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No. 35 (June 1961)
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PERSONALITY STUDY

MURU WALTERS

As a footballer, Muru Walters will need no introduction to readers of Te Ao Hou—he is perhaps the best-known player north of Auckland. Maori All Black, he has toured to Fiji and Australia, played against the Springboks in 1956 and the Lions in 1959, and he has been a Northland representative player since 1955. He has played in every position from half to full-back, though full-back is his chosen place. And in 1957, when he was only 22, he received the Tom French Cup for the best Maori footballer of the year. His place on the ladder of football is already distinguished and secure, and by his present showing, he will climb much higher yet.

But he adds to this prowess the unusual distinction of being a teacher of arts and crafts, and a most promising painter and sculptor in his own right. How many pakeha footballers would admit to such a profession? How many could even claim an active interest in any art? Few, very few.

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In the European world, the arts, since the early nineteenth century, have been something apart, remote from ordinary life and affairs, the preserve of peculiar people. The Kiwi is often terrified of being thought sissy or long-haired, and perhaps this attitude is perfectly summed up by a remark made once to the present writer, long ago, in military camp by a sergeant of signals: “If I caught my son listening to classical music, I'd beat him till he couldn't stand.”

Muru Walters, when Te Ao Hou called on him recently in Whangarei, saw no incongruity or inconsistency. “A man has his work and his play,” he told us. “Art is my work, football my play.” We looked round his pleasant house, with a whole room crammed with paintings and sculptures, and could vouch for his industry.

He was born in Kaitaia in 1935, a member of the Rarawa Tribe, and educated at Kaitaia College where he was in the first XV, first XI, played tennis and softball, and was Head Prefect. Then to Auckland Teachers' College where again he played for the first XV and XI, to Dunedin for a third year in art. In 1955, he was posted to Kaitaia as organising teacher of arts and crafts to both Board and Maori Schools in the Kaitaia District, and in 1957, to the Bay of Islands, with headquarters at Kaikohe, in 1959 to Whangarei, where he took up his present position, teaching arts and crafts to teachers in 47 schools in the Northland District. He married in 1957, and Muru and Lorraine Walters have a son to carry on the family tradition. So that for a man in his 26th year. Muru Walters has already accomplished much.

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We asked him to talk to us about modern Maori art, the carving of the present day, for example. He replied that, to his eye, it had not yet bridged the gap between old and new; that some modern carvers seem content to repeat the old forms endlessly without considering how these apply to modern conditions—museum art, he called it. We asked him if he had been influenced by Maori motifs in his work and he said he had not, though the small piece of abstract sculpture in perlite which he showed us (see photograph) did seem to us to have a Maori flavour. He admitted to a strong influence from children's paintings, and we could see that this was so, in the free, rapid, spontaneous brush-strokes of many of his paintings. He made a useful distinction between what he called the “spectator” type of painting that many Europeans accept uncritically as the only type of painting, as though a hole had been pierced in a wall to look out on a scene or a person. Muru's painting is firmly not of the “spectator” type. The only way to look at them, experience them, as perhaps Muru would say, is to follow each block of colour, each brush-stroke and so get taken into the heart of the thing itself: not to be given a clever copy of something seen,

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Picture icon

Muru and Lorraine Walters, surrounded by Muru's work. John Ashton, photo

but somehow to be offered, through colour, a new kind of feeling, an adventure for the eye.

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We asked Muru how his fellow footballers looked upon his work. He admitted wryly that some of them would say this or that painting stank, but they seemed as a whole to accept his profession philosophically. He admitted also, as all true painters will, to being from time to time consumed by his work, to be able to think of nothing else, with the world well lost, and his wife Lorraine told us that when the fever of creation was upon him, she knew better than to disturb him.

It seemed to us that in his dedication to his work, combined with his unusual distinction as a footballer, Muru Walters may be, in his way, affirming the ideal of the all-round man, so cherished in the Europe of the Renaissance, but since largely discredited by the modern European with his feeling that a man must be a specialist or do nothing well. Muru Walters demonstrates in his life that the combinations of hand, mind and eye which serve him on the football field can also serve him in the studio. May be prosper on both fields.