Joan Calvert & Guy Ngan: The Beehive, 1976

Artist: Joan Calvert & Guy Ngan
Title: Forest in the sun
Medium: Woollen wall-hanging (knotted wool on backing)
Dimensions: H7200 x W9600mm (each panel 2400mm square)
Date: 1976 (building officially opened in 1977)
Original location: Ground floor stairwell, Executive Wing, The Beehive, Parliament, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington
Architect: Sir Basil Spence/Government Architects, Ministry of Works and Development
Current location: Collection of Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand
Heritage status: No known protection

A group of New Zealand’s leading weavers (fifteen in total) were invited to provide a submission for a wall-hanging for the main entrance foyer of the new wing of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings, colloquially known as “The Beehive”. Forest in the Sun (1976) was chosen. The huge work was the remarkable achievement of a collaboration between respected Wellington fibre-artist, Joan Calvert who interpreted and translated into fibre a concept and design by Wellington sculptor and designer, Guy Ngan.

The commission was for the large centrepiece marble wall beside the main stairwell that led from the ground to first floor. Calvert approached Ngan to design a work that would respond to the Beehive’s architecture and the collaboration produced a huge hanging consisting of six adjacent panels, each 2.4 metres square, in a horizontal T-shape. It was the largest project Calvert had ever undertaken.

Bursting with colour, the woollen wall-hanging was intended to evoke the experience of walking through native bush and looking up through a canopy of trees to be dazzled the sunlight filtering down. Circular gaps within the panels exposed the Carrara marble of the wall behind.

The design perfectly addressed its subject, while taking into consideration the site restrictions. The hanging while needing to be of a large-scale could not be heavy and needed to fit the curve of the marble surface of the central wall. As a result, Forest in the Sun is in six parts, suspended from narrow, flat aluminium bars that bend to hug the curving wall. The cell-like holes help to meet the weight requirements while referencing the organic matter and sunlight. Other considerations included the need for the yarns to be colourfast and durable. For Joan Calvert there was an additional responsibility, proving the validity of weaving as an art form.

The piece took 18 months to make. The process included the design and scale drawing, yarn dying, knotting and hanging. With the scale of the work, Calvert enlisted the help of two other weavers, Dorothea Turner and Jean Ngan, who both undertook the labourious process of knotting two panels each over eight months in 1976 to complete the work. In February 1977, the work was hung in readiness for the formal opening of the building.

In 2003, when the Beehive was being refurbished the monumental work was removed and the government donated it to Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand.