The old post office, Auckland Point School and the Trathen’s building have inspired Fred Brunell’s exhibition, ‘Memories: A Nelson Childhood’. Photo: Kate Russell.

An exhibition made of memories


It’s been nearly 40 years since Fred Brunell left Nelson, but the memories of his hometown are still vivid.

The now Auckland-based art and design teacher has drawn from his early memories to create a series of 20 paintings that are now on display at Atelier Studio and Gallery.

“I’m at that age and stage of life where you think back about what formed you and why you are the sort of person you are today – and it’s so much to do with your early roots,” says Fred, who spent five years painting the collection.

“One memory leads to another and before you know it, you’ve started to paint you reminisces.”

His work ranges from Tahunanui Beach and The Grampians, to the iconic Church Steps, the provincial buildings, the old post office, the lighthouse and Trathen’s – where Fred worked when it was a department store.

The original Auckland Point School and Rocks Rd with its chained fence are also part of the collection.

“I just loved it during the storms, it’s like it goes into a dance.”

The memory of playing as a boy on the old slips of Nelson with the old boats being pulled in also inspired Fred.

“You could climb up a ladder and play around inside the boats and nobody really seemed to care or notice.”

The old gas works, however, sparked not so great recollections, with a young Fred worried it was always going to blow up.

“It was a fearful thing to pass and stunk to high heaven.”

Then there are personalities such as the magician Edgar Benyon, who brought his show to Nelson during the 1960s, and the travelling evangelist, Brother Coady.

Rounding the exhibition off is a tribute to the 2019 Pigeon Valley fires.

Fred says his style ranges from expressionist to “a lot more structured”.

“One of my students once asked my ‘why are your buildings always a little wobbly?’ and I said, ‘it’s because they’ve got spirit – they’ve got life’.”

Memories: A Nelson Childhood is on until 18 July at Atelier Studio and Gallery, 1/329 Trafalgar Square