Dr Sandy Adsett MNZM is a revered New Zealand artist and painter with experience in carving, weaving, costume and stage design. His immense career in Māori visual arts and education has seen him train many of Aotearoa’s celebrated Māori artists, while his influence and artwork can be found across Aotearoa in meeting houses, churches, art museums, government and corporate venues and private collections.
Born and raised in Raupunga, Adsett was drawn to the kōwhaiwhai images around the doorway of his local school. He attended Te Aute Boys College in Hawkes Bay and received his formal art training at Ardmore and Dunedin teachers colleges. In the 1960’s, he became an arts specialist for the Department of Education’s Advisory Service, helping introduce the new Māori Arts in Schools program. In 1993, he was appointed principal tutor at Tairawhiti Polytechnic in Gisborne, formatting a wananga (place of learning) arts direction for Toihoukura School of Māori Visual Arts.
He returned to his Ngāti Kahungunu roots in 2002, setting up the Toimairangi School of Māori Visual Culture within Te Wananga o Aotearoa, in Hastings. He is a member of Te Atinga (Committee of Contemporary Māori Visual Arts) of Toi Māori Aotearoa and is on the Te Waka Toi board of Creative New Zealand.
His work has featured in many major art exhibitions, including Headlands (1992) in Sydney, Australia; Te Waka Toi: Contemporary Māori Art (1992-94), which toured the United States, and Kiwa-Pacific Connections (2003) in Vancouver, Canada. In 2005, Sandy received the Order of New Zealand for Service to Art, and Te Wananga o Aotearoa cited him as adjunct professor for his contribution to art education and the Māori community.
Adsett was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to art in 2005, and a year later received his Master of Māori Visual Arts with First Class Honours from Massey University. In 2014 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Massey University.
What does it mean to me to be an Icon of the Arts Foundation?
"Being invited to accept an Arts Foundation Whakamana Hirangi Icon Award, was such a surprising, unexpected acknowledgement... I’ve been really fortunate in being able to participate, enjoy and share in a life-long arts passion that engages in the challenges and welfare of our Māori arts identity. I thank the Arts Foundation for their very generous ongoing support to the mana of the artmakers of Aotearoa." - Dr Sandy Adsett