by Helen Martin
Distinctive with her hair in beaded dreadlocks and always dressed in the bright colours she loves to celebrate – purple, teal and turquoise are her favourites – Pauline Denton makes an important contribution to the local community as coordinator of both Helensville Art Centre and Mt Tabor’s arts and activities programme.
Like many others who have made this area their home, she hasn’t always lived here. Born Pauline Mee in Dunedin to an English father and Kiwi mother, she and her family moved to South Otago when she was five to live in a cottage backing onto the railway, where her father drove the shunting engine. Eventually her parents moved the family to Derbyshire in the UK, where Pauline grew up. After leaving school she first studied art and design locally before moving to South Yorkshire to gain a degree in painting at Sheffield City Polytechnic, picking up the Yorkshire accent she still has today because, as she explains, she really enjoyed the regional accents she encountered there. While studying for her degree Pauline worked part time in a retirement home, staying in the job for six years after graduation and setting the pattern for a lifetime of employment in jobs caring for others. Pauline’s next employment, working for five years in an alternative hairdresser’s plaiting, beading and braiding hair, played more to her creative side. But, aged 35, Pauline became homesick for New Zealand, arriving back in Dunedin ready for her next adventure.
In the following years, as well as sometimes moving back to the UK, in New Zealand she took on seasonal work packing kiwi fruit, thinning apple trees and grading apples. She also worked on and off with people with disabilities, both as a support worker and as a community art tutor. A job as house leader for a Mt Tabor Trust home in Helensville, where “people with intellectual disabilities and those who assist them, live together and are equally responsible for the life of their home and community” introduced her to the area, then she left to do more seasonal work for a time before taking another trip to England to visit her elderly mother. Later, in Nelson she worked for CCS Disability Action, a nationwide organisation that provides support, advocacy and information for people with a disability. “It was supposed to be vocational support, getting people involved in the community, but I just loved hanging out with them. That’s the Mt Tabor model,” she says. Then in 2006 came an offer Pauline couldn’t refuse – the part time role of co-ordinating arts and activities in Helensville for Mt Tabor Trust. Her second part time job, coordinator of the Art Centre, at that time based behind Art Stop café, gave her a venue for her Mt Tabor programme and for holding continuous workshops and art exhibitions to show off the work of the community. When the Art Centre was moved to the basement of the War Memorial Hall Sally Lush was appointed manager and Pauline remained in her coordinator role. “We still have flooding issues but as a gallery and workshop venue it’s a brilliant space,” says Pauline.
In Helensville Pauline met former engineer Andrew Denton and the couple, who have now been married for five years, enjoy working together, and work, which includes mounting the annual Outsider Art exhibition. Pauline puts her graphic art skills to good use designing exhibition posters and she and Andrew are both involved in their own artistic pursuits, with Andrew making sculptures from recycled metal and Pauline developing her line drawing skills at life drawing classes. With the main gallery booked for the year ahead and bookings for the smaller media room filling fast, there’s always plenty to do. “It’s about involving the community,” Pauline says. “I love Helensville because it has a wonderful, small-town feel. People with disabilities are beautifully accepted and integrated and it’s a place where people know and respect each other. I feel blessed to have both my roles.”