Art historian and associate professor Roger Blackley died last week, leaving many of us in the worlds of art and New Zealand history feeling bereft.
Roger was one of my PhD supervisors. I hadn’t known him personally before he agreed to take on the role, but two things confirmed immediately that he was going to be a boon to my research.
One was that whenever I told anyone that Roger was going to be my supervisor, they congratulated me on how lucky I was. He was known for the depth and breadth of his knowledge, his skill, and his generosity as a teacher and mentor. He took the work seriously but had a great sense of humour and fun. He had the ability to see the big picture as well as keeping track of important fine detail. Crucially, he approached the supervisory relationship as a relationship. He was great to have working with you.
The second was something that happened at an overview meeting early in the process, when I’d only met with Roger once or twice. One of the people there wondered if I would be arguing that William Williams was one of our most important photographers. In the subsequent discussion, Roger commented, ‘Kerry is interested in what importance tramples underfoot’. I didn’t know how he had deduced or intuited this, but he was absolutely right – and it gave me encouragement that it was of interest to him, too.
As Auckland Art Gallery have noted of Roger, ‘His books and catalogues are among the most influential and important texts in New Zealand’s art history’. If you haven’t already, check them out – including his most recent publication, Galleries of Maoriland (published by Auckland University Press last year).
Postscript: Te Papa and Stuff have published a couple of very good pieces on Roger. A comprehensive list of his publications as at February 2019 can be found via the Wayback Machine – search there for the page “www.victoria.ac.nz/fhss/about/staff/roger-blackley”.