A life in art

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On page 18 of this magazine is a knock-your-socks-off painting of kareao/supplejack. It was created by renowned botanical illustrator Audrey Eagle, who died on 27 November, aged 97.

Audrey spent much of her life painting New Zealand’s plants, using her childhood paintbox for more than 70 years.

Her daughter Alison remembers that the family fridge was always stuffed with plant specimens, and the kitchen table, where her mother worked when the kids were young, was sacrosanct.

“We’d come home and dump our school bags down and it was always ‘Don’t bump the table!’ because her work was so finely detailed.” She laughs.

In other ways, too, Audrey’s work was much less romantic than one might think: not so much jaunts in the countryside as constant back-and-forths with botanists, making sure she got every detail right. She had an honourary doctorate in science and in 2001 she was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Audrey had to push herself hard, Alison says, to finish her landmark two-volume book, Eagle’s Complete Trees and Shrubs of New Zealand. It was published in 2006, when Audrey was 80—and it won the Montana medal.

The family held a small service for Audrey and plan to scatter her ashes in the bush. “That will be our little farewell to her,” Alison says. “It’s what she always wanted.”

More of Audrey’s paintings will appear in New Zealand Geographic this year, alongside botany columns by Rob Tipa.