A Little Nobody


Runtime - 07:09

Sculptor Anna Dalzell was determined to tell the world about her Little Nobody, but Alert Level Red had other ideas.

Multi-disciplinary artist Anna Dalzell is drawing attention to someone who didn’t get enough of it. Someone who lived long ago, and whom she wants to commemorate. “A little nobody,” Anna calls her muse though, of course, Elizabeth Farr was more than this.

Elizabeth was born in Sydney in 1794 to an Irish convict mother, and died as a young woman in the Subantarctic Islands. From her studio on Banks Peninsula, Anna is building a sculpture in Elizabeth’s memory.

She explains this as she paints, sands, carves, sews, draws, hoists - even chainsaws. Her sculpture is a combination piece, and includes a bronze head and bust, a redwood ship’s prow on which Elizabeth sits, a white cotton dress and a mast made out of reclaimed totara (which Anna has dragged from a local beach).

As an infant, Elizabeth was shipped to Norfolk Island - the cruellest penal colony of its time. At the age of 16 she found herself - either by being sold or hitching a ride - on a passing ship called the Perseverance.

“It’s presumed she was the ship’s girl of Captain Hasselberg,” Anna tells Frank Film. “He dropped a sealing gang on Campbell Island. They had got onto a little jolly boat, gone ashore and loaded up with skins, when a gust came off the hills and flipped their boat.”

Elizabeth lies buried at the head of Perseverance Harbour on Campbell Island. “The men who dictated this woman’s life have got islands and ships named after them; she has nothing,” Anna says. “We’re giving her a little bit of a voice.”

Anna has been painting and drawing for over twenty years, but this is her first time sculpting. After almost a year of creating Elizabeth, Anna’s finally ready to assemble and exhibit the piece. But things take a turn.

Elizabeth was to be displayed at the Sculpture on the Peninsula exhibition in January 2022, a biennial event held in Lyttelton Harbour at the farm of Phillip King and Sarah Lovell-Smith. It was to be the final show but, tragically, on the eve of the festival, Covid alert levels struck again.

For the artists, the event was an opportunity to sell their work, with an auction on the opening night.

Anna is devastated. “Red light. Event cancelled.

“If this one sold,” says Anna, “that would help keep the wolves from the door for a while.”

The 2022 show had attracted130 submissions, with 74 selected to exhibit. According to event co-host Sarah, the astounding interest from artists is testament to the strength of the New Zealand art scene.

Proceeds from ticket sales and gallery commissions raise a significant amount of money for Cholmondeley Children’s Centre in Governors Bay. “Up until the 2022 event, close to $750,000 had been donated,” Phillip says.

But is a Covid cancellation really enough to hold back buyers of Anna’s tribute to Elizabeth?

Producer/Director: Gerard Smyth
Editor: Tracey Jury
Story Producer: Rose O'Connor
Production Manager: Jo Ffitch
Sound Mix: Chris Sinclair
Production Asst: Romah Chorley