HAERE KI O
Mr William John Phillipps, for over 40 years a student of Maori history, art, buildings and artifacts, died on 19 November, 1967, aged 74.
He had been a member of the staff of the Dominion Museum from 1917 until his retirement in 1958 and during those 41 years published over 180 papers, books and articles. More than 100 of these were on things Maori. One tribute to him describes his ‘gentle, kindly presence’, and it is for his qualities of kindness, humility and simplicity that he will be remembered.
Two important books are Dominion Museum Monographs Nos. 8 and 9, Maori Houses and Food Stores and Carved Maori Houses of Western and Northern Areas of New Zealand, published in 1952 and 1955. Another is his most recent book, Maori Life and Custom, published in 1966, which has been described as ‘an invaluable reference book, which should be in every primary school.’
To gather material for his publications and to make notes on carved houses throughout New Zealand, Mr Phillipps travelled widely and spoke with many Maori elders. He never failed to show his respect for the old people, and patiently and quietly gathered the necessary information. Always he acknowledged the help and assistance given him by others.
His attitude can best be summed up from the introduction of two of his booklets.
From Maori Designs:—‘I write from the basis of the student rather than from that of the advanced critic, remembering always that in conservative simplicity these patterns were born, and in that same simplicity must their beauty be interpreted’.
From Maori Carving:—‘My experience has been that to learn to understand and appreciate carvings and to incorporate them steadfastly in the mentality, many years of study are required. Eventually, I decided that before I could write on the subject, it would be necessary to carve at least some of the designs for myself. This took some years; but it was possible to appreciate something of a carver's viewpoint and the amount of patience required to do really good work.’
Mr Philipps usually called on others when preparing his work for publication. One who worked with him has said, ‘He seemed to have an uncanny knack of finding out small but vital pieces of information about the past.’
He has certainly left his mark on New Zealand's records of Maori art, and future students will be grateful for his notes, and for the information given him by many whom he has now gone to join.