhibition” at the gallery – entitled ‘Raglan Rocks’ – was a collaboration between Peggy and her longtime friend Jenny Rhodes, says Show Off owner Adele Wooller, who this week dug out old newspaper clippings of the pair sharing their love of art and the environment.

“Jenny’s been hugely inspirational to me,” Peggy was quoted as saying at the time.

Her trademark landscapes have been described as playing with impressionism, and with colour and abstract elements.

Peggy’s twin sister Wendy Lee says that although they grew up in Hamilton they frequently  holidayed in Raglan, first at the campground then at the family bach. Raglan was indeed Peggy’s spiritual home, Wendy confirms.  Her sister always came back here after stints training and teaching in Auckland, and her artwork was “prolific”.

Since Peggy’s death Wendy has discovered 100-odd stored paintings of Raglan landmarks like Mt Karioi, Ngarunui and the upper harbour. “Peggy has been in Raglan so long and had so many friends locally,” she adds.

One of Peggy’s sons, Jamie Karl, says his mother loved Raglan dearly and reveals she was also “something of an environmental activist” who played some role in the protection of native trees.

Although she’d had health problems including diabetes for some years, Peggy’s sudden death two weeks ago of a pulmonary embolism – at the age of 70 – was unexpected.

Despite her health issues Peggy was “always so positive,” says Jane Galloway – “a kind and compassionate person who loved doing art”.

Edith Symes