Faith McManus is a printmaker and educator based in Northland’s Kaipara Harbour. She works predominantly with woodblock, preferring large scale compositions that often utilise vivid colours and incorporate traditional raranga patterns. Personal narratives that draw on her Māori (Ngā Puhi, Ngāi Takoto) and European (Croatian) heritage inform much of her work. Combining different print processes, she is constantly pushing the boundaries of the medium. She is a founding member of Toi Whakaata – a Māori print collective which regularly exhibits together locally and abroad.
Studying under Marilyn Webb at Otago Polytechnic gave McManus the impetus to abandon her pursuit of painting for printmaking. Like many other students in her year, McManus choose printmaking because she was drawn to Webb as a teacher, the way she was in the studio, her incredible knowledge and belief in passing this on to others. She also had a great sense of humour and remembers her teaching the class how to make etching grounds explaining that “It’s just like making jam”. She then turned to the boys saying “whoops did I make a sexist remark?” On a personal level Webb understood the challenges McManus faced coming to Otago from the Far North and assisted her with adjusting to life there. After graduating, their professional relationship developed into a lifelong friendship.
McManus went on to teacher’s college so she could do casual teaching work while completing her honours degree. That year she was nominated to participate in a contemporary Māori art show organised by Kura Te Waru Rewiri at Te Manawa Museum. This coincided with a residency at Massey College of Education where she created an installation series of giant, two-meter woodblock prints telling the stories of her wahine tūpuna. Dresses float larger than life, animated as though the body still inhabits the dress, alluding to the idea that although the body has gone the imprint remains, that those people who influence you have left their imprint on you even though they can’t be seen or held.
Not having a roller large enough to ink the blocks, Webb put McManus in contact with Marty Vreede who was the head of Printmaking in Whanganui at the time. Vreede introduced her to his network of Māori artists and printmakers, and when a position came up the following year in the print department, Webb put McManus’s name forward and she got the job. She enjoyed her time working with Vreede as he respected her as an equal, always operated as a team and was generous with his knowledge.
After seven years, she felt she was ready to do her masters, which Webb had advised her not to do “until your practice is entirely your own and you’ve shucked off the art school thing”. She enrolled in a Master of Fine Arts at RMIT University in Melbourne believing her tutors would be more direct and get her to look at her work differently. Although this environment was more challenging, she was pleased with the direction it took her, the work she made and the resulting opportunities in Melbourne.
On completing her masters, she developed a chronic illness caused by a build-up of solvents in her system from years of exposure through printmaking. She found she couldn’t enter a print studio without vomiting and struggled to put a sentence together. Shocked to realise that what she loved was killing her, she thought she may have to give up her life as an artist. She moved home to the Houhora Harbour and with the help of a doctor who specialised in environmental medicine spent the next six years slowly recovering her health.
Although better, she still had an intolerance to solvents and started using non-toxic Akua inks to recreate her printmaking practice. She approached NorthTec Polytechnic in Whangarei for a teaching position and was offered the certificate drawing class as there was no printmaking department. Naturally, McManus found ways to insert printmaking into the lessons and after several years managed to convince NorthTec to teach a second-year printmaking class. McManus also taught painting and noticed how this mixed media approach resulted in students developing arts practices that were much more experimental and differing from skills developed in a traditional printmaking class.
There was one year where the students were particularly interested in print. She tried to make the programme align with what was available at Te Kowhai Print Trust, a studio managed by NorthTec graduate Jasmine Horton, where students could continue to develop their printmaking practice after graduating. She remembers the energy, love, and passion of students like Hamish Oakley-Browne and Martinus Sarangapany who started an annual steamroller event called Printapalooza, printing large-scale woodblocks. In the same year was Paora Tiatoa, now a full-time printmaker on Matakana Island, and Megan Dickinson who has established a gallery in Whangarei representing Northland artists, including numerous printmakers.
With the fine arts degree closing in 2022, McManus took voluntary redundancy in December 2021. As part of her leaving package, she asked to have the small mobile press which she plans to put on wheels so she can roll it onto a trailer and take it to places in rural Northland that don’t have access to printmaking.
After working as a lecturer for twenty-four years, she’s looking forward to reclaiming her headspace for her own creativity and mahi. She reflects that as an artist, making work is a joy but also a way of processing and expressing thoughts and feelings in her life. She is currently renovating her home studio and planning to set up a small gallery alongside it.
Marty Vreede @martyvreede
Te kowhai Print Trust @tekowhaiprint
Martinus Sarangapany @orca_king_press
Hamish Oakley-Browne @hamishob
Paora Tiatoa @paorasprints
Megan Dickinson Gallery @megandickinsongallery