Artist Pat White creating a large-scale piece for his collection. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Wairarapa’s Jack Dunn was part of the Wellington Infantry Battalion during World War I.
Sick and exhausted, one night the private fell asleep at his post – an act punishable by death.
He was spared execution, but was slain at the battle of Chunuk Bair, along with many others from his battalion.
New Zealand poet and artist Pat White was taken with his great uncle’s story, producing over a dozen large-scale paintings and poems about Dunn and the war, with the collection first exhibited in 2005.
Now he is ready to sell the collection.
“I was about 50 years old when I first heard the story,” White said.
“Jack Dunn was dad’s favourite uncle.”
White created written word paintings and more to bring Private Dunn’s story to the public.
Now he says it is time to let go of his work by selling it.
White said the art was like a narrative.
“There’s one painting that describes why people joined up.
“Another painting describes the way people died.”
White worked on the collection on and off for 10 years while living at Gladstone.
This year marks 100 years since the end of WWI, and White said it was an appropriate time to sell it off.
He said that when people saw the story of Private Dunn being told in the paintings, they shared their own family war stories more readily.
“It was a story that our family didn’t really know about. I found it.
“A lot of family and other people have seen it.”
The art was shown for the first time in 2005 at Aratoi in Masterton.
White said it had also been shown at Waiouru Army Museum and about half a dozen different galleries.
It will be shown together one last time at 77 Art + Living gallery in Fairlie, South Island – where White lives now.
Gallery owner Charlie Miller said it was a privilege to show White’s art on Anzac Day.
“It’s the centenary, it’s quite a significant occasion in our modern history.”
Together with White, the gallery came up with a name for the final exhibition – “Far From Home” — which aims to make commemorations more inclusive, rather than focusing solely on the tragedy of the war.
“It’s about how we are today, as families that still have stories of it to tell,” Miller said.
About 24 pieces will be shown and available for purchase ranging from smaller pieces to one over six-metres long, with prices ranging from $1250 to $10,500.
The son of Scottish immigrants who arrived in New Zealand in 1876, John Robert “Jack” Dunn was named after two older brothers who perished at sea on the voyage as infants.
He was born in Wairarapa, becoming a reporter for the Wairarapa Daily Times, and a keen sportsman.
White said the task of putting his great uncle’s story to canvas was “arduous”.
“The research was harrowing, because I read lots of war diaries from other soldiers.
“I understood that if you haven’t been in armed conflict, then you have no idea what it’s like.
“The thing that we can never know is the smell of armed conflict.
“It’s one of our primary senses – if you smell things you tend to remember and recall.”
He did his best to capture the soldiers’ experiences in the medium he worked with.
White said he did not have the space to hold the collection, and he was ready to say goodbye to a decade’s worth of work and research.
“It’s time to let Jack Dunn rest in peace again.”