Farewell to Malcolm Harrison

Author: Rachel Healy, Communications Manager
Farewell to Malcolm Harrison, creator of The Family
Members of The Family 1987

Members of The Family 1987

On Friday 2 November 2007, the textile world lost one of its leading and most inspirational practitioners, the ever inventive Malcolm Harrison (b. 1941). Malcolm passed away following a fall at his Waiheke Island home. He was been treated recently for cancer.

Malcolm began his love affair with fabric as a window dresser for Ballentyne’s department story in Christchurch. At night he took classes in pattern making in order to pursue a career in dress making. At the age of 19 he became a finalist in the New Zealand Gown of the Year competition, and the following year came second with a beautifully embroidered and beaded gown called Scheherazade. During the 1960s Malcolm forged a successful career in Auckland designing bridal wear, gowns, bespoke suits and ready-to-wear originals.

In the early 1970s he began making quilts from the scraps of fabric lying around the workroom. A new career was born. He had his first quilt exhibition in 1979 at the Denis Cohn Gallery in Auckland.  By the early 1980s he had forged a national reputation and had developed a loyal fan base, which of course included James Mack, director of the then Dowse Art Museum.

TheNewDowse holds several major works by Malcolm, including a range of magnificent quilts, including the ritualistic and incredibly moving Paradise Lost (1987-88), tapestries and embroideries, and the much loved The Family (pictured). The Family began in 1983 when Jerry was fabricated from Malcolm’s vast collection of fabrics and haberdashery. Over the next few years Jerry was joined by 33 other family members, each with his or her own mini-drama to add to the family story. Within days of first being exhibited at The Dowse in 1987, Jerry’s wife Chloe gave birth to baby Huttette. When last exhibited in 2005, visitors to the gallery, inspired by Malcolm’s stories and his obvious joy of making, lined the gallery walls, floor to ceiling, with paper dolls of their own creation.

Malcolm Harrison will be dearly missed.