'My art is my salvation'

Artist and sexual abuse survivor Michael Haggie shows off two examples of his work at the opening...
Artist and sexual abuse survivor Michael Haggie shows off two examples of his work at the opening of his "The Active Image'' exhibition at Dunedin's Moray Gallery on Saturday. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
A former Dunedin man abused by two different offenders within the Catholic Church says a love of art has helped him heal.

Michael Haggie, who now lives in Whanganui, has returned to Dunedin to open a new exhibition of his artwork, "The Active Image'', at Moray Gallery.

The colour pencil drawings depict the awe people felt when encountering famous works of art for the first time, as he himself experienced as a young man travelling abroad, Mr Haggie said.

But the drawings had served another purpose as well, Mr Haggie said, helping in the healing process, after the "deep psychological wounds'' inflicted in his childhood, he said.

Mr Haggie - who is bi-polar - first revealed his story last year, when he told ODT Insight of the abuse he suffered at the hands of Ian Thompson, a teacher at St Paul's High School in Dunedin.

The abuse began in 1971 and escalated to daily sexual encounters that continued for two years, until Mr Thompson started "moving on to other boys'', Mr Haggie said at the time.

Mr Thompson had since been accused of abusing at least 16 boys, before eventually taking his own life - as did one of his victims - in 1985, apparently fearing his offending was about to be revealed.

It was the second time Mr Haggie had been targeted by a sexual predator within the Catholic Church in Dunedin, although his link to the second offender cannot yet be disclosed for legal reasons.

Mr Haggie moved to Whanganui in the 1980s, but struggled with the psychological impact of his abuse and eventually, following the break-up of his marriage and a nervous breakdown, came out as a gay man.

"It took me years to get over it,'' he said.

However, a love of art had stayed with him throughout his life, beginning as a child painting at home and later being encouraged to draw religious symbols by Catholic school nuns, he said.

He eventually studied art, first at the Dunedin School of Art and later in England, and gradually came to know the "deep healing power'' of the creative outlet.

It was a passion he now passed on to others as a part-time tutor, as well as continuing to enjoy the benefits himself.

"The personal reward of art-making has substantially helped to deal the deep psychological wounds of my sexual abuse history.

"My art is my salvation,'' he said.



This man's life has been ruined by another sick person. Time to speak out when these things happen.

The lay teacher named in this article..Ian Thompson, was the only person who stood between a terrible end to a short life in my case, and a life well lived. My home life was an ugly, ugly parody of normal adolescent upbringings..and like many others in the early 70's, I had nowhere to go and no person to talk to. Ian was my form master in the third form and ran a tight English based ship. I got six of the best for wagging school to watch Otago see off Scotland at The 'Brook...well worth it. The school had all the undertones that something wasn't right with it at times...but for me it was Ian's guidance and support that got me through to a life more normal than I had, and none...not a one sexual connotation during that whole era.Don't get me wrong, as the confusion in my life when he took his own mid 80's was a set back for me. I came back from Christchurch to attend his funeral and openly cried. My heart broken. Now forty plus years on all is revealed,and a horrible eye opener for me. I sincerely hope Michael Haggie continues to grow as an artist and heal as a survivor...but I will still truly miss Ian as a mentor and kind, gentle man.....

No-one else can ‘ruin your life’. I was a teenager in the 60’s when many, many young women were forced into the psych system because they had experienced sexual abuse in their family situation and remained silent rather than break up the family. Chances were that if they disclosed, they would not have been believed anyway, and their story taken as a symptom of their ‘madness’. Girls who became pregnant without choice were written off as ‘sluts’ - no DNA testing in those days to establish paternity. But I know plenty of people who overcame all this. They lost their expected life, the one they ‘might have had’ but many got another more profound, ‘redeemed’ one instead and often were then able to give others valuable peer support. Art is a wonderful recovery resource.. People need to be able to somehow tell their story - to someone - eventually - no matter how harrowing. Never underestimate the value and healing power of someone who is able to just listen without judgement. ODT is doing good here.