Elwyn Richardson and The Early World of Art Education in New Zealand
Type of content
This study examines the work of Elwyn Stuart Richardson, director and teacher of Oruaiti School between 1949 and 1962, an experimental school in Northland, New Zealand and places it with the context of the history of art education in New Zealand. After documenting the historical and educational reform contexts of the first half of the twentieth century, Richardson’s philosophy of art education is framed through an analysis of moments of his early life, schooling and teaching experiences.
Richardson (1925-) is best known for his book In the Early World published by the New Zealand Council of Educational Research in 1964. The book describes his work as a teacher at Oruaiti and highlights his pedagogical belief that the most powerful learning arises out of children’s own lives and experiences, that learning through the arts raises students’ potential for self-knowledge, critical discernment, imagination, understanding, awareness and empathy for others, and that the arts have an important role to play in the fostering of community and social reform.
The administration of art and craft education in the New Zealand primary school during Richardson’s years at Oruaiti was shaped by early advances in manual and technical education. The development of these reforms and the varied educational doctrines school officials used to advocate for the inclusion of these subjects in the curriculum are examined from 1885 to 1920. As well, significant educational policies and events in the 1920s provided exposure to progressive education ideology from abroad. These initiatives contributed to the great interest in child art which grew out of the New Education movement of the 1930s. New ideas about the development of artistic ability in children led to innovative policies in art and craft education that transformed teaching practices and the place of art and craft in New Zealand schools during the 1940s and 1950s. The newly formed Art and Craft Branch of the Department of Education in 1946 reorganised the administration of art education to change public perceptions of art, create contexts of art appreciation and develop community education in tandem with primary school art education.
Examining Richardson’s educational biography is another lens used to understand his philosophy and pedagogy. Oruaiti's status as an experimental school is explored through the unique relationship of Oruaiti School to the Art and Craft Branch of the Department of Education. Further, Richardson’s developing educational philosophy, in particular his ideas about artistic ability in children and the growth of aesthetic standards, is explored relative to the teaching practices of his day.
The study also uncovers the critical role that science played in Richardson’s educational pedagogy and curriculum and the profound influence Richardson’s early educative experiences were to have on the development of his educational philosophy. Locating Richardson’s work within its historical context demonstrates both that he worked in an environment which was hospitable to educational experimentation in the field of art and crafts, and that, on many levels, he transcended the educational practices of his times.