Many Wairarapa towns have small history museums, and antique and craft shops. Museums include the Fell Locomotive Museum in Featherston, the Museum of Childhood in Masterton and the Eketahuna/Mellemskov Museum (which boasts a Matchbox toy collection).
Aratoi: the Wairarapa Museum of Art and History opened in Masterton in 2002. The complex, which has won architectural awards, incorporates the former Wesley Church as a gallery space. Aratoi grew out of the Wairarapa Arts Centre, and collects art and objects relating to the region’s history. It acts as kaitiaki (guardian) to a growing collection of taonga (Māori treasures), including several cloaks. In 2006 it became home to an important private art collection – the Rutherford Trust Collection, built up by the Department of Electricity. This includes paintings by Colin McCahon, Toss Woollaston, Ralph Hōtere and other nationally prominent artists.
But is it art?
Ratepayer funding of the Aratoi museum was contentious. Pat White, a local artist, argued that Aratoi’s value ‘was priceless’ and could not be judged ‘in accountants’ columns’. Rod McKenzie, a dairy farmer, had once visited the Wairarapa Arts Centre ‘and saw an old railway sleeper with a bit of wire on it. I thought it was going to trip someone up so I went to pull it out when someone told me it was a display’. He thought ratepayers’ money would be better spent on regional sport. 1
The archive, part of the Masterton library, is a storehouse for many of the region’s important documents and archives. It also publishes books on local history.
Artists and writers
The region has been home to a number of nationally important artists, including printmaker Gary Tricker, potter Jim Greig, textile artist and painter Rhondda Greig, and sculptor Sean Crawford.
Novelist and autobiographer Sylvia Ashton-Warner was educated in Wairarapa, and fiction writer Nigel Cox was born in Pahīatua and spent part of his childhood in Masterton. His 2004 novel Tarzan Presley was set in Wairarapa.
Awareness of Wairarapa’s cultural heritage has increased in recent decades. Archaeologists have found some 250 sites relating to early Māori settlement, including rectangular storage pits near Tūranganui Stream at Pirinoa. More recent historic Māori sites include Pāpāwai Marae, outside Greytown, and the ornate Nukutaimemeha meeting house in Masterton.
Important Pākehā buildings include the Anzac and Kiwi halls in Featherston (built to serve soldiers training at nearby Featherston Military Camp during the First World War) and the Tui brewery tower at Mangatainoka.
Wairarapa’s mixed economic fortunes after 1945 ensured many historic buildings survived. Because Greytown’s sluggish growth discouraged rebuilding, the town boasts New Zealand’s most complete colonial wooden main street. Greater prosperity in nearby Carterton led to a main street makeover. Ironically, by 1990 Greytown’s lack of change had raised its heritage value, encouraging gentrification and new growth. Martinborough and Featherston followed suit.