The artwork returned Dunedin’s Olveston home after decades away
A work of art believed to be at least 115 years old, has been returned to its original home after several decades – the story of its return involving chance encounters and very few degrees of separation.
The silk-on-silk tapestry of a Japanese eagle originally hung in the historic Olveston House in Dunedin, but was donated 55 years ago.
Since then he has been moved around the South Island with various caretakers before being rescued from a garage in a south Canterbury town.
Olveston Historic Home manager Jan Davies said after 55 years it was amazing the piece had been returned.
“We never take anything that doesn’t belong to us. We were so surprised it was there.
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She believes the returned tapestry is part of a larger collection of which one piece hangs in the master bedroom.
“I think there was one for each season, the flipped tapestry is fall and the existing one is winter.”
The age of the tapestry is unknown, but Davies believes it was collected between 1904 and 1906 during the travels of the owner of the original Olveston house, David Theomin.
Davies and a collector’s housekeeper collected the tapestry from Geraldine in December 2021 and returned it to Olveston.
Olveston was built in the early 1900s for businessman, collector and philanthropist Theomin and his family. It was designed by English architect Sir Ernest George Olveston. Theomin has furnished his home with art and furniture from around the world.
Her children, Edward and Dorothy, had no heirs and the house was donated to the city of Dunedin by Dorothy who outlived the rest of her family. It opened as a historic house museum in 1967.
But before that, the story goes that Dorothy gifted the tapestry to Winifred Langmuir who hung it in her Central Otago home.
Langmuire’s granddaughter, Ginny Everett, said she understands the tapestry was given to her grandmother in 1966 and hung in her villa in Cromwell.
Everett said his grandmother learned that the tapestry was made by nuns in France, but this was not confirmed.
Everett recalls the piece being prominently displayed in the hallway and later in the dining room of his grandmother’s house.
“We don’t know their relationship (Langmuir and Dorothy), they may have been acquaintances. We don’t remember Dorothy’s visit. Grandma was a big gardener and a fan of horse racing, which may have been the connection,” Everett said.
After Langmuir’s death, Ginny’s father, Doug Everett, inherited the tapestry in 1987, and it was loaned to family friends in Tarras.
When Doug and his wife Rachel moved to Geraldine, from Te Anau, in 2006, they took the tapestry with them.
“The house was not suitable for hanging the tapestry, so it was stored in the garage. We didn’t know it was there until mum died a few years ago, and we were cleaning up for dad to move to Wanaka,” Everett said.
Ironically, Doug’s neighbors in Geraldine were Karyn and Peter Close – who were members of Friends of Olveston when they lived in Dunedin before.
Karen Close said Peter’s uncle Eli Gray-Smith used to play piano at Olveston for Dorothy when she was ill in her later years.
“He was playing downstairs and when she had had enough she would knock on the floor to make him stop,” she said.
When Doug showed them the tapestry, the couple were “blown away”.
“The bird’s eyes were so vivid. We immediately recognized the quality of it.
She said the couple encouraged Doug to approach Olveston to return the job a few years ago.
“We tried again, and we’re so happy he went there. Olveston is Dunedin’s best kept secret,” said Karyn Close.
Ginny Everett said she and her two siblings had no idea what to do with the big job, so they were happy to return it to Olveston.
“It’s not good in modern homes. We plan to take Dad to Olveston for tea and to look at the other tapestries,’ she said.
The historic Olveston House, which was built for entertainment, still houses original crockery, silverware and china, as well as 240 original national and international works of art.
Since its opening as a museum, it has become a place where the public can enjoy teas and dinners surrounded by art, furniture and objects.