Southern pounamu expert, artist dies age 76

Russell Beck.
Russell Beck.

The man credited with being New Zealand's foremost expert on pounamu, Russell Beck, has died after a battle with cancer. He was 76.

Three months ago Mr Beck, of Invercargill, gifted his extensive collection of 1500 pieces of jade from around New Zealand and the world to the GNS Research Institute, in Lower Hutt.

He had worked extensively with GNS and Ngai Tahu to survey jade deposits in the South Island and was well known among the jade industry on the West Coast.

GNS Science geologist Simon Cox said the collection was an internationally unique resource and one of only a few collections in the world which had specimens from many countries.

The author of four books on jade and pounamu, and a skilled carver, Mr Beck started working at the Southland Art Gallery in 1965 and was director for 23 years, until officially retiring from the position in 1995.

Greymouth carver Ian Boustridge said the West Coast jade community felt a deep sadness at Mr Beck's death.

"Russell was seminal in the development of the New Zealand pounamu arts in the early 1960s and 1970s which continued through to this day," Mr Boustridge said.

"Russell's encyclopaedic knowledge of New Zealand pounamu made him the foremost expert on all things pounamu. He disseminated his knowledge freely with a generosity of spirit unique in this world. His support of all artists working in pounamu arts was always heartfelt and he will be sorely missed.

"His lasting legacy will be the authoritative pictorial books he wrote."

Mr Beck's funeral will be held on Wednesday in Invercargill.

-- by Chris Tobin

Add a Comment