Wednesday 1 May 2013 2:29pm
The University of Otago will confer the honorary degree of Doctor of Science on acclaimed Dunedin-based botanical artist and passionate conservationist Audrey Eagle at a graduation ceremony this Saturday.
Mrs Eagle first began painting New Zealand native plants in 1952 and after more than 50 years of endeavour achieved her goal of illustrating representatives of every native tree and shrub in the land.
Eagle’s Complete Trees and Shrubs of New Zealand, a two-volume book compiling the fruits of her life’s quest, was published by Te Papa Press in 2007, and contains 806 painstakingly hand-painted plates.
The book earned her the 2007 Montana Medal for Non-Fiction and the Booksellers Choice award for that year. The Montana Awards judges described the monumental work as a “magnificent tribute to Mrs Eagle’s vision, perseverance and consummate skill as a botanical artist”.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne says she is delighted that the University has the opportunity to formally recognise Audrey Eagle’s enormous contributions to botany and conservation in New Zealand.
“Her decades-long labour of love represents a treasure for the nation and a rich resource for generations of Otago botany students. It is fitting that the only university in New Zealand to retain a standalone botany department honours Mrs Eagle in this way.”
Born in Timaru in 1925 of English parents, Audrey Eagle attended primary schools in New Zealand before her family returned to England in 1933. During World War II she trained in engineering drafting and worked in an instrument-making factory’s drawing office. After the War she met her future husband, attended the Banbury School of Art, and in 1949 came to the Waikato where she worked for the State Electricity Department.
In 1954 Ms Eagle became a founding member of the Waikato Branch of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, which undertook monthly field trips. In order to learn the names of plants, both botanical and Maori, she decided to draw them, because illustrated plant books were almost non-existent in the 1950s.
Over the decades her love of bushwalking and passion for painting native flora took her all over the North and South islands as well as Stewart Island, Great Barrier Island and a number of smaller off-shore islands, including the subantarctic Auckland Islands. Through such trips and painting from provided specimens she has endowed future generations with an accurate pictorial record of New Zealand trees and shrubs, complete with flowers, fruits and seed capsules.
Her first book, Eagle’s Trees and Shrubs of New Zealand, which included 228 coloured botanical illustrations, was published in 1975. This was followed in 1982 by a second book comprising 405 paintings of native woody stemmed flora.
Mrs Eagle was a long-time member of the former Nature Conservation Council and took a keen and active interest in its work, particularly in the conservation of indigenous flora. She has given expert assistance to forest rangers and led many botanical, conservation and youth groups on field trips, freely sharing her expertise.
She also served on the Executive Council of the Royal Forest and Bird Society, of which she was later made a life member. In 1985 she was awarded the Loder Cup by the Minister of Conservation in acknowledgement of her outstanding achievements in flora conservation work.
Subsequent national honours include being awarded the Allan Mere by the New Zealand Botanical Society, which acknowledges the contribution and work of outstanding botanists, and being appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2001 for services to botanical art.
Mrs Eagle will receive her honorary doctorate at the 4pm graduation ceremony at Dunedin’s Regent Theatre this Saturday.
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