What a wonderful gift Helen Grant gave to Timaru when she indicated to her son James that on her death, Aigantighe, the beautiful Edwardian house and grounds should be given to Timaru as the city’s art gallery. The house was originally built for Alexander Grant of the Gray Hills Run in the McKenzie country where the family moved into Timaru from in 1906, leaving control of the station to his son, James.
Aigantighe translates as ‘at home’ in Gaelic and was used as a home by the Grant family for many years. Alexander died in 1919 but Helen remained in residence till her death in the 1940’s. In 1956 it opened as our city gallery, many of the works were donated by the Grant family and the Timaru Arts Society. Since then hundreds of generous Timaru people have left bequests of wonderful art for us all to enjoy.
The original architect was one James Turnball (1864-1947) A designer, builder and engineer. The house was built in 1908 and is an Edwardian villa. The basic structure is Italianate with the classical styled porch but contains strong Gothic detailing in the timber barge boards, finials and veranda decoration. It features a beautiful Marseilles tile roof and terracotta cresting. It was modified in the 1960’s to suit its new use better and the sculpture garden was added in 1990.
I love to visit monthly to see the latest exhibitions or wander through the older part of the house to see what new works are on show from the archives. My favourite exhibition is the Annual Plunket Art show which is a fantastic collection of new and emerging artists from New Zealand.
There are many fine provincial art galleries in New Zealand and Aigantighe is one of the very best. Its an elegant and beautifully maintained building and it’s exciting to think it could be developed further to suit our changing needs, perhaps a café looking out over the grounds stretching down to Caroline Bay and the views of the mountains beyond…….
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