Series of paintings gifted to Rinitawa Art Gallery

President Crockett and Mike Harold hold A Strange Landrover (which evaded a police chase) for closer study. Photo / Dave Murdoch

A narrative series of paintings about one of New Zealand’s more notorious law breakers has been gifted to Rinitawa Art Gallery.

Painted by Dannevirke historian and artist Mike Harold, the 21 paintings were gifted by Mike to the Woodville gallery.

Called Last Foxtrot in Mangakino, the series of paintings record the events which took place between 1962 and 1964 as George Wilder, convicted of breaking and entering shops and car conversion, escaped from prison and evaded capture for 65 days on the first occasion and 170 days on the second.

Living rough in the backblocks of the central North Island, often breaking in and inhabiting empty baches, popping into town for a haircut and other cheeky activities, his close encounters with police had “newspaper readers following his exploits with the excitement and admiration normally associated with sports spectatorship”, according to Mike.

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Mike combines his talent as an artist with his love of historical research to tell the story in what he calls a narrative series.

Rinitawa Gallery curator Joanne Philips, president Charles Crockett and painter Mike Harold with three of his 21 paintings. Photo / Dave Murdoch
Rinitawa Gallery curator Joanne Philips, president Charles Crockett and painter Mike Harold with three of his 21 paintings. Photo / Dave Murdoch

“This is about the art of the storyteller – the fast disappearing skill of retelling, creating and embellishing,” he says in his introductory booklet.

“Sadly this compelling talent, so treasured in the oral tradition of many cultures is less commonly seen and heard in our time.

“It is that ability to take the listener and viewer to a special place where reality and myth are interwoven to create the yarns, the sagas and ultimately the legends.

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“It is in this tradition of the storyteller that I now invite you to view the Last Foxtrot In Mangakino.”

His paintings are sequential, starting with one entitled Slipping The Leash, continuing with One Step Ahead, then expanding into exploits like Grabbing a Bike, Recovered Dinghy, A Strange Landrover, and Forty Foot Bank before concluding with Capture In A Hole.

Valuable as an artistic record of a memorable time, Mike received strong advice to keep the series intact. He had offers for individual paintings but turned them down.

The series was exhibited in provincial museums until Mike stopped making them available, showing respect for the man who was the topic of his series.

Now he has decided to gift the series to the Woodville Art and History Rinitawa Gallery with the wish to continue to keep the series intact.

The Rinitawa Gallery volunteers with Mike and his gift of Last Foxtrot In Mangakino - a series about George Wilder. Photo / Dave Murdoch
The Rinitawa Gallery volunteers with Mike and his gift of Last Foxtrot In Mangakino – a series about George Wilder. Photo / Dave Murdoch

President Charles Crocket says the gallery is thrilled and “Mike’s generosity knows no bounds”.

This is the first collection the gallery owns, but unfortunately for locals, Rinitawa is booked up with other exhibitions for the foreseeable future.

However, it plans to make the collection available to other galleries and libraries on exchange and slot it in when a vacancy occurs in Woodville.

Dave Murdoch is a part-time photo-journalist working for the Bush Telegraph and based at Dannevirke. He has covered any community story telling good news about the district for the last ten years.

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