Nelson Mail - article by Judith Ritchie, 8/12/16

Kaikoura artist gifts art after earthquakes

Jane Riley outside her home in Kaikoura, with army personnel from Burnham Camp who went door to door with a building inspector, civil engineer and firemen checking that houses were safe to stay in after the November 14 earthquake.

Kaikoura artist and earthquake survivor, Jane Riley has given her art work to those who helped so many in need, reports Judith Ritchie.

Jane Riley awoke in the early hours of November 14 to the surreal sound of her most precious painting Aroha, crashing across her bedroom and smashing on the floor. It was the moment of Kaikoura's biggest shake, a 7.8 earthquake that residents of the small town will never forget.

"It was unforgettable stuff being bolted and jolted awake with all your personal items flying around like poltergeist activity," says Riley. "Followed by a daunting silence, pitch blackness, sirens, and uncertainty as to what's next."

Aroha, detail, which Jane Riley gifted to the Takahanga Marae in Kaikoura as a token of gratitude for their generosity post-earthquake.

The sun rose and most of the township were up on the Kaikoura peninsula. Several hundred after shocks followed during the day, the ground like jelly leaving Riley with a bad case of vertigo.

There was no power, cell phone coverage or way in or out of town. Although Riley had a gas cooker and some extra food, she had no water or radio. Tsunami warnings increased people's fear, many resorting to camping up on the peninsula, including the cemetery grounds.

"Helicopters started to buzz and confusion was rife as the after shocks continued to jolt us around."

Then, to add to the misery of the homeless and everyone's already frayed nerves, rain came that night. Riley's small flat near the beachfront is on limestone footings and was mostly untouched, so she stayed put.

Riley says it was the spirit of giving that helped her pull through and also opened the way for her to give back.

"Earthquakes open peoples hearts and minds, letting go of our materialist world, to love and help each other the best we can," says Riley. "From neighbours offering a cup of tea over the fence to people gathering and sharing what they had, comforting and talking."

She woke the next morning to the sight of naval ships in Kaikoura harbour, bringing supplies.

"The overwhelming love and gratitude I felt towards those in service that had come to help us, was unforgettable."

Days consisted of the thud of helicopters as more ships entered the harbour bringing help and supplies. Riley pitched in and helped clean up at the bottle shop where she works part time, with 80% of the stock shattered all over the floor.

Riley says the Takahanga Marae was the centre of help for all, giving free food and dishing out some of the incoming supplies, including care packages.

"I felt the love and strength upon my visit there; I just wanted to hug everyone."

She realised it was also time to fix her own life and use her art to give back to those who selflessly offered help. While trying to mend damage to the canvas of Aroha, which depicts the Kaikoura bay with dolphins and a whale in the foreground, Riley was overwhelmed by emotion. In tears, she realised it was the right time to gift Aroha to the Takahanga Marae.

"It felt wonderful to give a little back and share the gift I have," says Riley. "I knew then that it (Aroha) belonged at the Marae...what I felt throughout the quakes was the spiritual hub of Kaikoura."

While visiting a displaced friend down the road, Riley discovered what she has fondly nicknamed 'Headquarters'. The household, headed by retired Kaiapoi resident Trevor Smith, organised access to a water tank, solar showers and freezers stocked with crayfish and other food.

"I took my unwashed self and nervous wreck of a dog to visit, " says Riley. "They kindly adopted me and I dined with them most evenings."

It was at 'Headquarters', with the view of the harbour through binoculars tracing the incoming ships, that she witnessed the Super Moon rising, and six ships silhouetted in the foreground. This haunting sight inspired Riley's first post-earthquake painting, Super Moon over Kaikoura.

As a thank you to Smith and all those residing at 'Headquarters', Riley gifted them the new work.

"I was very excited to give something visually significant that couldn't be caught on camera...an event that we had all witnessed and shared and helped each other through."

Inspired by her experience, Riley plans to complete more art works in a series featuring Kaikoura and the Super Moon, as she prepares for an exhibition at the Bowen House Exhibition Space in Parliament next March.

"I've got a new attitude of gratitude towards everything," says Riley. "I guess I really am grateful to be alive."

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